Teen Girls and the “Selfie” Arms Race

So, I came across this article by schoolgirl Olympia Nelson, decrying the “sexual rat race” of selfies on social media. She complains that they all converge on a single formula, which obtain the most “likes” on Instagram and Faceboook: “Nothing with too much creativity but hip, titty and kiss. It’s the true scourge of the selfie.”

But why do they all converge on this? Miss Nelson goes on:

Why are we girls competing to be the Queen of Pouts? Why do we scour through photos of celebrities and all our ambitious friends to find out who is the new princess of prurient poses? Even demure girls are tempted to strike sexually suggestive poses. But they must be careful, not because parents are looking but because they might not score any ”likes” and might then feel a failure, unworthy among their peers.

How confident can you appear at being lascivious? How credible is your air of lewdness? A girl who is just a try-hard will lose credibility and become an outcast. So a lot depends on how much support you can get from other girls.

She further describes the multitude of techniques young women use to increase their popularity scores. She laments the “fake flattery” young women use “to get higher on the food chain”, and that these often too-intimate pictures are posted by girls who “are seeking some sort of approval from their friends.”

However, she then attempts to blame it on “boys’ tastes”, which she calls “not always sophisticated” and based on “what they see in pornography”:

Who do we blame for this moral mess? As feminists, we correctly blame patriarchy because boys are securely at the top of the status game. Boys end up with the authority. They have their cake and eat it.

First, lamentable as the rise of pornography in our degenerate, declining culture is, it’s role here is minor at best. Science has amassed quite a bit of evidence that men’s “tastes” on women’s looks are pretty uniform and to a great extent hardwired. So, despite how Miss Nelson may wish things were, it’s unlikely that what boys like will change.

Second, one should ask why young women like Miss Nelson place so much importance and status in interest and attention from the opposite sex? THe answer is the same reason why (heterosexual) men place so much importance and status in interest and attention from the opposite sex: not “patriarchy”1 or “misogyny”, but biology. From the Darwinian perspective, finding and attracting a mate, more specifically the best quality mate one can, is literally the Most Important Thing. Thus, any accounting of social status amongst post-pubescent human beings will have sexual attractiveness as a significant component. You can rail against human nature, but biology wins out in the long run. This also strikes at the first bit; even if male tastes were different, girls would just compete over those instead, just as viciously.

Most important, though, and which Miss Nelson somewhat acknowledges when not deflecting blame, is that the most important factor is not male approval, but peer approval. The great anxiety that drives this behavior is the fear of being unpopular with other girls, of becoming an outcast. When it comes to breaking down individuality and enforcing conformity and social hierarchy, boot camp has nothing on what high school girls do to one another.

How often does a teen girl demand the latest popular album not because they like the music, but because all their friends listen to it, so she has to have it to or she’ll just die? See this bit from Scientific American, where brain scans have not only confirmed this phenomenon, but shown that the primary emotional motivation is fear of failing to fit in.

And being cast out from the pack means becoming prey to it. All the worst incidents of bullying I’ve heard or read about, in terms of psychological cruelty and viciousness, the perpetrator and victim have been teenage girls. There’s a reason the “alpha bitch” and “girl posse” tropes have such frequency and cross-cultural resonance. Or see the work of Rachel Simmons. And Paul Graham’s “Why Nerds Are Unpopular” helps further explain why high school amplifies this:

Why is the real world more hospitable to nerds? It might seem that the answer is simply that it’s populated by adults, who are too mature to pick on one another. But I don’t think this is true. Adults in prison certainly pick on one another. And so, apparently, do society wives; in some parts of Manhattan, life for women sounds like a continuation of high school, with all the same petty intrigues.

I think the important thing about the real world is not that it’s populated by adults, but that it’s very large, and the things you do have real effects. That’s what school, prison, and ladies-who-lunch all lack. The inhabitants of all those worlds are trapped in little bubbles where nothing they do can have more than a local effect. Naturally these societies degenerate into savagery. They have no function for their form to follow.

When the things you do have real effects, it’s no longer enough just to be pleasing. It starts to be important to get the right answers, and that’s where nerds show to advantage. Bill Gates will of course come to mind. Though notoriously lacking in social skills, he gets the right answers, at least as measured in revenue.


Given that human nature doesn’t change except on evolutionary time scales, and the prison-like nature of modern high school isn’t likely to be transformed anytime soon (save for its end with the total collapse of industrial civilization), not much can really be done. And the best thing to ameliorate the situation, parental involvement to limit the “selfie arms race”, Miss Nelson rejects in her concluding paragraph. She wants an end to girls being “compelled to act the stereotype, because those who opt out commit themselves to social leprosy”, but it is her fellow girls who provide the compulsion, and treat the non-conforming like lepers.

Miss Nelson identifies a real (if intractable) problem, but then spends the rest of her article deflecting all responsibility away from herself and her peers, blaiming “patriarchy”, and then rejecting any solution that might require trade-offs or any change in behavior on her part, instead wanting a vague, magical solution that doesn’t require any action on her part or any limits on her behavior. She wants fried ice; she is the one who wants to have her cake and eat it too. In other words, she’s a teenage girl.

1. In fact, under an actual patriarchy, the problem would be much less, if not non-existant, because patriarchs would not tolerate, and would curb, the female bad behavior and status games that drive this issue.


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One Response to “Teen Girls and the “Selfie” Arms Race”

  1. Ron Pearson Says:

    I typically unfollow these people from my facebook. The fact that I even still have facebook makes me feel shame. I have not unfriended some of them just in case I see them in real life and I dont want to feel awkward.

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