We are all familiar with the scene in Snow White when the Evil Queen asks, “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all?” But in the 21st century, that mirror has transformed into videos. Welcome to the world of YouTube- a place where young girls turn to an interactive mirror to find out who is the fairest of them all- or who isn’t. The Pretty/ Ugly video trend is a horrifying example of the state of young girls’ self esteem. If you type in “Am I Pretty Or Ugly?” into YouTube, over 500,000 videos pop up. Half a million.
The videos follow a similar format of young girls, typically ages 10-16, looking into the webcam and asking the audience directly if they think she is pretty or ugly- and emphasize the audience needs to be honest (then occasionally requests to follow them on Twitter and other social media). They encourage comments and seem to genuinely ask for feedback from anyone watching the videos. The girls range from tweens coated in makeup and lower cut tops to awkward younger girls who have barely reached puberty. The comments are typically from males making comments from the crude (“I would fuck you”) to rude (“You are so fucking ugly”). There are sometimes a few female commenters who typically leave positive comments (“You are beautiful!”) or comments on how to fix the problems (“You have a big forehead- just get bangs to fix it”). The videos are pretty masochistic in the way the girls seek feedback. It is detrimental to the self-esteem of younger girls, as they have opened up their vulnerabilities to faceless opinions shielded in Internet anonymity. The comments and responses have a dark, misogynistic tone and rely on the hegemonic feminine ideal to rank the girls against the standard.
My first thought seeing this project was, who would do this? I would have never thought about making a video of myself during my most awkward stage. However, this generation of girls more than anyone has been immersed in the technology universe and the world of selfies and self -editing. These young girls have always had the ability to edit photos, untag themselves from unflattering images, and craft whatever identity they want all online.
What are the repercussions of growing up in the social media era? The problem is societal expectations of beauty are set for young girls through not only media images, but in this case the feedback from peers. At that age, I could not take criticism well in the slightest- imagine if several hundred people tried to tell me I was not pretty. I would have probably had a breakdown. These girls act as if they want to know though. They are in charge of creating the video and what content gets displayed.
The Pretty/Ugly trend also sheds light on the way we obsess over young girls and teen girls. One researcher named Louise Orwin posed as a young girl for three videos before making a video about herself. Her real video, as an adult, garnered very little attention because, as she says, people didn’t care. Instead, men focus on the youngness of the girl and even have gone as far as to private message some girls. These girls do not realize the severity of what they are doing; they don’t see these random, older men as a threat. Instead, we need to educate girls that the Internet is not always a safe place and they need to take precautions. I just wish I could send a message to all of those girls saying, “Girl, you are beautiful no matter what. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”