The pressure of perfection on social media: how young women are fighting back

Time spent on social media is taking a toll on young girls.

They are bombarded by images of perfection, unattainable beauty and the notion that they should always be happy.

Boston 25 News anchor Kerry Kavanaugh found a program that's helping them reclaim their voice through a girl-powered, digital revolution.

Media Girls is a non-profit that teaches girls and young women how they can harness media and create a space that better reflects them. Michelle Cove is the founder and executive director.

"Girls tell us the thing that they like the least about social media is how fake it is, how curated," Cove told Kavanaugh. "And, how they want to feel connected to other girls, and it makes them feel the opposite. What we say back is, 'what if it didn't?'"

It can feel like an avalanche of messaging in the palm of our hands that is leading young people to compare themselves to each other and false ideals.

"Basically, girls are spending an average of eight to 10 hours consuming media today," Cove said. "Most of that media is telling girls they need to be hot and thin to matter."

Cove says a conversation with her daughter, when she was just nine years old, made her realize how powerful that messaging can be.

She recalled her daughter saying, "when I stand up straight, my thighs touch." She was talking about a so-called 'thigh gap,' the idea that your legs are supposed to be thin enough that they don't touch.

"It was heartbreaking how young that message had seeped in," Cove said.

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So, Cove launched Media Girls, a program she now brings into middle schools across Greater Boston.

All the young women Kavanaugh spoke with went through some portion of the Media Girl program, including Cove's daughter, Risa, who's now a 7th grader in Brookline.

"I just started using it to post things that make me happy. And I don't care how other people feel about it," said Risa Cove.

The group all attested that the process of posting pictures and getting instant feedback has become an addictive process.

"I really cared about the amount of likes I got. And, I would constantly be checking," said Annie Stein, a high school junior in Needham.

"I'll see someone else from my school and they have like 50 comments and they'll be like 'wow cutie' with heart eyes emoji or 'you're so beautiful.' And, I don't get comments like that," said Claire Gallion a high school freshman in Brookline.

For young people, still trying to figure out who they are, that process brings the pressure of unattainable perfection.

Holbrook 7th grader, Lehna Belony, described it like this, "you have a great life, that nothing's really wrong. You have a bunch of friends, followers, a lot of likes on your post."

"It's not just perfect, but it's effortless," Stein added.

Amanda Mozea works for Media Girls, training the school instructors. The 23-year-old says through her work, she realized how much social media was manufactured.

"Every photo is posed and filtered and the captions are perfectly quirky," Mozea said.

Through the program, the group says they're now seeing 'perfection' through a new lens.

"You just have to keep reminding yourself, that's a tiny snapshot of an entire life," said Stein.

"I think it's definitely something you have to work towards setting yourself free from," Gallion said.

The next lesson: how to make media what they want it to be.

"I should not have to put out content that would please other people," said Risa Cove.

"I love supporting causes I believe in and lifting other people up and making them feel good about themselves on social media," said Stein.

"You're the ones to changes this," Cove said. "And, I think they like the power of that."

Media Girls offers programs that last weeks and some that are just a few hours. For more information on bringing this program to your school click here.