Upon attending a concert given by Olivia Rodrigo, I recalled an episode on the Twilight Zone, They All Look Like #12, that I had seen back in 1964. In his introduction, Rod Serling says let’s imagine the year is 2000. We are now 22 years past that year projected by Mr. Serling but, I regret to say, ever closer to what was portrayed in the Twilight Zone in that episode.
The episode tells of how a young girl, Marilyn, aged 18, is being told by her mother that it is time for her to go through the transformation process in which she can look exactly like a model exemplified by the number 12 figure. She is urged by her mother, Laura, and her friend, Valerie, to go through this transformation as they tell her: “What girl would not want to be beautiful.” But Marilyn remembering the strong feeling she had for her father, who we later discover has committed suicide to avoid the decree of transformation, replies: “Being like everybody is the same as being nobody.” Toward the end of the episode, Marilyn says her father cared about her as a person and not what she looked like. We see her futile attempt to escape with her being apprehended, placed on a bed, and the doctor telling her mother the procedure is done. She gets up and sees that she looks beautiful but a clone of her friend Valerie, #12, at which point the viewer hears Rod Serling’s voice in the background: “Portrait of a young lady in love with herself….In an age of plastic surgery and body building and an infinity of cosmetics those and other strange blessings may be waiting in the future which after all is the twilight zone.”
There is little doubt in my mind that Olivia Rodrigo’s album, Sour, shows a unique brilliance with great potential for such a young woman. However, as I pointed out in my earlier blog, her songs are all laced with a sadness (as reflected in the album title, Sour) where social relationships with young males have gone awry. I believe much of the troubled feelings expressed by Rodrigo is reinforced by social media. Thus, from the period between 2019-2021 suicidal attempts by female adolescents increased by 50% resulting in a much higher rate of hospitalizations for them than adolescent boys. The pandemic may have contributed to this alarming statistic by causing the need to isolate that allowed a greater amount of time to be spent alone on social media. Use of such platforms such as Instagram where teens, not only take photographs of themselves, but can dress up their features through a filtering process has only escalated this issue. The intense rivalry for who has the most beautiful picture, through real or fake means, can be deleterious to young females who are often severely impacted by such comparisons at the tender age of teens.
Beauty, as an ideal that Serling spoke about in the Twilight Zone, necessitated a surgical procedure but in 2022 adolescent females have found a way to create their own beauty through social media. Unfortunately, the arm of social media is almost infinite in length allowing friends and strangers to see posts and make either favorable or unfavorable comments, in real time, on these posts. Jonathan Haidt, professor in psychology at New York University, has argued that 13-year-old adolescents are too young to have access to such social media and has suggested raising the minimum age to 16. But even if the minimum age to allow teens access is 16, there still needs to be a way of enforcing this rule. Such a procedure does not currently exist.
The need to fit in with its concomitant peer pressure always has been of supreme importance during adolescence. This need has been intensified with the constant monitoring and comparing fostered by social media. When the standard becomes how beautiful one appears to countless others, those that don’t meet it can suffer immeasurable harm. This, I would maintain, is what has caused a precipitous increase in the incidence of suicidal attempts of female teens.