“Am I pretty or ugly?”

AMANDA GALLO — THE ARGUS (Lakehead University)


THUNDER BAY (CUP) — With the media’s unrealistic portrayal of what constitutes beauty, particularly in women, countless teens are left unsatisfied and uncomfortable with their appearance. This dissatisfaction with one’s body image has reached a dangerous new level with a trend that leaves its observers shocked and, for many participants, severely emotionally scarred.

The trend consists of teenage girls — ranging between approximately 12 and 15  years of age — posting short videos on YouTube asking just one question and for those who view the video to honestly respond in the comment box. The question: “Am I pretty or ugly?”

More often than not, the query is preceded by the girl’s explanation of why she chose to make the video. What’s interesting about their explanations is that they all tend to follow similar lines; they claim to hear their friends and peers assure them that they are pretty to their face but are still unsure — sometimes as a result of hearing others call them ugly.

Once the video is posted on YouTube, the girl’s self-esteem is at the mercy of complete strangers as they comment on her appearance.

In a video posted by a young girl who goes by the name Faye, the majority of the comments were positive in nature.

“It doesn’t matter if I think you’re pretty or ugly, it doesn’t matter if anyone here thinks you are pretty or ugly. You are worth more than your looks,” wrote a commenter named Prince. “You have infinite potential and that’s beautiful. You are you. Go you.”

Indeed, many of the Youtube community believed that Faye was not only pretty, but encouraged her not to base her self-worth on the opinions of strangers and to not worry about how she thinks others see her.

But there were also a significant number of shockingly cruel comments on the video. Some were attacks on Faye’s physical appearance.

“You’re ugly as fuck, in fact you should wear a paper bag over your head than hang yourself,” read one comment from user Xaeroforce33.  Other comments attacked Faye for the very posting of the video: “Seriously bitch? Fishing for compliments on youtube? The world is better off with people like you dead,” wrote commenter LamfpDewd.

According to Lakehead Graduate Studies Co-ordinator Sociology Professor Pamela Wakewich in Women’s Studies, this trend signifies “that you have a group of people who are, even at a really young age, feeling really insecure about body and body image, and feeling as though to have a positive sense of self that it has to be affirmed from outside. They need feedback from other people to tell them what they look like.

“It speaks to the fact that even in a modern environment where we can think of so many more possibilities for girls and women, a sense of the importance of body image still remains a pressing part of how people construct their sense of identity”

Wakewich also explained that while social media can be an exciting and useful tool for society as a whole, “we still don’t have very many avenues where people feel comfortable talking about body and body image, that maybe it doesn’t feel safe to do it with the people immediately around you. And so you throw it out there to see what your peers think.”

These videos can be dangerous, according to Wakewich, in that they open the girls featured to the potential for exploitation, sexual or otherwise. She also affirms that the harsh comments on these videos can significantly damage one’s self-esteem.

Wakewich stated that more media literacy is essential in creating a better environment for cultivating one’s own body image.

Understanding that the images portrayed in the media are not real, talking about when one does or does not feel good about their body in a healthy way, and that true beauty is not just skin deep are all important lessons that should be promoted among young women instead of focusing on one’s appearance.

Graphic: Stephanie Mah

  • doge

    Only women are pressured to be attractive by the media you’re right

    • ash

      No one said women are the only ones who deal with pressure, that just happens to be what this article is discussing. That being said, you’ll notice the images you have chosen to display the supposed “ideal male” form were created by men. The pressure men are facing comes from a very specific source, (apparently sports and 80s cartoons?) whereas women face pressure from every possible media outlet as it tells them hundreds of times a day that they are too fat, or their hair is too frizzy, or they’re using the wrong makeup brand if they even use makeup at all, or that those lines around their eyes are unsightly and they should fix because goddammit how are you going to find a man if you look like that?
      I’m not trying to undermine the pressure men feel, but I think we should be able to agree women face a hell of a lot more of it. Men are allowed to be average looking on TV, men can become successful based on their intelligence and their ability, but god forbid if a woman is running for office or attempting some other career where she’s in the public eye what will be scrutinized before her capability is her appearance. Anyone who wants to deny the patriarchal system in which our society is run is probably just one of the lucky ones who is benefiting from it instead of being oppressed by it.

    • guest

      sure men face pressure, but it a heck of a lot less then women, and in areas that affect women a lot more then men. a male in politics will never have an article written about how they looked, a woman will and they will cut them down because if a woman is going to be in the public then she must be pretty or face the scorn of media how many fat middle aged balding aesthetically unappealing men are in politics, and how many get articles about they hair being frizzy or the color of the watch they wore? they don’t.

    • thatguy

      I agreed with what you guys are saying but in a lot of ways it seems you’re blowing it out of proportion. Germany’s chancellor is a woman and I’ve never, ever heard someone criticize her based on her looks. On the other hand, I’ve heard Stephane Dion get criticized for not allowing ‘gay men to style his hair’, and heard mentions of Harper being fat and having ‘lego-man’ hair.
      Criticism exists for both sexes, maybe women are more easily affected by it since it was the female sex historically judged only on physical appearance? The same is not always true now…

    • angry foodie

      People also totally objectify Justin Trudeau.

      I mean, the guy has the CV of a evening waiter at the Keg who is also a substitute teacher. I am not joking either, I actually know people with the exact same CV doing exactly that.

      Unfortunately, it seems in his case that looks are enough when you are a man to put yourself in a position to lead a nation…sad, ain’t it?

  • itsbiggerthanthat

    The article never stated that boys are not under similar pressures from the media. The focus was on the fact that some young girls feel the need to have their self-worth affirmed or destroyed by strangers on the internet, and that’s a greater social issue.
    Generally we should be more realistic in our expectations of ourselves and others and should expect that the media be more realistic in the portrayal of humans. After all, the media is trying to cater to the general public’s interests. If we reject their messages, the media will begin to change.

  • L

    Pathetic first world problems created by obsession with the material and the vain.

    • Elle

      Just because they arguably aren’t as life-threatening as, say, poverty, self-image issues exist and are very real in affecting how one lives their life. “First world problems” are still problems – stop downplaying them as if they don’t need to be solved.

    • J

      It’s not that they don’t need to be solved, it’s that there are more important problems that need solving first.

      You can’t honestly say the world wouldn’t be better off if we spent as much time, effort, and money on ending world hunger as we do on making sure girls feel good about themselves.

    • guest

      hey if those girls felt good about them self’s and didnt self destruct their confidence maybe they would go into politics and solve hunger, but hey no one wanted them to have the confidence to stand up for hunger so they didn’t solve it.

    • angry foodie

      Or they would just give their illogical and poorly founded opinions, crying sexism whenever someone with some sense tells them that they are not going to do that…

    • ash

      Do you realize how juvenile this sounds? There is no way to go about strategically solving all the world’s problems one at a time. It will never work that way. That being said, just because you see a few ad campaigns and articles about the importance of self esteem in young girls does not mean more money is going into it than there is into other issues. Different people can choose to work on different issues, and most people choose ones that are important to them. That being said, don’t you think problems would be easier to solve if everyone was regarded as an equal and had the confidence necessary to help move society in a better direction?

    • J

      “That being said, just because you see a few ad campaigns and articles about the importance of self esteem”

      That’s quite the assumption. Ever considered getting into the scare crow business? You could make a lot of money manufacturing straw men.

      “Different people can choose to work on different issues, and most people choose ones that are important to them.”

      I know. And I find it alarming that self esteem is more important to some people than actual human death and physical suffering. This was the entire point of my first post.

      “That being said, don’t you think problems would be easier to solve if everyone was regarded as an equal and had the confidence necessary to help move society in a better direction?”

      Yes, but not nearly as much as if people weren’t dying unnecessarily to begin with.

  • Cody

    I speak from the perspective of being male:

    I believe that this article is true that media portrays women and beauty in a very small window and must look, act, dress, weight in a certain cookie cutter way to be beautiful. Stop buying magazines and other media that are selling sexyness or sex.

    “Looking for love in all the wrong places” that sterio-type we have all heard. I think one way and a challenge to men and Fathers is that young women (and young men) need the positive affirmation from a loving, caring, encouraging Father & Mother. Broken homes and children are wandering looking for love and identity when they don’t have a solid foundation. I speak from life experience.

    I am married and hope that someday when my wife and I have children that we will be able to affirm, love, teach and give them a solid foundation from which to spring board into this world we live in.

  • angry foodie

    Watch this past week’s episode of South Park. Dealt with the subject using a great deal of humor with a poignant, sad ending.

    But the notion that men are not pressured by the media is wrong. If anything, the biggest difference is guys don’t pressure other guys.

    Women, in this way, are their own worst enemies…