Recently I was speaking in a private school in Victoria and I asked a room of Year 8 Girls, “Who here gets asked to send nudes?”. 80% of those girls put up their hands without even blinking an eyelid. For them, that is the new normal. Nudes, or ‘sexting’, can be defined as ‘the sending of sexually explicit digital images, videos, text messages, or emails, usually by cell phone.’ So let me put this simply for you; 80% of 13-year-old girls feel the pressure to send naked images of themselves to boys.
For the remaining half of the workshop, all the girls wanted to talk about was “how do we say no?”. These girls were anxious about ‘hurting his feelings,' ‘being called a prude,' or worried that ‘he will stop talking to me’…the list goes on. The days of sending handwritten notes around the class and to ‘a crush’ have been replaced with this excessive taking and sending of nudes.
Nudes are the new currency for conversation. I have seen and heard the multitude of stories from the ramifications of this culture. We constantly hear stories of girls who have sent images and had them distributed throughout the school.
The question is, how did we allow this to be the new normal for young girls? Well, look at the current popular culture and landscape that young people are growing up in. Observe the numerous messages they receive indoctrinating them with the idea that they are purely just their bodies, the unmistakable expectation to look a certain way and act a certain way. Taking a look at the current landscape, we are saturated with influencers such as Kylie Jenner (with an Instagram following of over 100 million), who is impacting the majority of young girls by releasing make up called ‘send me more nudes’, to the infamous Frank body scrub, who has just recently launched a products called ‘send nudes’. From every angle, young girls are being pressured to put their bodies on display. The question must be asked, where are these young girls being encouraged to respect their body? Who is giving them permission to say no to the requests, or informing them that sending nudes is actually a crime for underage people?
This overemphasis on physical appearance has long been affecting women, but the one thing that has increased in recent times is this pressure to put their bodies on display from such a young age through the platforms of sexting and social media. Snapchat and Instagram have also played into the exploitive culture. Recently, I had a year 8 girl tell me that Snapchat had a filter and a sticker that said: ‘Nudes?’. I asked the girl "if you could tell one thing to these big organizations who are sending messages about how you are supposed to live, act, look like etc what would it be?" She replied, “please tell snap chat to stop encouraging young people like me to send nudes”. This is profoundly self-explanatory. Where is the corporate responsibility of these big tech companies?
The majority of our girls have never been given the permission to say no. A recent study by Plan International found that 58% of girls surveyed, receive uninvited or unwanted indecent or sexually explicit material such as; texts, video clips, and pornography, on a regular basis. One in two girls are often pressured to take ‘sexy’ photos of themselves and share them. Over half of those surveyed (51%) agreed that girls are often pressured to take ‘sexy’ photos of themselves and share them. These requests for photos were almost always unwanted and uninvited; only 6% of girls surveyed thought this behavior was acceptable. 81% of girls surveyed disagreed that it was acceptable for a boyfriend to ask for a naked photo.
Now, this issue is not only affecting girls but boys just as much. I speak to young boys who say that girls send them pictures of their breasts without even asking for them, and they also don’t know how to say no. There are too many messages dictating young people from popular culture that don’t have their best interests at heart, but how are we equipping our young people to face this emerging culture?
There are a number of incredible organizations doing similar things, but rather than always being on the defense and trying to counteract the messages we get from popular culture, I am passionate about seeing change from the inside out. Big brands like ‘Frank Body’ influence our ‘norm’. They are creators of culture, and I challenge them to think about the mental health of girls when creating products like ‘Send Nudes’. Young people deserve the best future possible.
We have given an ear to the voices that mean us harm. From amidst the depths of this culture, we must use the voices that have been given to us to challenge what is normal. We must speak into the lives of the youth of this generation and show them that they are worthy of love, just the way they are. We are created to love. That is what I believe is NORMAL. We are not objects for other people to enjoy, but we are people who are designed to be loved and to love. It will take a lot of work, and it might take some time, but a message of love? That is what’s normal.