Tayja Jones wasn’t going to go to her junior prom. The 17-year-old hadn’t planned on it but was persuaded by those close to her to attend. So she did. She got all dolled up, put on a sparkly dress, got her hair and makeup done and stepped out looking and feeling like a million bucks. “I felt good, and I was happy,” Jones told the local Fox affiliate in Philadelphia.
After having a great time with her friends at prom, she posted a picture of herself on social media smiling and called it a night. The next morning, the confidence she exuded on her big night deflated substantially. Her photo had gone viral. But not for the reasons a young person would hope for.
Somehow the image spread and people were attacking her looks.
“People I didn’t know were just like, ‘That dress is not for her. She looked like a fat something’…it was just really hurtful. I was so confident the day before, and it just changed my view of myself.”
Thankfully, the teen was eventually showered with positive messages from people far and wide who wanted her to know she looked and is beautiful. That includes singer Kelly Rowland.
With the help of all those people, Jones was able to think positive. But she does admit that her self-esteem has been shaken to its core.
As I read Jones’s story, I couldn’t help but be sad. When we were growing up, we all had people who said disrespectful things to us, and maybe some of us were bullied by our classmates. However, those individuals were people who knew us, in some way. Whether they had classes with us, were involved in similar extracurricular activities, or just knew us from moving around the school. They were haters who didn’t want to see us shine. It was hurtful, but you got over it.
These days, complete strangers who don’t know you from Adam will make it almost a sport to tear folks down. They know nothing about your story, your state of mind, obstacles you’ve had to overcome, but for entertainment, will steal your image, pass it around and berate you. And for what? The snaggletooth grown man who decided to demean Jones made it very clear in an Instagram video that “I don’t give a f–k about that little a– girl and her f–king prom.” He just wanted to share the hateful opinion that her friends and family lied to her when they said she looked cute and let her leave the house for the night. He said all of this while dressed in a zip-front sweater, a plaid button-down shirt, pronouncing “looked” as “lookded”:
Clearly life hasn’t been too kind to him…
Jones is a bigger girl, yes. And so what? What can we do to change that? What can she do, on her prom night, to change that? Absolutely nothing. And yet, it took nothing for people to speak ill of her on the most magical evening of her young life, despite the fact that she’s not just someone’s child, but an actual child.
And this is what scares me. All the power complete strangers have over the way we see ourselves, specifically over the way our young people see themselves. People who have nothing going on in their lives use social media, which is supposed to have so many positive advantages, to be as ugly as possible, even to children. And it’s especially scary because so many young people put themselves out there on social media in the attempt to find individuals who will boost their self-confidence and amp up their ego, which they’re too young to have fully formed. The confidence we should be building and maintaining within them they are seeking from other people. And to make matters worse, they have their self-esteem broken by people who’ve never had a conversation with them and couldn’t give a damn about who they are and what they have to offer the world.
Behind computers and phones, many of today’s young people lose sight of reality. That’s why my niece, who is just an everyday college student, has thousands of followers on social media. She takes pictures in sports bras and tight dresses, showing off a faux confidence that would blow your mind but barely likes to make conversation with when you’re face-to-face because she’s so shy. It’s why my nephew’s social media friends beg one another to post their pictures so they can accrue more followers, even though when I sat with him during a recent visit home, in a quiet voice while staring forward (he was too shy to look me in my face) only had a handful of friends in real life. It’s why Jones told reporters she was so confident during prom, but attacks on her body “just changed my view of myself.”
I can’t imagine what any of this is like because social media was a whole lot of nothing when I was growing up. The only comments I ever heard about my prom pictures came from friends and family I showed them to, people who had nothing but love for me. But today’s kids only know how to share, share, share, and unfortunately, they don’t realize that they’re sharing so much of their vulnerable selves, and in turn, feeding themselves to the sharks.