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Headteacher’s candid social media posts highlight perils of perfectionism

Headteacher’s honest tweets ‘show teens they don’t have to be perfect’ in mental health awareness bid.

A leading headmistress has pledged to be honest on social media in a bid to counteract the “impossibly perfect” lives her pupils are exposed to online.

Sally-Anne Huang, head of £18,000-a-year James Allen’s Girls’ School, said it can be “toxic” for teenagers’ mental health if they constantly see unrealistically positive images of friends enjoying nights out or perfect holidays. In response to this “distorted reality” she has begun tweeting about missing her train, getting nail varnish on her favourite jacket and struggling with the megaphone during a fire drill.

She is encouraging other headteachers to do the same using the hashtag #Headteachersreallife. It comes after experts warned social media is fuelling the pressure on young people to conform to idealised images of beauty.

Ms Huang said children are exposed to “carefully curated accounts where everyone is seen in the right light … having a great time with their many friends” and real life “never gets a look-in”. She added: “It stands to reason that, if you are forever pursuing a false, edited ideal … mental health and real happiness will often be sacrificed.”

She said she hopes to be a role model for pupils by posting photos and comments that reveal the less than perfect moments in her day: “You might get untidy desks, muddy dogs and sinks full of washing up. If we believe that striving for an impossibly perfect ideal to match those edited online lives is making our students ill, then we should at least offer a more realistic alternative.”

Other heads are following her lead, tweeting under the hashtag. Vicky Bingham, of South Hampstead High School, wrote that she was “frantically tidying tip that is our house”, while Gwen Byrom, head of Loughborough High School for Girls, tweeted: “I almost didn’t make it on time to open my own briefing … Stuck in traffic.”

Ms Huang admitted social media can do a lot of good, writing in Attain, the magazine for private schools: “Only if we acknowledge the positive potential of social media will our teenagers also allow us to talk to them about its problems … to remind them that life has its ups and downs and that what is shared is a distorted truth.”

Article first appeared in the Evening Standard, 25th October 2018

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