Towards Teen Girls’ Self-Acceptance of Appearance

Posted by Mary McIlrath on Fri, Oct 09, 2015 @ 02:20 PM

The way teen girls feel about their appearance can change on a dime.  A kind word, a cruel one, even how many “likes” their latest selfie receives, can impact the way they feel in the moment.  At YouthBeat, we track the way youth are feeling about their looks every year. 

Over the past few years, teen girls’ feelings about their looks have fluctuated, and in the first half of 2015 they’re not feeling as great as they could. Top 2 box agreement that “I am happy with the way I look” is down from a high of 55% in 2013 to just 47% this year.  Compare that to 61% of teen boys who are currently happy with their appearance, and the percentage seems even starker. 

Plus-size models NYFashionWeekIn this climate of acceptance of others—even as last month’s New York Fashion Week was inclusive of various sizes, shapes, combinations of features, and gender identities—our teen girls aren’t feeling as good about their looks as the adults who love them might hope. 

One marketer, Dove, has launched a new “Change One Thing” campaign that aims to move teen girls’ self-esteem needle in the right direction.  The spot features a series of teen girls, each speaking a wish for a different physical feature, followed by another teen girl with that desired feature, speaking her own wish.  The point is that, well, the grass is always greener the other side…in the looks department (reminding teen viewers that someone desperately wishes they could look like YOU).  The campaign is part of Dove’s overarching Campaign for Real Beauty, and consistent with its spots targeting adults, features layperson consumers, rather than professional models.  The new campaign also coincides with a Dove + Pinterest partnership in which 80 self-esteem boosting pins are available for teens. 

BitmojiAnother approach is to take real-life images out of the mix altogether.  Bitstrips, the online comic creation tool, allows teens (and adults) to create virtual avatars, usually with enough identifying features to look roughly like the creator.  The projection into cartoon style makes features less detailed, glossing over the one little thing that one might nitpick, and focusing on all of the things the creator loves about himself or herself.  Here, the author’s Bitmoji (a similar cartoon avatar, suitable for using in messages) delivers a positive self-affirmation. 

How can your brand help?  Closely examine every facet of your messaging to teens, especially girls.  What kind of standards of beauty are you promoting?  What kind of self-talk are you encouraging?  The village needs to pay more attention to these teen girls, who are still children.  Be a positive voice for them.

Tags: girls, Appearance, kids tweens teens market research, Dove, Teens, fashion, gender

A Post-Millennial Pitcher and What She Says About Gender Right Now

Posted by Amy Henry on Mon, Aug 25, 2014 @ 03:07 PM

As a Philly girl, a (long since retired) softball player, a lifelong baseball fan, and, of course, aSI Mo'neDavis professional observer of youth culture, I couldn’t help but tune into the Little League World Series match between the Taney Dragons from Philadelphia and a team of tween rivals from Nevada. While this event always piques my interest, this year’s pull was decidedly more powerful: the team’s pitcher, Mo’ne Davis.

At a time in the sports calendar when preseason football typically dominates, 13-year-old Davis claimed the cover of Sports Illustrated, making her the first Little Leaguer to do so while still in their formative years. Davis isn’t the first girl to take the field in the crown event of the Little League season, but she is the first to pitch for a win, and the first African-American girl to get in the game at this level.

While many girls have gotten attention for playing boys’ games, many have credited Davis with being the first product of Title IX and the right to a fair playing field it provides for female athletes. Davis is clearly not a publicity stunt, and she’s presented as more than a symbol – she’s someone that her coaches and teammates expect to deliver in the highest pressure athletic situation that many athletes her age will ever face.

Davis arrives on our radar at a time when we’re talking about gender norms, expectations, and realities more than ever before. The very definitions of masculinity and femininity may be in constant flux, but today’s post-Millennials often appear to be growing up at a time when gender is more fluid than ever. We think Mo’Ne Davis – the phenomenon as much as the girl herself – serves as a symbol of what we believe are the evolving ideas and ideals about gender for today’s youth.

  1. Post-Millennial doesn’t mean “post-gender.” With much talk about this being a post-gender cohort, we think it’s critical to acknowledge that Davis’ dramatic victory over a team from Texas, and her mere presence on the mound has garnered a lot of attention. Philly Magazine recently described her as a “reluctant cover girl” who would prefer to catch some of the other games at the South Williamsport, PA tournament in peace. Kids interviewed about the young star for various publications echo the same sentiment that many adults do: this is/she is a big deal. She is on the cover of SI at the end of August, afterall.
  2. To Post-Millennials, everyone who can play should play. Davis is different – it’s not debatable among youth or adults. At the same time, this bucking of sports norms feels very different than it has in previous times, and in some locales still, where we see girls attempting to play being met with accusations of spotlight-seeking. We’ve often heard cries of inequity from boys, not girls, forced to compete against a perceived softer, more fragile set of competitors. But the post-Millennial response to Mo’Ne seems in line with their overall perspective on gender: gender shouldn’t stop you from doing something you’re good at or love.
  3. Boys will be boys, but they’ll also be buddies. While Davis’ pitching is worth watching, I found myself more engrossed in the off-the-field interactions between Mo’Ne and her teammates. To be clear, Mo’Ne doesn’t seem to play the role of mother, cheerleader or even “cool chick” when she’s in the dugout. With serious eyes, she watches the game. Her teammates stand alongside her naturally, without awareness that she’s symbolic of something bigger than the next batter at the plate. When she was pulled from the game, the coach and her infielders seem to have a kind of conversation that felt anything but gendered. It’s possible that, knowing all eyes are on them, these boys are on their best behavior. But in the heat of a game like this one, it seems unlikely that they could fake the kind of friendship, built on mutual respect, which their gestures and body language convey.
  4. Who says girls don’t like baseball? Post-Millennials are more likely than earlier cohorts to have gone to school in co-ed settings from the time they were toddlers. They are more likely to invite boys and girls to their birthday parties. They are even okay watching Frozen (even if Olaf is sometimes the convenient snowy excuse for listening to 1.5 hours worth of show tunes in a princess flick). Boys are happy to don rainbow loom bracelets, and they’re more likely to have been raised by a dad who changed diapers. And guess what? They know that sometimes that stuff that they’re not supposed to like, or their supposed to see as strange for someone of their gender to do, is actually fun. Mo’Ne seems pretty determined to make her mark, but not because of gender politics or a pro-social mission. She seems to like to pitch. 

Tags: post-millennials, girls, boys, Sports, gender

5 Reasons Why Teens Love the Youngest Jenner Girls

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 @ 04:09 PM

Kendall and Kylie Jenner

On the surface, Kendall and Kylie Jenner are not relatable in any sense of the word. They come from one of the most globally recognizable families in the world. They call an Olympic athlete their dad and a “Momager” their mom.  Kendall Jenner’s IMDB bio describes her as an “American socialite, television personality and model.” Kylie Jenner hangs with Will Smith’s son, movie star Jaden Smith. Their famous sisters (and half brothers) have had self-titled TV shows, and almost everyone in their family of drinking age is paid in the thousands of dollars for merely appearing at a party. Not to mention that their lives have been filmed and broadcast since the age of 10 (Kylie) and 12 (Kendall).

But despite the odds, they might have just become role models of a certain sort to today’s youth. What makes these girls the celebs of the moment goes beyond good marketing and a public platform that is arguably unrivaled (although those help). We think that they were far from destined to become today’s trendiest teens (with millions following them on Twitter). And while there are many reasons why adults might critique their particular brand of fame, we’re endlessly curious about the reasons why these girls have connected with today’s teens.

  1. They defy the script. Despite being part of the most scripted unscripted family of all time, the youngest Jenner sisters consistently seem to speak in a different tone, in a different way than their older counterparts. Kylie dyes her hair blue. Kendall prefers to portray herself as awkward and anti-social versus gregarious and polished. They publicly criticize their celebrity family (all the while, reassuring listeners that they’re all about familial love). They sometimes shun the camera (all the while, continuing to post selfies of all sorts).
     
  2. They eschew entitlement. Like their older sisters, these girls seem to engage in deals across multiple domains. But the image they’ve cultivated is one that suggests that they are workers. Beyond constantly praising the work ethic of their parents, they have served as “interns,” designers for a line at Pac Sun (who, in the “fashion” of the day, claim to be hands on, and they’ve written a fictional novel). Even Kendall’s recent success as a model feels like it’s fueled more by the kind of flow she gets from pursuing a lifelong passion (even though, in early episodes of the series, she buckled under the pressure her older sister put on her to take modeling classes).
     
  3. They have issues. But they have the right kind of issues – teen angst, sibling rivalry, a little bit of narcissism - but they’re not known for promiscuity, overindulgence, or insensitivity. Remember, their young fans are much more morally self-righteous than we might expect. Tweens, in particular,are quick to feel uncomfortable when their idols make ill-advised decisions.
     
  4. They care about creativity. They represent a kind of creative class of youth that feels both age-appropriate and consistent with the ethos of their cohort of youth. It’s unlikely that teens will read the countless scathing reviews of their newest endeavor, a novel entitled Rebels: City of Indra, and instead will see them as “authors” of a form that feels different than the memoirs of their famous sister and mother. They treat fashion with reverence that helps to elevate their occupation as “designers” and models to a respectable height. And their boho style, while fueled by designer labels, feels more earthy and relatable to today’s teen girls who see themselves as more creative than  luxury-laden. 
     
  5. They’re connected. It’s not just about tweeting or posting a never-ending stream of images on Instagram. They’re connected to each other – they come as a pair like so many popular kid and teen characters (remember Mary Kate and Ashley?). They are surrounded by people and have a built in social club in the form of their siblings. This reassurance that these stylish, attractive girls are also part of a larger team is critical to keeping them within reach. 

Tags: girls, parents, novel, Youth, Teens, fashion, TV, tweens, books

SUREFIRE: Helping High School Girls “Ask Anything”

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Oct 08, 2013 @ 10:49 AM

What if there was a place where girls could ask questions about where they’re going in life and how to get there? This is precisely what SUREFIRE (SUREFIRE) aims to do. At the SUREFIRE event this coming Saturday, high school girls will come together in real space (not virtual space!) to ask questions, but also to tell what’s on their minds.SUREFIRE Side Bar 2   MESSYDIRTY v

Girls (and their parents) can attend workshops on social media, fitness, fashion, beauty, philanthropy and finance. Speakers come from girl-centric organizations with names like “InternQueen” and “1000 Watt Presence.” Randi Zuckerberg of DotComplicated will speak with parents about their teens’ tech lives. And Betty DeGeneres will share her story of her role in daughter Ellen’s life-journey.

We have to admit – we’re intrigued. We can’t wait to find out what comes of this event. And we’ll be watching to see what these teen girls not only learn and hear, but also what they contribute. Regardless of what’s said, we think the reminder to listen to girls might be the most lasting legacy of this event.  

Tags: girls, conference, Teens, culture

Navigating Gender Right Now

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 @ 03:58 PM

In case you missed it, we ended our summer at YouthBeat with a look at boys, girls and “Navigating the Murky Waters of Gender Right Now.” Based on YouthBeat research, an academic and media audit and our “Boy-Girl Poll” (fielded in August of this year with our KidzEyes and TeensEyes panels), we identified four rules for re-thinking gender and its relationship to your brand or business right now…Gender Research

  1. Don’t blend; EXTEND! Much has been made of this cohort’s attitudes towards gender – they don’t see it, they don’t care…Well, we think that’s only half of the story. This generation of youth (like every generation before them!) certainly cares about and recognizes gender and gender differences. Instead of trying to show gender neutral or non-stereotypical depictions of girls and boys, or trying to create offerings that live “in the middle” of gender (what’s often been called “gender blending”), we advocate “extending” your offerings. Don’t try to make one size fit all…In your “girly” shows, make sure you reflect the wide range of being a girl that your audience would expect to see in their everyday lives. The same for boys – make sure masculinity isn’t defined one way. Instead, show them multiple ways to be comfortable in whatever skin they’re in.
  2. Don’t ignore; DECIDE! Many brands must make a call regarding gender – and if you don’t think you do, then you might be missing something…When it comes to gender, there’s no point in ignoring the girl-boy question in your creative briefs, in your research designs or in your products. Just as age matters to most youth propositions, so does gender. Seek to be deliberate about the decisions you’re making  egarding gender rather than assuming it simply doesn’t matter.
  3. Don’t battle; EMBRACE! This cohort might occasionally find themselves in a gender debate, but for the most part, today’s youth believe that gender shouldn’t be a limitation. It doesn’t mean that lines aren’t drawn in all kinds of complicated ways when it comes to gender roles and expectations. But it does mean that brands that pit one gender against another risk being deemed out of touch, and worse, insensitive. Feel free to celebrate girls or bolster boys, but don’t position gender empowerment as a zero-sum game. U.K. Toys R Us stores are taking a cue from this rule, refusing to label toy aisles by gender… We’ll see if they’re decision actually changes children’s preferences (we’re not so sure), but we think they’re making the right statement about making everyone feel welcome to tinker with the toys of their choosing.
  4. Don’t assume; UNDERSTAND! Does all of this sound slightly confusing? Sometimes it is! Gender norms are constantly being negotiated in society at large, and of course, in youth culture. Before setting your strategy, make sure you’re plugged into the conversation surrounding gender in your category. And that means researching your topic or your offering with both boys and girls so you know how your audience members or consumers differ from each other, and, importantly, where they find their common ground.

Tags: youth research, girls, boys, gender, culture

On the hunt for youth truths at a Justin Bieber concert

Posted by Amy Henry on Wed, Nov 07, 2012 @ 11:23 AM

justin bieber concert performance 03On Sunday night, I engaged in what anthropologists term “participant observation.” I found my subjects in a place where they congregate. I ate the food they ate (popcorn). I wore their attire (jeans). And most importantly, I listened to their music.  On Sunday night, I saw Justin Bieber in concert with my husband, my five-year-old son, my ten-year-old cousin and my aunt. Fieldnotes (with a bit of embellishment!) below…

  • The stadium’s population was comprised almost solely of girls.  Rather than the tween girls who we expected to see, many of these fans appeared to be 5-9 year olds. Accompanying these little kids were not just moms, but many dads (who, we should note, did not adorn the “native” attire – purple and pink shirts, inscribed with local mantras like “Believe,” proclamations like “I love Justin,” and, the somewhat more direct invocation, “Make me your one less lonely girl”).
  • Between Carly Rae Jepson (of “Call Me Maybe” fame), the researcher experiences déjà vu.  Her first concert, in 1985 was the Victory Tour, and she felt like she was there.  Not only did Justin Beiber don a number of Michael Jackson-inspired outfits, but he also warmed up the crowd by playing all nine tracks on Thriller. Researcher asks 10-year-old cousin, “Do you know who this is?” The answer: “no.” Researcher wonders if Beibers’ cultural canon is reflective of, or way over the heads of his young fans. Still, moms and dads seem to appreciate it.
  • Despite being in the actual presence of the boy wonder, the crowd shrieked loudest when he took a break! During these brief interludes, everyday pictures of the pop prince (including broadcasts of the YouTube videos that catapulted him to fame), filled the screen. Suddenly, the larger than life figure (who, it might be worthy to note, looks years younger than 18 when he’s on that big stage!) seems relatable once again. This seems to be the Justin that resonated with them. The sounds of a real kid’s voice, and a glimpse at his home videos seemed slightly more spectacular than the lasers and light show that illuminated the stage. Overhead: Dad of five-year-old boy asks, “Isn’t this just footage from the movie?”
  • Ritualistic turning back of time occurred during the morning of the concert, allowing for more sunlight in the morning, but prompting eyes to droop about four songs into the 8 pm est concert. (Right around the sixth song, five-year old boy opts to fall asleep wearing noise-blocking earphones. Does not seem to be concerned that he’s missing the “one time” he will see his favorite singer.)
  • Overheard: adult female to girl of ~10 years of age, “We used to use cigarette lighters to light up the audience, because we didn’t have cell phones.” Laughter, seemingly in disbelief…Researcher unclear if this is due to inability to believe that cell phones didn’t always exist or that cigarette lighters were appropriate to bring into a concert venue.
  • Throughout the concert, singer assures audience of over 20,000 that he wrote the “next song just for them.” While this seems highly improbable to the adults in attendance, the many screaming girls seem to believe.

Our thoughts and well-wishes go out to our friends affected by Hurricane Sandy. We know that many kids and families have faced challenges in the past week, and even kids who aren’t directly affected might be experiencing feelings of uncertainty about the storm and its aftermath. We recommend the following resources related to talking to kids about natural disasters:

Tags: girls, music, youth media, tweens, Justin Bieber

Miley Cyrus’ Haircut and What it Says about Youth Right Now

Posted by Amy Henry on Fri, Sep 14, 2012 @ 01:39 PM

56386418When it comes to trend spotting, sometimes it makes sense to head right to the top…of the head. When we say “80’s” music, shoulder pads, or neon jelly bracelets may come to mind, but almost undoubtedly you think about hair. Big bangs, tight curls, macho Mohawks, creative colors. They all serve a more symbolic purpose than it may seem. It’s not uncommon to hear a cohort characterized by the way they wore their locks – bobs, pompadours, bee hives, feathered locks, afros, and “poofs” – or a star to transcend because of their hair – Farrah, Dorothy Hamil, Mr. T, “Rachel,” Vanilla Ice, Snooki, and, of course, the Bieb.

And, if you want to understand a cohort’s connection to convention or to read into their beliefs and values, you may want to pay attention to the changing look and length of youth’s locks!

Like Samson, girls know that hair holds power. So, what does it say that Miley Cyrus just got rid of hers? Is she too young to remember what happened when Felicity lost her trademark tresses? Is Miley’s bright blonde shade and punked-up style a personal statement, PR move, or, possibly, a ploy to just fit in? We think it could be all three.

Of course, Miley might be engaged in a very age-appropriate search for identity, and she just happens to be doing it under the spotlight (see our blog post about the first time Miley started to explore). It’s possible that she’s trying to shock us to ensure that she stays on our minds. But, could it also be that Miley’s look is part of a bigger statement being made by many youths right now?

It was just a few months ago that Katniss’ feminine braids – which created an intriguing contrast with her powerful persona – dominated fashion. Taylor Swift, with her twirly tresses, dominated our list of top musicians. Stars stopped hiding their use of extensions and started showing off the ways they made their hair longer with ease.

Now it seems hair has flipped with even Willow Smith foregoing whipping her hair back and forth for a shorter look.  Miley’s move may be more about asserting her independence from the haters who question why this 19-year-old needs to get engaged to finance Liam Hemsworth, who, ironically, shared the screen with Katniss’ braids in The Hunger Games. Rihanna recently donned a daringly short do as she courted controversy by embracing her ex, Chris Brown. Perhaps, like getting over an ex, getting a haircut just helps you get over hurtful words and the scrutiny of the public and the press.

Or perhaps this look is about a bigger trend? It seems that 2012 is the year of girls empowerment: from the Fab 5 of Olympics fame and survivalist stars like Katniss, to the empowered sounds of Selena Gomez, Pink, Beyonce and Rihanna. Girl power isn’t new but what may be new is what it looks like right now. It’s a trend we’ll be watching, but right now it seems most characterized by:

  • Substance over style. Power gained through ideas or talents, not through press.
  • Physical strength, along with feminine fortitude.
  • Savvy over sass. Think less sassy sayings on their backsides and more smarts about managing their career, image or relationships with authenticity.
And focus over frolic. We don’t see Lindsay on this list. We don’t see scandalous celebs making their presence known. Instead, girls’ re-empowered might be a reclaiming of girl power by real girls – even if they are still famous ones.

Tags: Social Issues, girls, kids tweens teens, Miley Cyrus, olympics

Summer Camp for the Connected Cohort

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 @ 02:05 PM

It may not be time just yet for summer camp, but it is that time of year when parents begin planning, or putting down deposits. And for today’s parents, summer camp is no longer just about giving kids, tweens and teens a taste of the great outdoors…First, for many working parents, camp is a necessity, not a luxury. It fills in the summer gap for working parents who head to the office, even when the weather warms up. In a highly competitive educational context, in which youth and their moms and dads begin to express concern over college admissions before they’ve even hit high school, many see summer as a way to catch up and to get a step ahead. At the same time, schools have been hit with federal, and in almost every case, state budget cuts that have taken a toll on the extracurricular programs that give kids, tweens and teens a chance to find their passion. So it’s no surprise that summer camps cater to a broader group of youth – who are attending for different reasons – than ever before. And summer camp creators offer no shortage of options when it comes to summer camp.thrill logo

Take note: some of these camps involve very little interaction with the outdoors, but if a kid finds their “flow” at comic book camp versus canoeing, is that such a bad thing? At the same time, are we missing something by keeping kids, tweens and teens in school-like environments all year-round?

Regardless of where you stand on the indoor/outdoor debate, we think the following camps give us some indication of the signs of these times...They might be “no bug juice allowed!” and “email your parents here!”

  1. ThrillCoasterTours: Test your bravery by riding roller-coasters across the company (parents can catch that priceless pic on camp-photograph site, “bunk1.” And no cabins here – accommodations provided by Marriott.
  2. Surf Diva “Boarding” Camp: This all-girls camp takes to the waves, combining slumber party vibe with the kinetic curricula of a sports camp.
  3. Plantation Farm Camp: Want to inspire sustainability? Ship your kids to this California farm where they learn where their food really comes from…
  4. New York Film Academy: Because this generation doesn’t take pictures like tourists…this camp shows them how to become a professional cinematographer in just one simple summer.
  5. Digital Media Camp: Think summer camp is for getting your teen away from texting? Not so…this camp teaches them to develop their own apps!
  6. Camp Kennedy Space Center: The space program might be in limbo, but your kid can still lighten up in the no-gravity chamber.
  7. Engineering Camp: If building a robot gets your kid, tween and teen ticking, than these national engineering camps might be for them.
  8. Fashion Design Camp: For your budding fashionista or Project Runway devotee.
  9. Day Jams: Becoming a rock star might look as easy as posting a YouTube video, but this camp shows kids how to really get rockin’.
  10.  Bold Earth Adventures: More like a good-old-fashion survival of the fittest, these camps put youth out of their outdoor comfort zone, and promise to teach them about themselves along the way.

Tags: kids, girls, play, Sports, outside, Youth, fashion, kids tweens teens, culture, parenting

What Tween Brands Can Learn From Boy Bands

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 @ 01:05 PM

From the Beatles and the Monkees, to Menudo, Boyz II Men and New Edition, to *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees, and most recently, the Jonas Brothers, it would seem that boy bands are nothing new. Far from surprising, the recent re-emergence of a new crop of boy bands signals a return to a recognizable place. It might be easy to dismiss wannabe sensations like One Direction (who may have made it on the radar of adults-without-tween-girls-living-in-their-homes on Saturday Night Live, when they served as musical guest), as the end of the artist as we know it. Afterall, these groups are often not shy about their one directioncommercial ambitions or the way in which they were brought together by youth-savvy producers and industry moguls. But regardless of what you think of their music or their highly choreographed dance moves, understanding the appeal of boy bands (“then” and “now”) provides invaluable insight into what a tween girl wants…So what can brands and organizations do to access some of that boy band appeal? 

  1. Focus on cute, not cool. Who says nice guys never win? And who says that being aloof makes you more admirable? Not tween girls. Boy bands can come off as cloying to adults, but for tween girls, they are just like candy – sweet, easy to consume, and inviting. As an Irish newspaper, talking about One Direction noted, Justin Bieber had reminded everyone that there was still a market for "clean cut, wholesome, middle class, parent-friendly pop: cute boys advocating puppy love.” When it comes to their fashion sense, their sounds, or their personal style, they are rarely edgy, and often startlingly sweet. And for tweens who are moving into music for the first time, these boy bands serve as starter artists – who don’t make you work too hard to get them.
  2. Give girls different faces, within the same frame. Go to any middle school playground in America and you’re likely to see groups of tweens girls wearing, what seems to be, the exact same outfit, with such subtle differences that the average adult is likely to gloss over them. Not so for the tween girls, who will proudly distinguish among their group of friends – she’s the one who likes blue…She’s the girly one, so her Tom’s shoes have the sparkles (as opposed to everyone else’s Tom’s shoe that don’t). Boy bands have this down to a science. There’s the scruffy one, the born leader, the mama’s boy (although they’re all a bit over-the-top about their love for their mamas!), and the shy one. There’s the preppy one, the fashion fiend, the “rocker” and the sports savant. The result: everyone in your group can participate, but you can match your guy with your own personal style.
  3. Focus on friendship. Why, you might be asking, is it always a band? Perhaps it’s because of the synchronized dancing (like line dancing and cheerleading routines) that makes dance moves feel so formulaic that they can imagine themselves executing them with enough practice? But more importantly, these guy groups present the ultimate tween girl fantasy: friendship. At a time when tweens are trying with all their might to untangle the web that can be tween girl relations, watching a gang of guys make it look so easy gives them hope! While a group like One Direction, who admittedly came together at the urging of X Factor judge/producer Simon Cowell, even better are the stories (authentic or exaggerated) of a group of true friends from the neighborhood who have had each others’ backs for a long time. 
  4. Don’t assume caring is corny. As any youth brand knows, once you crossover to corny, it’s hard to come back. But, what teens might dismiss as dumb, tweens will often embrace with enthusiasm. Teens might reward artists and brands that seem to be so casual as not to care, tweens appreciate effort. Caring about your fans (and even about their parents!) isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of niceness. And when it comes to boy bands, nice guys finish first.
  5. It’s about the girls, not about the group. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about the crazes and fevers that develop surrounding boy bands is that it’s all about them. Despite all that hair gel, and their inevitable entourages, tween girls are often left with the impression that these guys would give it all up if it meant dissing their fans. Boy bands don’t put themselves on a pedestal; they put their fans on one (at least from girls’ perspectives).  We see this in their ballads – which are less about relationships and more about reiterating how special, pretty and altogether lovely their love interests are.

Finally, it would be hard to talk about boy bands without acknowledging that tweens have a much higher tolerance than most targets for ubiquity – it’s hard to become overexposed with tweens! But know that the brighter the flame, the faster the fizzle…So brands might want to borrow from the boy bands’ strategy tool box, but make sure that they think about their next hit before the craze has hit crescendo

Tags: girls, boys, free time, fashion, culture, youth media, Justin Bieber

“Am I Pretty?” Tween Girls and the Need for Feedback

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Mar 01, 2012 @ 02:55 PM

A tentative face of a twelve year old girl fills the screen as she leans forward to adjust the webcam. “Hi guys,” she says, as if she’s talking to an intimate group of friends. She’s about to ask what might seem like a quite personal question – but she’s asking it to an anonymous audience. She doesn’t know the many viewers who will find this clip on YouTube, but she wants their feedback.

The question: “Am I pretty?” She follows with an assurance, “You can tell me the truth – I can take it.”

Graph of Youth LooksBy now, many of you have seen this story, first featured on the Today Show. This trend – girls posting videos online and asking “am I pretty or am I ugly” might be something that’s familiar to only a few real girls – but it does seem somewhat symbolic of the way girls in a particularly vulnerable stage of development, and the way a cohort who is used to feedback on their every thought might be more likely to do than any generation before them.

Despite girl-power, girl achievement, and girls leading in many domains in which they live, tween girls are still very aware that looks matter. According to data from YouthBeat, while 15% of tweens say they wouldn’t change anything about themselves, 48% of all tweens – boys and girls – mention wanting to change some aspect of their appearance if they could. Only 4% wished to be smarter (and this skewed boy) and another 4% wanted to be rich.

It might be easy to attribute blame to popular culture, and the unattainable images about beauty that dominate their magazines and screens. But some of the women this age group admires most seem to be saying the right thing, albeit from fairly beautiful faces. Selena Gomez challenges, “Who says you’re not perfect?” Katy Perry encourages them to let their light shine…Taylor Swift identifies herself with the girl sitting on the sidelines – not the cheerleader – in her “You Belong With Me.” And Lady Gaga? She couldn’t challenge the notions of conventional beauty any more…

So who is giving girls reason to re-think their self-worth? It’s not news that girls this age feel like all eyes are on them. And it’s also more timeless truth than timely trend that their bodies begin to betray them in ways that make this stage full of awkwardness and angst. And groups of girls have turned to slambooks in which girls write their name at the top of a page, and pass it to their friends, who write what they really think of their best feature, the thing they hate about them, what they should change about themselves, etc. Like “The Book” in Mean Girls,  these tween sleepover mainstays were often filled with less than flattering feedback. It’s clear that this generation didn’t start, and likely will not end, the practice of girls putting each other down.

But what is different today is the public forum in which feedback is given. Posting a picture on Facebook might leave you open to an unsolicited comment from a friend. But even more menacing are sites like Formspring, whose seemingly innocent device of asking a question of the crowd so you can “get to know your friends” can go terribly wrong when someone names names in their questions. And the story described above shows that YouTube can be a space for finding fun clips, or a venue for victimization.

Clearly, some girls offered their peers support. Many girls know that “inner beauty” is supposed to matter more. But for these girls, the reality of crowdsourcing might be countering all the messages they’re getting from those they admire. When it comes to girls’ self-confidence, aspirational images might be much less damaging than the need for acceptance by their peers.  

Tags: girls, bullying, beauty, youth media, trends, tweens, makeup