By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published May 26, 2016
ATLANTA—Tiffany Wills pushed back against young women comparing themselves to the person with the seemingly perfect outfit, the perfect boyfriend, the perfect life.
The perfect life doesn’t exist even as social media project these carefully crafted images.
The celebrities young women see “have an image to uphold,” Wills said.
“They are going through things that they are just not showing on social media,” she said. “No one really knows” what is going on in these people’s lives.
The Marist School senior dedicated her pursuit of the Gold Award, the highest award given by the Girl Scouts, to helping young women educate themselves on the manufactured lives on digital media. She helped them find confidence in themselves and their real beauty.
“Social media has a huge effect on us, like the Kardashians and what not. People are looking toward other people to determine what is beautiful and how they should look. And if they don’t look that way, then they are upset about it,” she said.
Among teenage girls, visual social networks like Instagram and Snapchat, where photos and videos are shared, are the most popular, according to a 2015 survey.
There’s a difference between sharing your best and portraying a stereotype.
“There’s nothing wrong with showing your best self. But they want to be a certain way. You realize on social media people post happy pictures and what not, but there are girls going through things. No one talks about it. It is just kind of hidden there,” she said.
Wills spent time at her middle school trying to reach girls before the crush of social media lands on them. She ran a workshop with fifth-grade girls, reaching over 160 of them. She said boys face unrealistic pressures, too. Wills created an interactive workshop where youngsters talked to a woman role model and wrote a personal motto. Hers is “To be beautiful is one thing, but to be beautiful on the inside is another.”
She is the oldest daughter of Teresa Dallas-Wills. Living in southeast Atlanta, she takes a car, MARTA train and school bus to get to the Brookhaven campus. She has a sister in 10th grade at Marist and a younger brother in sixth grade. The family worships at Ben Hill United Methodist Church, where Tiffany sings in the choir and is a member of the youth council and the youth representative on the finance committee. She has also spent time during her stay at Marist volunteering in elementary schools, the Centro Hispano GED program and her home community. She plans on attending Georgia Southern University, in Statesboro, to study finance.
Tiffany arrived on the Marist campus before high school. She attended Reach for Excellence, a tuition-free academic and leadership enrichment program Marist started for middle school students from limited-income families. Talented students commit to three years of weekend and summer classes. She remembered the friendliness of everyone, from the Marist priest who stopped by classes to the staff on campus. She and her peers were treated as if they were students at the school, Wills said.
With an eye toward a career in finance, Wills has spent hours after school in the classroom of her math teacher, Eileen Steadman. Wills said a relationship formed quickly between the two, even though it’s the first year she’s studied with Steadman, a veteran teacher at Marist.
“I have seen her grow tremendously. She has struggled, but she doesn’t give up. She’s everything you want in a student,” said Steadman, between hugging Wills.