Am I Ugly or Am I Pretty?

Young girl playing dress upWhether we care to admit it or not, the questions “Am I ugly?” and “Am I pretty?” chatter in a female’s mind throughout her lifetime. They are questions learned by girls at an early age.

A trend currently happening on YouTube speaks to this age-old phenomenon in a brand new way. Tween and teen girls are posting videos and asking complete strangers to tell them if they are pretty or ugly. Is this voyeuristic? A setup for cyber-bullying? An attention-seeking behavior? Unsupervised girls just being girls? Or are girls simply using current media communication means to do what girls, women, and society at large have done for years?

From an early age, these questions soak into a female’s psyche. We develop an inner beauty police. It’s a voice so insidious that it becomes commonplace. Often this voice races on in our minds with badgering statements such as, “She’s skinnier than me, has a nicer chest, a better back-side, chiseled cheek bones, fuller lips, straighter teeth, a smaller nose, gorgeous eyes, great hair, flawless skin…”

In late elementary and early teens, girls start to notice that being pretty brings belonging, acceptance, attention, and popularity. Developmentally, one of the most important things to a teen is fitting in. Another key developmental task is speaking societal messages out loud and trying them on for size, as a part of developing an identity and a sense of self. Teens speak the truth out loud at times much louder than adults or society care to hear. A truth of being a female is the awareness of the questions, “Am I ugly?” and “Am I pretty?”

One very obvious way to be accepted as a girl is to be pretty. It’s difficult to escape one’s teen years without incorporating the desire to be pretty as a part of one’s identity. Unfortunately, as girls we often absorb the message that pretty girls are happy and liked, and ugly girls are unhappy and disliked. Are these beliefs problematic? Most definitely! Unfortunately, part of the enculturation of females includes being bombarded with these societal messages on a daily basis. It is difficult to grow up female and unscathed.

As females, we compare ourselves to the millions of female images that we take in through TV, movies, on the web, and across magazine pages. We then take these images and compare ourselves to the females around us in our everyday lives. Walking down the hallways of schools, girls ask themselves these questions. Women sometimes do it when they drop their kids off at school and see other moms or when they walk into social and work gatherings. We size up the group and determine the prettiest girls or women in the group and where we stand in comparison. Our minds question “Am I pretty compared to her?” or “Am I ugly compared to her”? In this comparative mental game, one is either more than or less than another; there is no other way to play.

More often than not, each pondering female falls into the throes of “less than,” yet we continue to play this crazy game. The only cure to this issue lies in playing a different game altogether in which an excessive focus on beauty and comparing ourselves to other women is not a rule of the game at all. Instead, we need to encourage girls to ask questions, such as “What are my strengths? What are my abilities? What am I passionate about? What is meaningful to me? What is good, great, and amazing about me other than how I look?”

The societal questions that permeate our female culture of “Am I ugly?” and “Am I pretty?” must be seen as societal bullying rather than an individual girl’s self-esteem issue or desire for attention. The media have brought attention to bullying in our schools today and the need for anti-bullying strategies. Likewise, the media need to shine a light on the societal bullying that contributes to girls posting such questions on YouTube. We need to develop anti-bullying strategies for the beauty bully that torments girls and women on a daily basis.

It is this aspect of society that is broken and in need of repair, not these girls. The girls on YouTube are merely speaking the reality of being a girl and woman in the world today. They are asking the questions out loud, with a little more resound than the adults and society around them may be comfortable with. Do we need to be concerned and question why these girls are doing this? Absolutely! It would be great if this YouTube phenomenon enlivened many to ask the questions “How do we build self-esteem and confidence in teenage girls?” and “How do we teach girls, women, and society at large to ask kinder and more loving evaluative questions about females?” These are truly the questions that need to be asked.

Related articles:
Your Body and Defining Self
She Hates Her Thighs
Mirror, Mirror

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Ehart, Limited Licensed Psychologist, therapist in Canton, Michigan

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jamie


    March 27th, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Young girls are really posting these things online and asking others to rate them? That is insane! Hasn’t anyone told them just how dangerous this could be? Think of all of the pervs just hanging around in cyber space looking for the chance to prey on these young girls who are already struggling with their self esteem and looking for those who are going to be so easy to manipulate. God, how scary this is becoming!

  • Annabelle


    March 27th, 2012 at 4:42 PM

    And how many of us play right into this by continuing to affirm that indeed being pretty is indeed valued in all facets of society

  • Laura Nolan

    Laura Nolan

    March 27th, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    This is why I always hated Disney! As early as 2 years kids think (especially girls) they are not adequate and feel shame because they don’t look like a Disney princess. We as parents seem to worship these characters, i think that is where a lot of this disproportionate value on looks starts.

  • Steven


    March 28th, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    Laura- while I see what you are getting at, don’t you think it is a little unfair to blame the princesses for the way our little girls are feeling about themselves? I suppose if you only emphasize the looks aspect, then of course these young girls are going to think that this is the most important piece of the puzzle. But how about instead of that we look at and highlight their bravery and compassion, their ability to see the good in others when no one else can? I am not saying that I want my child to have these characters as their only role models, but there are some positives within the stories and the stories of their lives that they can learn from and emulate and I would be fine with that.

  • maureen gregg

    maureen gregg

    March 28th, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    The saddest part about so much of this is that this is a lot about women turning on other women. We judge pretty harshly, sometimes a lot more harshly then men do, and t is getting us absolutely nowhere.

  • craig


    March 28th, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    one should not be proud of something he hasn’t worked towards, including good looks.going by this,it really makes no sense to compare yourself with others and ask questions like am i ugly. you are only putting yourself under stress and doing no good to your self esteem, coz there s always going to be someone prettier than you!

  • PlayDrMom


    March 29th, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this post! The word needs to get out there on what a societal problem this is! Let’s work to broaden our focus on the WHOLE person … not just an aspect (like looks). Great article!

  • MayCurl


    March 29th, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    It’s about time someone started talking about this. There is much more to being a great person than how you look. Society needs to get its priorities in order.

  • Merry B

    Merry B

    March 29th, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    Don’t you know that most of the time young girls get their ideas about self worth and what is pretty or not from their own moms? How many times have your girls heard you asking if you look fat, or frowning at yourself in the mirror, or refusing to accept a compliment if someone tells you that you look nice or pretty. Think about the messages that you personally relay to your child with the constant dieting and the constant self loathing that you express about your looks and about your bod. I know that society plays a role in all of this- where did all of our own feelings come from in the first place? But we as moms can’t shirk that responsibility either, for I fear that a lot of the blame about how our daughters are feeling about themselves and how they are choosing to communicate this message falls directly at our feet.

  • Diana Schoen

    Diana Schoen

    March 29th, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    I am one of Nicole’s patients for over six years. This woman has been my rock. I have referred many friends to her. She has also been a tremendous help to them. Most people (men and women) that I have met have always commented on how pretty I am, or how educated, blah blah, blah! I have NEVER felt pretty. My mother is a gorgeous, talented, and giving person. She has never felt pretty either. You have to learn to love yourself, and learn to love yourself from the inside!!! Low self essteem, such as what my mother and I suffer from, has been the result of not only what Nicole writes from, the societal expectations, but also from constant verbal abuse. Our verbal abuse has come from our spouses and partners. Everytime I start feeling that I am worthy, or pretty, or doing well….POW!!!! Another set back. Usually from the hands of a male. How pathetic am I that I have to get my happiness from some guy who tells me how “beautiful” and “gorgeous” I am while lyin to me, cheating on me, and ripping me to shreds! I find it ironic that because of living with a sociopath and the aftermath that I have lost over 50 lbs. Mostly from grief, pain and anguish, yet all I hear from everyone is how PRETTY I am now! I don’t know if I am making sense to anyone, but I have soooo much pain and low self-esteem that I think I am hideous. If you are overweight or homely, yet you are happy and have someone who treats you well, THAT is Pretty!!!!

  • Melinda C.

    Melinda C.

    March 30th, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    I am passing this on to my friends with teen girls. So much to think about. The next question: how do we as parents of both boys and girls start to turn the focus away from female beauty and toward how kind, smart, friendly and socially conscious a girl is?

  • ChrisW


    March 31st, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    Great article! Beautiful is who we are. Not what people see on the outside, but who they see from the inside. I have known so many people over the last 20 years or so (post high school) who by society’s standards would be deemed “attractive” for whom once I got to know I just didn’t find attractive because of their attitude or personality. I think many of us evolve into this attitude, but would love for it to develop earlier.

    I agree with Melinda, we need to teach not only our girls, but our boys. This is how Nicole’s proposal will become reality. My husband and I are huge proponents of teaching our two boys this by both our words and actions. Ultimately, our happiness with others comes from how they treat us and their personality, not how they appear outwardly.

  • holly


    April 2nd, 2012 at 9:00 PM

    The bullying comes not just from media and outside forces, but from within peer groups as well. Everyone remembers the pretty, mean girls that ruled high school and the ranking processes based on a variety of measures of what constitutes “pretty.” No one goes unscathed by the process, including those who rank high. It is a demeaning and devaluing system that detours your women from understanding their own interests and abilities.

  • Theresa


    April 3rd, 2012 at 5:13 AM

    Back in 2007, the American Psychological Association published a report on the Sexualization of Girls. It discussed how girls are exposed to this whole idea of considering whether they are “pretty or ugly” at younger and younger ages, exposing them to the risk of mental health issues such as eating disorders, low-self esteem and depression. Like this Am I Ugly or Am I Pretty article on it welcomes a discussion on this very important topic. I think it’s wonderful that this topic is being discussed in such an honest way. It’s a conversation that truly needs to be had for the sake of our girls and our boys, as various others have commented on above (Melinda and Chris). Great Article! Thanks for starting the discussion. Here’s some links to the APA ‘conversation’ as well for anyone interested:

    Thank you for discussing this topic in such an honest, straight forward way in this blog posting. It’s a conversation that needs to be had for the sake of our girls and our boys. Great Article!

  • RJ


    April 3rd, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    Well written and quite timely article. Somebody needs to be saying things like this because it’s not the message being conveyed by advertising or the popular media. The most insideous part of it is the message seems to be getting pitched to a younger and younger audience every year.

  • Lidia D

    Lidia D

    April 3rd, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    Great article! We need to educate children on what beauty is and what is important. True beauty is on the inside.

  • kate


    April 5th, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    I remember going through the ups and downs of puberty. It was challenging enough without being able to put my fears on a website for all to confrim or deny.

  • Jeanette


    April 5th, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    The author of this article brings out an important point. She says rather than criticize the girls, examine the cultural system that make this such an important question for girls. I think women have to continue to make more economic and educational strides, in order for our society to shift attitudes on beauty.

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