Whether 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.
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