The Pretty Ugly project: Why do young girls turn to YouTube and ask people to judge their looks?

The girls are throwing themselves into the jaws of the trolling community

Share

It's 2012. I'm posing as three teenage girls - Becky, Baby and Amanda - and I'm posting videos of myself on YouTube asking its viewers to tell me whether I'm pretty or ugly. The 15-year-old inside me is screaming/confused/cringed-out.

Why am I doing this? Last year as part of my research into the ways teenage girls use social media, I stumbled across a YouTube trend where girls are doing exactly this: posting videos of themselves (sometimes dressed, sometimes in a bikini), asking viewers to tell them whether they are pretty or ugly. There are thousands of these videos, and the average age of the girls is 8-13 years old. Often accompanied by a pulsing pop soundtrack and a dim view into a messy teenage bedroom, these girls pout and pose their way through the videos. I was struck by how earnest they were: 'Guys, I just really need to know... So comment down below, or message me ok? Oh and subscribe! Peace.'

Now, in 2013, and here's some of what I learnt from my YouTube experiment: I'm ugly, I should lose the glasses, I should f**k off and die, I shouldn't post these videos, I should 'send nudes'. I've estimated that 70 per cent of feedback was negative. Surprised? I didn't think so. The results of my experiment are not much different to any of the other girls posting these videos. So why post them?

As a teenager, I remember wanting answers to similar questions, but there was no way I would have walked up to a stranger and asked them to rate my looks. In some way it strikes me as quite a brave deed - surely the girls know they are throwing themselves like little posey-little-lambs into the jaws of the trolling community? Perhaps their desire for real, impartial answers overrides this? Or maybe they have noticed similar videos online and they just fancy hopping on the bandwagon - hoping that one day they might reach the dizzying heights of 'YouTube-Superstar'?

I'm curious how my generation differed to this current generation of teenagers. My first fleeting awareness of the internet was: perverts, superfluous Hotmail accounts, MSN messenger. Dangerous and surplus all at once. Skip forward a few years and I remember the arrival of Facebook. I remember the novelty and joy of that platform transforming over my university years into paranoia and anxiety - a feeling of detagdetagdetag, of why-the-f**k-is-everyone-having-so-much-more-fun-than-me-loserishness. [If I sound like a teenager, that's intentional].

What are the repercussions of growing up with social media; with its constant reblogging and retweeting; its selfies; its emphasis on self-editing? What is the effect on how we perceive ourselves and each other? And when did it become so OK to be brazen about the fact that you are appearance-obsessed? These questions make up the basis of my new theatre show in which I present the results of my YouTube experiment and my research from working with teenage girls, I roller-skate back into my own teenage mind – and, of course, challenge the audience to rate whether I’m pretty or ugly, too.

What stays with me from my research is the following: I found the majority of commenters on my videos were male. Most female commenters left positive comments whereas the majority of male comments left more than a little to be desired. I also received many private messages from men... need I say more?

I wonder just how much the internet is doing for the feminist cause. In the last year we've seen how its power can unite feminists worldwide; has helped those communities grow and be heard. But on the other hand the results of this internet project speak of a darker, and frankly misogynist, undercurrent. People often celebrate the web’s culture of anonymity: it encourages free speech and gives people a chance to show their true colours. But is this an insight into what people really feel, or are there grounds to wonder whether anonymity just encourages cyber-bullying?

And as for the girls, why? I asked many, and still don't have much of an understanding. But it might have something to do with living in a society which prizes the appearance of women much more highly than it does their actions, their voices.

I understand that not all teenagers act in this way. The Pretty Ugly project aims to raise awareness of this trend, sense what it’s like to be part of it – and shed some light on wider ways in which we’re treating and viewing girls and young women, and how damaging that can be to young minds. I hope that by working with teenage girls I can help them to care a little less about their appearance, and help their voices be heard.

'Pretty Ugly' is a theatre show and a campaign. Find out more here: www.prettyorugly.wordpress.com. Pretty Ugly' runs 23 Oct to 9 Nov, Camden People's Theatre, London www.cptheatre.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA (afterschool club) vacancy in Newport

£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Obama has admitted that his administration underestimated the threat posed by Isis  

Syrian air-strikes: Does the US have the foggiest idea who their enemy is?

Kim Sengupta
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style