VERNON - With sociologists worldwide linking the use of social media to increased self esteem issues such as body image concerns, it is little wonder sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are often deemed as a distorted, toxic mirror, especially when it comes to today's youth. But a group of Vernon High School students is fighting back against social media's pressure to be "perfect." The VHS AVID organization has launched "#VHSKeepitReal" and "#VHSGirlStrong" to encourage students and adults alike to embrace their "real" selves and recognize that today's media tends to set impossible standards, thanks not just to filters and Photoshop - but also through judging ourselves by the achievements of others.
Both movements urge individuals to post unfiltered photos on social media, along with the hashtags, to celebrate the flaws and unique quirks that make up their personalities.
Asjia Wright is among about 40 VHS AVID students and says it all began with a video.
"We watched a video that showed a domino effect of social media postings," said Wright. "The video showed how one person looked at what another posted, so they had to put on makeup or act like they were doing something they weren't just to keep up. Then, someone else saw that post, and it just kept going."
Faith Baxley says the pressure for teen girls to "look a certain way" is increasingly overwhelming, and she wants her classmates to know they are all beautiful in their own way. Baxley decided to place inspirational affirmations in the school's girls' bathrooms to serve as a reminder.
"This is part of VHS Girl Strong, and the message is to make yourself happy," she said. "Someone can be having a bad day, but they can walk in just to check their reflection and see these quotes on the wall that remind them not only of their true beauty, but also that girls are strong, and you can get through any battle you are facing."
The messages posted in the bathroom - and around the campus - include sayings such as: "When you realize your self worth, you'll stop giving people discounts", "You can't spell beautiful without "BE U", and "Don't conceal your struggles. Keep it REAL".
AVID sponsors are Anna Beth Rackley, Niki Sealy, and Stacy Collins. Rackley says Baxley's idea has been reaching the school's teen girls on a very personal level.
"When they look in the mirror and see those words reflected next to their own image, they begin to apply those feeling to themselves, their self image, and their self worth," said Rackley.
But self image isn't just a concern for the girls.
AVID member Tyrick Davis says he knows teenage boys struggle with the same issues - but have the added pressure of feeling like they can't admit what is perceived as a weakness.
"A lot of girls talk to each other about their insecurities, but most guys really aren't going to do that," he said. "I've seen some guys post things [on social media] just to add to their popularity, just to show the girls they are popular. But deep down, they're like everyone else. We are all human with flaws, and that's ok."
Rackley says the movement has gained momentum - and adds that it isn't just about physical appearance.
"We have had a variety of posts, including one who posted a photo of their less than perfect handwriting, and another who is usually a straight A student posting a photo of a 'B' grade," she said.
"These kids are celebrating their differences. Instead of putting out this perfect, idealized image of ourselves, we are all recognizing that yes, we have flaws - but we are being the real us, and that's ok."