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Lesson Plans

Instagram Beauty Contests Can Be Harmful to Girls

April 15, 2013

Full Lesson


While most photos shared through the social networking site Instagram are inoffensive snapshots of everyday life, pageants known as #beautycontest, are gaining followers and sparking concerns about the internet safety of teens and pre-teens.


Read this editorial on the #beautycontest phenomenon for a student perspective on the issue.

To enter the contest, teenage and pre-adolescent girls, some as young as 10-years-old, upload pictures of themselves to Instagram with the hash tag #beautycontest. Hash tag symbols (#) identify and aggregate a series of related posts into a single searchable term on a range of social networks.

Other Instagram users can scroll through the photos and offer positive or negative feedback on the appearance of the girls. Once a girl’s photo receives a determined number of negative remarks, an anonymous pageant moderator places a red “X” over her face, indicating she has been eliminated. There is no prize other than the bragging rights of remaining in the contest. Pictures can be of boys, too, but the majority are of girls.

Many girls don’t protect their internet identities

The #beautycontest trend, which boasts more than 8500 search results on Instagram, has heightened parents’ concerns about child safety and appropriate uses of social networking and photo sharing apps.

Many of the Instagram accounts of girls entered into the pageants are linked to their Facebook or Twitter pages, making them easy to identify and contact.

One blogger mom, Hollee Actman Becker, discovered a picture of her 10-year-old daughter in an Instagram beauty contest. When Becker asked her daughter about the photo, she realized the 10-year-old didn’t really understand the full impact of putting her picture on an Instagram with “#beautycontest”.

“We set our kids up on social media, and then for all intents and purposes, we hang them out to dry,” wrote Becker in an editorial on the Huffington Post. “I’m going to take a few moments before all the after-school craziness begins to really sit down and talk to them about what it means to use social media correctly and responsibly.”

A new way to damage self-esteem

Teenagers, and teenage girls in particular, tend to be vulnerable to peer pressure, and comments made about them can have intense impacts on their self-esteem and ability to form healthy identities.

“What started out as just a photo-sharing site has become something really pernicious for young girls,” Rachel Simmons, author of “Odd Girl Out” and a speaker on youth and girls, told the Washington Post. “They co-opted it and imposed their social life on it to compete for attention and in a very exaggerated way.”

ABC spoke with a group of teen girls who described what is like to put a picture up for review. One said, “If I just got like, one ‘X’ it would just like ruin my self-confidence.”

Instagram denies accountability for the beauty contest hash tag, but put out a statement saying that parents should monitor their children’s online activities and that Instagram users should use the app’s various tools to report inappropriate content.

— Compiled by Laura Sciuto for NewsHour Extra