CELEBRITY CULTURE and social media make navigating your twenties harder than ever for young women, says TV psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos. But there is a solution...
The world is your oyster.
Anyone who says that to a twenty-something probably doesn’t remember being that age. Sure, it’s marvellous to be young and fresh-faced, with your whole life ahead of you. However, it’s easy to forget about the uncertainty, pressure and insecurity that comes with youth, especially in the age of online dating, the internet, celebrity culture, rocketing house prices and the recession.
A “mental health time bomb”
In fact, according to television psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, 43, the pressured world we live in is creating a “mental health time bomb,” which is manifesting itself in increasingly common cases of anorexia, body image disorders and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).
Her ninth book, Whose Life is it Anyway?, was written to support young females such as the ones she encounters in her London-based practice, where she’s working when we chat over the phone.
“I kept hearing the same refrain,” she says. “That was, ‘I feel that I’m not enough’. There’s real angst. Being in your third decade has always been hard as you’re supposed to figure out who you’re going to date, where to live, what you’re going to be – big decisions. I don’t want this book to scare people, though, as those years are in equal measure wonderful and frightening. It’s about normalising that it’s a bit tougher, but there are ways around it.”
The book takes a big sisterly tone
The book takes a big sisterly tone to increase readers’ awareness of various issues. Chapters include the Quarter-Life Crisis and the Fear of Getting Older, The Need to Please and Online Me, Offline Me – Who am I Supposed to Be?
The first two chapters of the book are called Perfect Lives and Hot Enough?
After all, when else in history have we been bombarded with so many, often manipulated, images of what advertising and the media perceive as “perfection”. And, as the book explains, “when we inevitably fall short, we feel anxious”.
Our culture, as Whose Life Is It Anyway? explains, is much more visual than it’s ever been, which leads to us regarding ourselves in the third person – much like a product that we’re disconnected from.
Previous generations might have used some of their twenties for self-discovery, which may have involved forging a career or travelling, however, according to the book, there’s now a sense that finding yourself involves “building a brand” to appeal to others.
That concept is enabled by the internet – a technology that today’s twentysomethings take for granted.
Be expected to broadcast images of themselves via social media
To promote themselves, young people might, for example, be expected to broadcast images of themselves via social media. We’ve all seen the clichéd shots, like the perfect pouting selfie, the bikini image on a sunny beach, or the pics of feet in new shoes or a designer handbag hanging off the arm.
“The way we edit our lives using, for example, Facebook or Instagram, is a big thing,” says Papadopoulos. “It’s like creating constant press releases about ourselves, to which we then get a critical review through likes and followers. That is extremely unhealthy.”
Even if you do manage to get enough virtual attention to boost your ego and personal brand, there can still be a huge sense that real life is disappointing, especially when everyone else seems to be winning.
“Success is seen as such an easy thing,” says Papadopoulos. “I was in my local bookstore the other day and couldn’t believe how many celebrity autobiographies are out there. There’s this whole X Factor idea that if you want it bad enough, it’ll happen.”
However, in a society where the richest one per cent own as much wealth as the lowest 55 per cent combined, not everyone gets their metaphorical Simon Cowell moment, or can ever afford the latest Mulberry bag.
According to Papadopoulos, this has led to psychologists examining themes around resilience, as the twenty-something generation is finding it hard to bounce back.
“It’s important to validate your child”
“Many of them will have been raised by parents who bought into – perhaps a lot of my colleagues’ ideas – of increasing self-esteem by telling children that they’re amazing,” Papadopoulos explains. “It’s important to validate your child, but constantly calling them a princess or a rock star isn’t helpful when they then get dumped into the worst economic crisis ever. There’s incongruence between expectations of where their life should be and where it’s actually at. What punctuates that is that, over the last decade and a half, celebrity culture has seeped into our sense of entitlement.”
It seems that the ubiquitous but very influential Kardashians (at the time of going to press, Kim had 24.4 million followers on Twitter) and other stars have got a lot to answer for. Many of these celebrities are famous not for their talents, but almost purely for their endorsement of expensive products which, ironically, they most likely get given for free.
“On any celebrity website, the things making the stories are who’s wearing what, who’s bought what, it’s not about people giving back,” Papadopoulos says. “There’s an onus on young people proving their worth by the stuff they own. As a scientist, it makes me a bit sad that the vast amount of women we celebrate in our culture are celebrated for what they look like.”
This is all particularly personal for self-proclaimed feminist Papadopoulos, as she has a 12-year-old daughter, Jessie, who is still in her formative years.
“Because I don’t want her self-esteem being predicated on looks”
However, thanks to the influence of her psychologist mother, it sounds like she’ll grow up to be as well adjusted as she could possibly be.
“When she was little and people would say ‘aren’t you pretty’, I’d say she’s really good at maths and judo too, because I don’t want her self-esteem being predicated on looks,” says Papadopoulos. “The idea that Jessie would grow up to think she’s not good enough would break my heart.”
Still, it’s not all bad news for future generations. As Papadopoulos explains, at least the younger generation have the potential and ability to mould culture as they see fit.
“There’s a lot of things to be hopeful about as well,” she says. “For example, as screwed up as the internet is, it’s a great way of sharing opinions and ideas – as long as young people are more savvy about the voices they’re listening to and the media that they’re producing and engaging with, we can move forward.”
• Whose Life is it Anyway? by Dr Linda Papadopoulos is published by Piatkus, priced £13.99