"Am I Ugly?" Teens ask YouTube users to rate their looks

Melinda Tankard Reist recently appeared on Sunrise discussing the new online trend of teens asking YouTube users to rate their looks.

When trolls attack, girls are pretty vulnerable

Column published in The Herald Sun and Melinda Tankard Reist's Blog.

At the end of the week marking International Women’s Day (March 8), a trending YouTube phenomenon lets us know that we haven’t come a long way at all.

Girls as young as 11 are posting clips on YouTube asking the world to judge them by answering one simple question: “Am I ugly or pretty?”

There are now hundreds of Ugly/Pretty videos in this 21st century remake of ‘Mirror mirror on the wall’.

Vulnerable teens and tweens are inviting scrutiny and judgement from a cyber world renowned for cruelty, bullying, and virtual pack attacks. It’s an unlimited offer to vultures and sadists and people who are just plain mean: Here I am, rip my heart and soul out.

While exposing themselves to a torrent of virtual damnation, the girls appear nonchalant, shrugging, with quizzical half smiles, like it really doesn’t matter that much, when you know it means everything.

This past week we should have celebrated women’s achievements. But, sadly, these girls aren’t asking: “Am I smart?”, “Am I good daughter, sister, friend?”, “Can I make a difference in the world?”, “Can I be all that I can be?”

Because in so much that is girl world today, the question that counts the most is: "am I hot or not"?

From the earliest ages girls are learning that looks are what counts, that it is style over substance, that it is their bodies that determine success or failure.

These poignant postings, viewed by millions, have girls like Kendal saying: “A lot of people tell me I'm ugly. I think I'm ugly and fat”. The 15-year-old attracts four million views and 107,000 anonymous responses. One of them this: "Y do you live, and kids in africa die?" And another: "You need a hug... around your neck…with a rope…".

A black girl asks: “If you think I'm pretty, still comment... just comment... I don't care if I'm ugly or not.” How do you think she felt when she saw this: "ALL BLACK PEOPLE LOOK THE SAME...SORRY IT'S TRUE", and "ur black of cource ur ugly"?

In the online environment, comments are magnified. A girl’s fragile sense of self can be smashed instantly, and what esteem she may have had is left in shreds. As Melbourne adolescent psychologist and Chair of the National Centre Against Bullying’s Cybersafety Committee Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says:

“It is about the deep seated need of many adolescents for reassurance that they are normal, but on a mass scale - the impact of the stream of negativity that they receive in response will not be the same for all – some teens are more psychological robust. But for a minority of vulnerable ones this could be a trigger (especially if they already have a major depressive illness) to self harm, suicidal thoughts and even completed suicide.

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to be more vigilant, and step up to the digital plate. With free internet monitoring software available “to allow your young immature offspring online without such monitoring is in my view inexcusable.” he says.

And a message to YouTube – if you have to be 13 to upload videos why are you allowing 11-year-old girls to ask the world if they are ugly?

Where will the people at YouTube be when a girl suffers depression, anxiety, or worse, because the world of anonymous trolls with zero understanding of civilized human interaction chorus back: yes you are, you really are ugly and deserve to die.

But this is not just about what’s happening on YouTube. This is about us, and the world we create in which young girls grow into women.

International Women’s Day celebrates the struggles of women to be accepted as strong, independent and autonomous and for who they are, and what they can be, not according to how they look in the eyes of others.

We have made the world from which Kendal and Faye ask to be judged. Let’s think about how we can re-make the world into one in which they flourish.

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