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Pop Stars Aren’t Immune to Cyber Bullying — Just Ask Ariana Grande

arianna-grandeAriana Grande was driven to tears on the Grammys® red carpet by social media criticism of her dress and hair. That’s the short story.

The longer story is that this is a very famous young woman who is also active on social media. In fact, she’s apparently subjected to such intense criticism that she just made a post on Instagram solely to address the reason why her hairstyle might be boring to her fans, and to ask their forgiveness.

This gorgeous young lady asked her fans to forgive her for her boring hair. I just keep needing to let that sink in.

“Since people give me such a hard time about my hair I thought I’d take the time to explain the whole situation to everybody. I had to bleach my hair and dye it red every other week for the first 4 years of playing Cat…as one would assume, that completely destroyed my hair.”

She explains further that she is now wearing a wig on the show, but her “real hair” is “broken” and “ratchet,” so she is wearing extensions and a ponytail as it grows out.

Okay, seems reasonable, and certainly nothing a girl would have to apologize for, right? Wrong.

So as annoying as it is for y’all to have to look at the same hair style all the time, it’s the one that works for now. And trust me, it’s even more difficult for me to have to wait forever for my natural hair to grow back and to have to wear more fake hair than every drag queen on earth combined. So PLEASE gimme a break about the hair (or just don’t look at me lol). IT’S JUST HAIR AFTER ALL.

My first reaction to this, as an adult person, is to think that this is ridiculous. Why should a person — no matter how famous — have to make a statement explaining why they are doing anything they happen to be doing with their hair? Why do they owe anyone an explanation?

Then I remember the flood of adults making critical comments about every single performer and presenter on the Grammys®, with a few nice ones thrown in. I remember that teenagers — the digital natives, the millennials — are forming their social relationships and solidifying self-concepts in a time when their lives are almost obsessively documented in real time, and interactively. I remember my own insecurities — the ones I have now, and a memory of how tough things were as a teenager. I remember that even my most physically beautiful friends, whatever that means, had them then, and have them now.

I thank my stars every day that Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook didn’t exist when I was in any of my school years through the end of college. It was difficult enough to become a person without them. I cannot imagine the extra layer of social pressure it puts on kids to have their peers — the ones they know and engage with every day in school and community, plus the countless invisible others who exist all over the world on the other side of a computer screen — able to observe and comment on their every word and image. I am a college counselor and professor, and my freshmen share stories with me of Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and Kik (“Facebook is so done, Professor White. We aren’t there anymore, but our moms are.”) and what goes on there. Some of what I hear isn’t pretty — so much that I have added “digital identity” discussions to my first-year seminar course, where we talk about what the opinions of peers mean and how to communicate effectively in words and pictures online. Hint: I discourage popularity ratings with numbers on Instagram pictures and the sending of questionable photos to anyone, whether they’re rumored to disappear in ten seconds or not.

I’ve scrolled through Ariana’s Instagram comments, or tried to. It’s tough to do because there are thousands and the “load more comments” option doesn’t always cooperate. One picture has more than 16,000 comments, another has more than 17,000. It’s impossible to keep up with the stream and easy to be amazed by the level and velocity of engagement with her. I didn’t see a lot of negative comments, but I did see many from young girls and boys telling her that she’s beautiful and to “ignore the haters”:

I love your hair and I’m not just saying that! People need to Remember that your human too and you have feelings too! People on twitter and Instagram who comment negatively about your hair or anything they need to get a reality check and grow up. Don’t let these people phase you. Damaged or not HAIR IS HAIR and everyone needs to remember it’s not important. And at the Grammys you looked beautiful and I’m super proud that you decided to keep your head up high and walk down the red carpet. Your a unbelievable kind of beauty and don’t ever forget that.

So there. It’s healthy and smart to focus on those nice things, but I know how easy it is to focus on the negative instead. I think of how 16,000 people could say positive things to me, and how one person could say a critical thing and that is the one I would remember. This was especially true when I was an awkward adolescent with very little confidence. I still remember particular slights and insults from those days, even thought they no longer directly affect my self-concept. I can’t say they never did, though.

So PLEASE gimme a break about the hair (or just don’t look at me lol). IT’S JUST HAIR AFTER ALL.

Right? It’s just hair. I have to admit that I appreciate Ariana’s approach to her “haters.” It’s straightforward. It’s personal. It directly addresses the issue. It puts a very human touch on a famous person’s struggle with external appearance, which is very real in her industry. But it still hurts my heart that any young girl has to make any kind of excuse for what she looks like, and I do pay close attention to what young people are experiencing now in our very public, highly interactive, not-always-in-person public sphere. If Hollywood stories tell us anything, it’s that the beautiful and famous are not immune to pain from criticism, and sometimes, the younger they are, the harder they fall. I like seeing the many, many teenagers in her feeds popping up with support, for her and for each other. It’s my hope for her that she’ll hear the positive voices as well as the negative, and that maybe at some point those will get even louder.

Image credit: Instagram

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