American Girls: Social Media And The Secret Lives Of Teenagers by Nancy Jo SalesAmerican Girls: Social Media And The Secret Lives Of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Salessticker-burst

American Girls: Social Media And The Secret Lives Of Teenagers

byNancy Jo Sales

Paperback | January 24, 2017

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A New York Times Bestseller

Award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales crisscrossed the country talking to more than two hundred girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen about their experiences online and off. They are coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills.
The dominant force in the lives of girls coming of age in America today is social media: Instagram, Whisper, Vine, Youtube, Kik,, Tinder. 

Provocative, explosive, and urgent, American Girls will ignite much-needed conversation about how we can help our daughters and sons negotiate the new social and sexual norms that govern their lives.
NANCY JO SALES is an award-winning journalist and author who has written for Vanity Fair, New York, Harper's Bazaar, and many other publications. She is known for her reporting on youth culture and crime and for her profiles of pop-culture icons. She won a 2011 Front Page Award for “Best Magazine Feature” and a 2010 Mirror Award for “B...
Title:American Girls: Social Media And The Secret Lives Of TeenagersFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:416 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 0.9 inShipping dimensions:8 × 5.2 × 0.9 inPublished:January 24, 2017Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

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ISBN - 10:0804173184

ISBN - 13:9780804173186

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Read from the Book

Chapter One13Montclair, New Jersey“SEND NOODZ.”The boy sent the message in the middle of the day, when she was walking home from school. He sent it via direct message on Instagram, in the same shaky, childlike font as the new Drake album (“IF YOURE READING THIS ITS TOO LATE”).Sophia stared at her phone.“Wait what???” she responded.No answer.She continued along the empty streets. It was a warm spring day and the wide green lawns were full of blooming trees. Montclair was a pretty place, and it was safe, so a lot of kids walked home from school. She’d been with friends, but they had already peeled off and gone inside their houses, so she was all alone. She hoped to see someone she knew, hopefully a girl she could tell: “Oh my God, you know Zack, he asked me for nudes!” And: “What should I do?”But there was no one around. She thought about texting someone—most things, observations, gossip, jokes, were shared right away, but this seemed like something new. Something almost . . . private. Secret. That rare thing, something no one else could know.She had heard of boys asking girls for nudes before, but it had never happened to her. This was her first time. She didn’t know how to respond, or if she should respond. Should she be outraged? Shocked? Her first reaction was: “I was like, Whoa, he finds me attractive? That’s kind of strange. I never knew he found me attractive . . .”She thought about the boy. He was thirteen, the same age as she, a boy from her eighth-grade class. He was a boy like other boys—he talked loud and rough and wore baggy shorts and snapback hats and had a swaggering demeanor like Justin Bieber, whom he probably would have dissed. He was “cute,” “but kind of gross.”She wondered if he liked her. “He never likes anything of mine on Instagram, but why would he ask me that if he hadn’t been thinking about me? If I wasn’t in his mind? Boys aren’t gonna come out and just say, ‘I like you,’ ’cause they don’t do that. They have, like, their own language . . .”When she got to her house, a Victorian house with a wraparound porch, the place where boys had once come calling for girls, she went upstairs to her room. Plugged her phone into the charger. It was almost out of juice. She’d been up most of the night texting under the covers so if her mother walked in she wouldn’t see—texting friends in her group chat who were still awake, sending words and emojis and giggling over inside jokes. And then during the day she had texted all through school. She woke up tired a lot of the time, but, she said, “I just drink a Red Bull.”She went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Peered at herself. Pursed her lips. Stuck her tongue out to the side, Miley-style. Tossed her hair. She knew that she was “attractive,” so she wasn’t all that surprised that the boy had asked her for nudes. “I get, like, a hundred likes on all my pictures and people comment, like, ‘Gorgeous . . . ’ ”But she wondered what it would be like if someone actually had a naked picture of her, and she wondered what that picture would be. “Not like I was gonna do it—oh my God, no—but if you did, like, what would you send so it looked good, and not ratchet?”She wondered if the boy had thought about kissing her. If he was going to be her first kiss. She’d been wondering what it would be like to kiss a boy, to have one want you so bad he would take you into the park or even his room and press his lips against yours, wrapping his arms around you, holding you close.She heard her phone ding from inside the bathroom. A text alert. She ran to see. It was the boy, responding to her message:“I really need this ’cause I have to win a bet I wont show anyone,” he wrote.“What serious who else did you ask,” she texted, her heart beating fast.“nobody lol I need it from you please”“Why”“so theres this high school kid I think hes a senior who hooks me up with lq”—booze—“he said hell get us as much as we need cause hes rich if me and jack show that we can get nudes no disrespect im just asking you cause youre the prettiest girl and the best person to ask”She stared at the phone, thought about it a moment, and wrote: “lol”New York, New YorkAt the Barnes & Noble on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in May 2015, Kim Kardashian was launching her latest book, Selfish, a collection of selfies and nudes. It was more than 400 pages of Kim staring into the camera, pursing her lips, looking sultry and suggestive. It was Kim naked in a bathroom mirror, naked in a bedroom mirror, clutching her naked breasts, leaning naked over a bathroom sink, sticking her famous behind up in the air; Kim leaning naked over a bed in the grainy dark, Kim in lingerie and bathing suits, lounging beside electric-blue swimming pools, doing “leg shots.”“Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God,” said a thirteen-year-old girl waiting in the line snaking through the store.There were pictures of Kim from 2006, when she was still an L.A. party girl and friend of Paris Hilton’s, to 2014, after she had become one of the most famous women in the world. In those eight years, which had seen the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, and the global spread of social media through mobile technology, Kim had become social media’s biggest star. In 2006, she had just 856 friends on Myspace—where she announced in her profile, “I’m a PRINCESS and you’re not so there!”—and now she had 31 million followers on Instagram, second only to Beyoncé, whom she would eclipse in a few months, climbing to number one. She had 34 million followers on Twitter, where she posted more selfies daily, most of which got thousands of favorites and retweets. “I love her,” said another girl in the store.What was the meaning of Kim Kardashian? Why was she here, and why wouldn’t she go? Why did anyone care about her, and how had she become so ubiquitous? Throughout the years of her ascendance, people had been trying to figure this out. Some seemed furious at her success, which in 2015 included TV shows, endorsement deals, makeup, fragrances, clothing lines, one of the most popular of all mobile apps—in which a Kim avatar showed you how to become as famous as she—and a net worth of $85 million. Still, she was called “vain,” “shallow,” “frivolous,” “egotistical,” “materialistic,” and many other more vulgar insults in endless media pieces and online rants. “I have never heard more anger and dismay than when we announced that the people you are about to see were on our list,” Barbara Walters told viewers before airing a segment on the Kardashian family in her 10 Most Fascinating People show of 2011. “You are all often described as famous for being famous,” Walters leveled at sisters Kim, Khloé, Kourtney, and their mother, Kris, who sat before her in sleek couture. “You don’t really act, you don’t sing, you don’t dance, you don’t have any—forgive me—any talent.”The Kardashians tried, in their mild way, but they couldn’t quite seem to explain to Walters, who had come of age at a different time, that this was actually the point—talent didn’t matter much in becoming famous anymore. Or perhaps what served as talent had transformed. It was now enough to know how to become famous purely for the sake of fame.“She’s amazing,” said another girl in Barnes & Noble.The Kardashians, a family of American girls, had come on the scene, swept forward by the gown of Princess Kim, in a kind of perfect cultural storm: there was the fascination with fame that had always danced at the edges of American identity, and now, with the explosion of a celebrity news industry fueled by Internet blogs and TMZ, had taken over the aspirational longings of the young. A 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 51 percent of eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds said their most or second most important life goal was to become famous. Sixty-four percent said their number one goal was to become rich.A girl waiting in line for Kim said, “I want her life.”There was reality television, which stoked a thirst for more and more intimate details of the lives of celebrities and newly minted reality show stars. And there was princess culture. For a generation of girls raised on the Disney corporation’s multibillion-dollar line of so-called princess products, the five sisters of Keeping Up with the Kardashians were real-life princesses who lived in a Calabasas, California, castle, unabashedly focused on the pursuit of beauty treatments, expensive fun, and luxury brands—the latter a national fixation spawned in the “luxury revolution” of the last thirtysomething years, in which most of the wealth of the country had traveled into the hands of a few, with the rest of the population looking on longingly as the beneficiaries of a new Gilded Age flaunted their high-end stuff. And entertainment media, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to Keeping Up with the Kardashians, provided them with ample opportunities to do just that.“I get letters from little girls begging me to adopt them,” Kim once told a reporter. The Kardashian lifestyle was the fulfillment of a new American dream that had been embraced by many girls and young women, unsurprisingly enough, at a time when everything around them supported it as an ideal: it was to be beautiful, famous, and rich, and to have amazing clothes, bags, and shoes and tens of millions of followers on social media. It was to get tens or even hundreds of thousands of likes on all your selfies.“I want to take a selfie with her,” a girl in Barnes & Noble said excitedly.Behind the Kardashians’ lifestyle, there was a mother, but it wasn’t Kim; it was Kris Jenner, Kim’s own mother and tireless manager, who took 10 percent of all her daughters’ incomes. “My job is to take my family’s fifteen minutes of fame and turn it into thirty,” Kris once declared. That her family’s fifteen minutes had begun with a leaked sex tape of her daughter and the singer Ray J didn’t seem to give her pause; in fact, it was just after the release of the tape that Kris started shopping her family’s reality show, a move she likened to “[making] some lemonade out of these lemons.” The scandal which Paris Hilton had already endured wasn’t much of a scandal anymore. Porn stars were writing best-selling books and appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show. For the biggest, darkest cloud in the perfect storm that brought Kim Kardashian rising out of the ocean of wannabe celebrities like Venus on a flip phone was the widespread consumption and normalization of online porn. In 2014, Pornhub reported in its “Year in Review” that Kim was number eight in the top ten most popular “porn stars” in the world.“Kim, you’re doing amazing, sweetie,” Kris said in an iconic moment on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, in which Kim, naked except for jewelry and heels, is on her knees, arching her back, and posing as a photographer snaps pictures—as does Kris, with a little personal camera. The moment is striking in its depiction of another element of the cultural tempest that delivered us Kim: the hypersexualization of American girls and women.“She’s hot,” said a boy waiting in line to see her.“Is Kim Kardashian a feminist role model?” asked Jezebel in 2013. The website answered “no” and “noooooooooooooooo.” But already the worm of popular opinion was starting to turn. Kim was being touted as a “businesswoman.” She was being called “powerful”—and didn’t achieving power, any kind of power, by any means, make a woman a feminist? So blogs and think pieces argued. Was it Kim’s marriage to a powerful music industry player and self-described “creative genius,” Kanye West, or their joint appearance on the cover of Vogue in 2014—a nod from establishment media moving Kim onto the A-list—that began to mute her haters? Or was it that Kim’s true talent, her skill at using social media—the real secret of her success, all along—was finally being recognized for the power it commanded?“Something about Kim is very appealing to digital natives,” Re/code founder Kara Swisher told Rolling Stone in 2015. Yes, and that something was becoming very clear: Kim successfully used the technological tools now available to almost everyone to get what everyone wanted. What she’d been doing relentlessly since the introduction of smartphones and before, now everybody was doing—using social media to self-promote, to craft an idealized online self; and girls coming of age in the second decade of the twenty-first century were using it to present a sexualized self. “My little cousin, she’s thirteen, and she posts such inappropriate pictures on Instagram and boys post sexual comments, and she’s like, Thank you. It’s child porn, and everyone’s looking at it on their iPhones in the cafeteria,” said a seventeen-year-old girl in New York.Presiding over the pornification of American life was Princess Kim, who’d been crowned the “Selfie Queen.” Posting selfies, once thought to be embarrassingly narcissistic, was now as common as brushing one’s teeth—or putting on makeup, the subject of many of the selfies in Kim’s new book. For the last and loudest thunderclap in this perfect storm, the precipitous rise of narcissism in the American psyche—charted in studies since the 1970s, and accelerated by social media, according to psychologists—was personified and glamorized in the image of a dewy, contoured Kim staring into her iPhone screen.Slate called Selfish “riveting.” The Atlantic, in a review titled “You Win, Kim Kardashian,” gushed, “In declaring herself, against all common sense, as art, she mocks and dares and provokes. She rejects what came before. And with her candor about who she is and what it takes to make her that way, she might also, against all odds, move us forward.” Whatever that might mean.At the Barnes & Noble in Manhattan, Kim, then thirty-four, was wearing a tight, high-necked white lace dress and glistening with products. She sat behind a table, signing books for her hundreds of awaiting fans.“You’ve inspired me to be hot and famous,” a teenage girl told her, blushing.“Aw,” said Kim. “I love you.”Though there had been a ban on selfies at the signing, Kim stood up and took a selfie with the girl. They posed together, staring into the girl’s smartphone, pursing their lips.“You are a role model for my daughters,” said someone’s mother.

Bookclub Guide

A New York Times Bestseller Award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales crisscrossed the country talking to more than two hundred girls between the ages of thirteen and nineteen about their experiences online and off. They are coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills.  The dominant force in the lives of girls coming of age in America today is social media: Instagram, Whisper, Vine, Youtube, Kik,, Tinder.  Provocative, explosive, and urgent, American Girls will ignite much-needed conversation about how we can help our daughters and sons negotiate the new social and sexual norms that govern their lives.1. Studies say that teenage girls use social media more than anyone else, while other studies show that many parents are posting about their children from birth (pp. 31–34). Do you post on social media about your kids? What kind of posts, and how often? What effect do you think this has on them? 2. Many girls expressed to author Nancy Jo Sales the feeling that they were “addicted” to social media. Do you think your daughter seems “addicted” or that she is on social media more than she should be? Have you ever talked to her about this or tried to find ways to limit her social media use? Why or why not?3. While reporting for American Girls, Sales spoke to parents who had virtually no idea what their daughters were doing on social media. How aware are you of your daughter’s social media use? Do you know which apps she is on and how she uses them?4. Girls told Sales that they felt pressure to get more likes and followers on social media as a sign of social success (pp. 223–25, 289). Have you ever talked to your daughter about whether getting likes and followers is a true measure of someone’s worth? If your daughter seems to be seeking this kind of validation online, what would you tell her about how to redirect her sense of self-esteem toward something other than her social media presence?5. Many girls told Sales about the pressure they felt to look “hot” on social media, as a way of getting likes and followers. As Sales reports in American Girls, the sexualization of girls is a huge problem in our culture, with wide-ranging consequences (pp. 92, 109–10). Have you ever talked to your daughter about the trend of sexualization, or asked her if she has ever felt this pressure to appear “hot” in her social media posts? If she said yes, how would you respond?6. Many girls told Sales that they edited their selfies in order to look “better” or even “perfect.” The pressure to be beautiful and “flawless” in social media posts is as problematic for girls as the pressure to appear “hot.” Have you ever discussed with your daughter whether she edits her pictures in order to “improve” her appearance? What could you say if she told you that she is in fact editing herself to appear “better” online?7. As Sales reports in American Girls, in the culture of social media, it is considered acceptable for both boys and girls to make sexualized comments on one another’s selfies—“You look hot,” etc. This is an aspect of sexualization that many girls experience on a daily basis, again with possibly serious consequences. Have you ever seen these types of comments on your daughter’s social media posts, and if so, have you ever discussed with her what effect they have on her?8. Many girls around the country told Sales that slut pages—a type of amateur porn site consisting of aggregated nudes, most often nonconsensually shared—are common in their school communities (pp. 48-49, 214-215, 226-27). Have you heard of this from your daughter, and if you did, what was your response? What responsibility do you think parents and schools have to deal with slut pages or similar accounts?9. The exchanging of nudes has become common among kids. Some girls told Sales that they had received “dick pics” from boys as young as sixth grade. Most girls found it upsetting. Studies say, and girls also told Sales, that they sometimes felt pressure from boys to send nudes (pp. 23–25, 34–37, 109–10, 197). Have you ever talked to your daughters about the exchanging of nudes? The personal, social, and potentially even legal ramifications? The danger of nudes being nonconsensually shared? It’s an uncomfortable subject. How would you begin?10. Sexting doesn’t always involve the exchanging of nude pictures; sometimes it’s just texting or chatting of a sexual nature. Studies say, and Sales heard from girls, that this practice can start as early as middle school and that sexts are also frequently shared nonconsensually (pp. 42–44, 109, 253). Have you ever talked with your daughter about sexting? What guidelines would you give her? 11. According to some studies, around 40 percent of girls have been cyber- bullied. Have you ever talked to your daughter about cyberbullying? If your daughter were cyberbullied, how would you respond? Sales reports in American Girls that, although schools do have the power to discipline students who cyberbully, many schools claim there is nothing they can do. How do you think schools should get involved in combatting this problem?12. There is a common notion that “girls are mean,” but when Sales investigated this widely held idea, she found it to be without scientific merit, and partly based on a handful of books with insufficient evidence. Girls, it seems, are no meaner than anyone else (pp. 152–53, 161–68). But the idea that “girls are mean,” that meanness is “normal” girl behavior, is often used to dismiss the cyberbullying of girls, and in fact to dismiss the victimization of girls in other areas. Have you ever found yourself using the phrase “girls are mean?” Have you ever thought about what effect this phrase might have on your daughter’s sense of what it means to be a girl, and have you ever discussed this with her?13. Studies suggest that communicating on screens may be making children less capable of communicating face-to-face and less empathetic (pp. 135–36). Have you noticed your own children turning away from face-to-face communication and toward communicating by text or through social media? Have you noticed yourself doing this as well? What do you think you can do as a parent, and with your family, to talk more and teach your children more about face-to-face interaction?14. One of the most troubling revelations in American Girls is the pernicious effect that online porn is having on teenagers and even children—on their view of sexuality, gender, love, sex, and romance (pp. 17, 314, 331–32, 368, 372–73). Do you know if your kids are watching porn? Do you ever talk to them about it? Do you think you should? Why or why not? What do you think we should do as a society about children’s access to online porn?15. Porn, some studies say, encourages a tolerance for sexual violence in both boys and girls. Sales suggests in American Girls that the availability of online porn may be having an effect on how kids view what to expect in a sexual experience, including, possibly sexual violence (pp. 15–16, 65, 361, 373). Does this trouble you? As uncomfortable as it is, do you think you should be talking to your kids—both boys and girls—about this?16. Sales reports in American Girls that sexual harassment in schools has become a major, and largely unacknowledged, problem (pp. 271–74). Girls often find themselves the recipients of not only unwanted comments but unwanted gestures and touching—and yet many girls say they feel this is a “normal” part of life about which nothing can be done. Sales suggests that the culture of social media may be adding to an overall acceptance of sexual harassment (pp. 191–92). Do you agree with the connection she is making here? Why or why not? What responsibility do parents and schools have to stop sexual harassment in schools?17. Studies show a sharp rise in drinking among teenage girls and young women, and girls are reportedly having their first drink at a younger age, around fourteen (pp. 298–99). Sales reports that the rise in drinking among girls may be connected to hookup culture, where being intoxicated helps in dealing with becoming physically intimate with someone you don’t know very well(pp. 258–59). And hookup culture, Sales believes, may have been accelerated by social media and dating apps, which make instant intimacy more possible or even likely. What do you think we should be telling our daughters about drinking? At what age do you feel we should begin this conversation?18. Some have accused parents or other adults who are concerned about online predators with raising a “moral panic” (pp. 108–9). Sales suggests in American Girls that this may be abdicating our responsibility as parents and adults to protect our children from inappropriate attention. The culture of social media promotes the making of connections between strangers, and there is ample evidence that strangers do avail themselves of their ability to contact children online. Sales was alarmed to hear stories from many girls about how they were approached on social media by adults. Have you talked to your daughter about unwanted attention from strangers online and how she should respond if it happens? What can we do as parents to keep our daughters from encountering these situations?19. Sales believes that one way to change the culture of social media is to educate both girls and boys about the history of the women’s movement and feminism (pp. 373–74). She proposes that if more kids knew about women’s struggle to achieve equality and their historical fight for their rights, they might have a different view of sexism and sexual harassment in their own lives and on social media. Do you think school curricula should include more information about the history of women and girls in America? If yes, how can we encourage schools to address this issue?20. Do you agree with Sales’s argument that members of the tech industry should take more responsibility for the abuse of their apps by users (pp. 134–35, 374)? What do you think we can do as parents and adults to get the leaders of Silicon Valley to be more engaged about the effects their products have on teenagers and children, especially girls? How can we get them to become more active in the fight against cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and the abuse of children and teenagers online?21. Many girls expressed to Sales a desire for guidance from their parents about what to do about experiences they had on social media, while also expressing trepidation about telling their parents what was really going on. If you were going to have a conversation with your daughter about her social media use, how would you begin? Do you feel this conversation should be ongoing? Could social media use be a part of the discussions you may already be having with her about alcohol and drug use and sexual behavior?

Editorial Reviews

"American Girls is probably one of the most urgent conversation starters I’ve read in some time." —Psychology Today“Sales digs into every aspect of girls’ online lives, revealing myriad disturbing details…If you have a teenage daughter, read American Girls. Have her read it, too.” —Newsday “Adult readers will be shocked… [they] might be on Facebook and Twitter, but they probably haven’t even heard of most of the apps that teens use, let alone how they use them…What Sales makes clear is just how prevalent social media is in the life of an American teenager.” —The New York Post"Based on interviews with hundreds of teens from 13 to 19, this exploration of the hypersexualized, social-media-ruled world girls grow up in today is eye-opening and sobering." —People“Social media is life; social media destroys life. For “American Girls,” Ms. Sales spent two and a half years investigating this paradox…. and she’s exquisitely unobtrusive as she does it. Conversations that are not safe for adults seem to open like apps under her fingertips. She has sophisticated methods of infiltration.” —The Wall Street Journal"Sales forces us to face a disturbing new reality in a book that should be required reading for parents, teachers, school administrators, legislators and the boys’ club of Silicon Valley.” —The San Francisco Chronicle"Sales painstakingly draws on scholarly research and numerous interviews with girls from New Jersey to California to offer a harrowing glimpse into a world where self-esteem, friendships and sexuality play out, and are defined by the parameters of social media." —USA Today“In her new book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, readers are afforded the opportunity to understand what is really going on in the lives of teenagers, especially our girls. ..This book stands apart from other books targeted at understanding the concerns and current plight of teenage girls… A must read for all parents.” —Examiner"This book is an ice-cold, important wake-up call." —Kirkus Reviews"This is an important book... It’s an essential read if you have teenagers or tweens in your life...I highly recommend American Girls for anyone who wants to understand how our ongoing revelation is playing out for teenagers." —WebInkNow“This intelligent, history-grounded investigation by journalist Sales (The Bling Ring) finds dismaying evidence that social media has fostered a culture "very hostile" to girls in which sexism, harassment, and cyberbullying have become the "new normal," along with the "constant chore" of tailoring one's image for public consumption and approval… Parents, educators, administrators, and the purveyors of social media platforms should all take note of this thoughtful, probing, and urgent work.” —Publishers Weekly *Starred Review*