By Morgan Owen
Three girls sit in the park having a good time together in the summer sun. Jamie and Taylor are laughing, but Jordan spends the entire time taking selfies on her phone. With every picture, she cringes, trying to adjust the filters and remove all imperfections from the photo.
Jamie asks if Jordan is OK. She brushes her friend off, but Jamie persists until Jordan exclaims, “You don’t understand! People are so judgmental on social media. I have to look perfect.” Jordan’s friends are taken aback. They think she is beautiful.
That is how the PSA, “Perfectly Imperfect,” created by the Playa Vista/Palms-Rancho Park Teen Council, begins. The short video follows the three friends as they teach Jordan about body dysmorphia and discuss strategies to mitigate the harmful effects of social media. They detail ways to help self-esteem and combat body dysmorphia, from therapy to asking family members for support. It ends with the three girls saying three things they love about themselves.
“Perfectly Imperfect” is just one component of a larger project by the Playa Vista/Palms-Rancho Teen Council’s Teens Leading Change project that engages with the effects of social media on mental health and body image.
Teens Leading Change is a larger initiative of the LA Public Library that encourages teen councils to create educational projects like this one. The program was first started in 2018 by the Youth Services Department and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles to get teens more involved in civic action. Teen councils create a project, apply for a Teens Leading Change grant, and have a year to execute their vision.
Emily Meehan, the young adult librarian at the Playa Vista Branch Library, says her Teen Council has done three Teens Leading Change projects. She says the topic of social media and body image evolved naturally from the challenges her council members face every day.
“They are on the front lines with a teen mental health crisis. They have told me they have friends or even themselves that are really suffering, especially since the pandemic, from loneliness and depression and not feeling like the world is being kind to them,” Meehan says.
In their teen council meetings, Meehan says the group has discussed questions like ‘Is social media good or bad?’ and ‘How responsible are social media companies in all this?’ The biggest challenge, she says, for the teen council members was to recognize that the issue of social media and mental health is not binary.
“The issue we came across for a while was (figuring out if) we should use social media to get our message across,” Meehan says. “We concluded that it’s complicated. Social media can be a good way to get our information out there because people are already on social media. … I feel like that was a fun challenge in the beginning — do we want to use these things that we have been very critical of?”
For their final project, the council members, many of whom are interested in film, wanted to create a documentary, but Meehan says that the group ultimately decided to create a few shorter PSA videos and produce informational articles about the intersection of social media and mental health.
The Teen Council will also hold an event to commemorate the end of its Teens Leading Change project on June 3 for teens in Playa Vista, Palms and Rancho Park to discuss the impacts of social media. There, the Teen Council will premiere its PSAs and host an open conversation about social media; healthy habits; and resources available to someone who might be suffering from body image issues, cyberbullying or even social media addiction.
“The conclusion our teens have come to is that social media isn’t good for you or isn’t bad for you. It’s complicated,” Meehan says. “What we want to get out there is you don’t need to completely ax social media out of your life. You don’t need to take it away forever, but learning how to manage your social media use and be mindful is what we’re trying to go for.”
Healthy and Mindful Social Media for Teens
WHEN: 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 3
WHERE: Palms-Rancho Park Branch Library, 2920 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles