WHITNEY: Teenagers do dumb things, but so have we
Someone is going to mention the #kyliejennerlipchallenge to you in the next week, and I feel like it’s my job to prepare you for that, parent to parent.
Kylie Jenner, of the Beverly Hills Jenner-Kardashian family, has recently become known for her rather full lips. Fillers or not, her teen followers want to cop her look, so they’re self-suctioning their lips into the rims of Gatorade bottles, using the negative pressure to swell their lips. This is NOT working out well for most of them. Nonetheless, they’re documenting the results on social media with that hashtag above.
We need to make sense of this.
Research tells us teens have a limited capacity for understanding potential negative consequences.They struggle to control impulse and they crave novelty. To quote the National Institute for Mental Health, “In key ways, the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.”
Combine all of that with the omni-pressure created by “the media” — whether we define that as marketing from the beauty and fashion industries, the celebrity “news” sector, or just general comparison with peers across social media — and you’ve got a recipe for some pretty silly behavior.
Back in my day, my friends and I were into trying to recreate the shopping cart stunts from MTV’s "Jackass." Teenagers do dumb things. And the Kylie Jenner lip challenge is dumb.
But I’m not here to decry the dumbness of the lip challenge. Teenagers are entitled to do things that are risky and silly and, yes, regrettable. That’s how they learn. For the record, I haven’t driven a shopping cart into a snowbank in years because I learned my lesson!
No, I’m here to defend the kids, and to tell you about the dumbness that will be the media coverage of this latest viral sensation.
Here’s how the #kyliejennerchallenge is going to play out for those of us upstanding adults who aren’t playing along: Adults on TV will show brutal before and after photos of girls who sustain pretty serious bruising and tissue damage. They’ll ignore the fact that there’s a company called Fullips that actually sells a product meant to plump lips using this same type of self-suction. Instead, they’ll chastise the girls who get bruised faces and they’ll ask questions like, “What were they thinking? How did we get to this point? What could possibly inspire such stupidity?”
And whether the adults on TV get this far or not, these will be the answers: They were thinking of either doing something funny to curry likes online, or they were thinking it would be a valuable use of time to attempt to emulate the aspirational beauty standards set by young Hollywood and sold by major retailers. We got to this point by turning celebrity Instagram photos into news items and not taking the time to teach our kids the value of real news and real beauty. Insecurity can inspire some pretty stupid stuff, but it can also be more damaging than even the most extensive mouth bruise.
If you feel the urge to ridicule some poor girl with a perfectly circular ring around her mouth, pull out your high school yearbook or photo album. Examine your clothing and fashion choices. Remember your first hangover. Then circle back to #kyliejennerlipchallenge and see if you still feel faultless enough to judge.