We have recently noticed an increase in the number of “am I pretty” and “am I ugly”, videos on YouTube. A search for the single term “am I pretty or ugly” brings up over 25,000 videos. Looking, in the vast majority of cases, at the faces of girls aged 9-14 left me feeling somewhat unsettled.
“I have a question,” says one girl, “People tell me this all the time, so I dunno. Is it true? People say I’m ugly. So tell me, am I?”
Many questions are constructed with contrived indifference e.g. “I mean, you can tell me the complete truth,” another girl says. “I get called ugly and pretty a lot. My parents call me pretty and boys call me ugly, but I don’t care because they’re boys.”
Unfortunately, asking questions on any social media platform leaves the asker open to a wide spectrum of comments/answers; ranging from kind and comforting to unkind and unashamedly cruel. The unkind (most common by far) category includes comments that provide a long list (I won’t repeat any here) of aspects of the girls appearance and/or attitude that were wrong and required fixing.
I would go so far as to suggest that the catalyst that gave birth to the “am I ugly” phenomenon is our culture’s obsession with appearance, youth culture in particular.
While cultural focus on physical appearance is nothing new, the growth of digital and social media has allowed it to morph into something far more powerful and potentially dangerous.
By asking faceless strangers to rate their
appearance, the girls are effectively, knowingly or not, asking the world
(YouTube) to both define and validate them.
Many of the comments reviewed could adversely impact the girls; breeding negative body image and insecurity. All this as the girls approach or go through puberty, tackle the challenges of acquiring an education and well before they have come to know who they are as individuals.
From what we have seen, there is little scope for happy endings.