In movies and television shows, teens are portrayed as angsty and asocial beings who prefer scrolling through social media on our phones rather than spending time engaged in conversation with friends and family. We are stereotyped as obsessed with makeup, gossip and parties.
But this is not reality.
While it’s true Generation Z enjoys TikTok, Instagram and video games, we’re not glued to our screens. We enjoy playing outdoors, spending quality time with friends and family, and pursuing hobbies we’re passionate about. Similarly, instead of constantly obsessing about shallow things, we are deep thinkers who explore ideas of social justice, politics and the environment. When we talk about what we did over the weekend, it’s not usually about parties; instead, we rant about studying for exams and finishing our homework. I wish this was the side of us that was seen in films and books.
The way we are portrayed in media is not only misleading — it can be dangerous. On TV, we are often played by gorgeous 30-year-old actors with amazing physiques and clear skin. This flawless representation is incredibly unrealistic, as we are still developing into our bodies and experiencing hormonal shifts that cause acne and countless insecurities related to appearance. I remember expecting to look like these glamorous actresses upon entering high school and feeling disappointed by the reality of thick glasses and braces.
Perhaps teen girls struggle with these stereotypes the most. Even if they aren’t giving into the pressures to look good, they sometimes struggle to do the opposite: to “not be like other girls.” For a lot of elementary school and part of middle school, I found myself falling into this harmful mindset. I avoided the color pink at all costs, hated wearing dresses and refused to wear makeup in fear of becoming the girl I saw portrayed in the media. The girls interested in these things were usually ditzy, unintelligent and shallow characters.
When we were younger, books that portrayed main characters as “different” were also “better.” This meant some girls tried forcing themselves to despise things they were actually interested in. “You’re not like other girls” became a compliment that set girls apart from the rest; the toxic consequence was that it brought others down.
As I grew older, I realized this type of thinking was wrong. Guess what? The color pink is actually pretty, and I do enjoy shopping. But these things don’t make me or anyone else “less” than other girls. I’m still a hardworking and driven student with career goals and a caring personality.
I’ve learned that stereotypes — on either side of the spectrum — interfere with our ability to be authentic. We should all feel free to love what we love, without feeling shame. Unfortunately, it’s the portrayals of teens on screen and elsewhere that often make us feel uncomfortable with who we are. I hope that the more we recognize harmful stereotypes, the more resilient we can become to them — the more we can be our truest selves. I’m hopeful that we can celebrate and recognize people’s complexity and individuality regardless of how popular their interests may be.