New YouTube trend suggests increased superficiality, materialism among today’s female youth

The latest YouTube trend is a deeply troubling phenomenon called “Pretty or Ugly,” in which young girls post videos of themselves for the sole purpose of gaining feedback on their appearance. These “beauty assessments” have been multiplying for years, much to the dismay and bafflement of adults. They have even led to several performance artists’ impersonations of these “earnest” teens to experiment with their own results. The most shocking aspect of this trend is that it produces almost 3 million results when searched on YouTube, some with titles such as “The Power of Makeup,” “Watch Me Go from Ugly to Uglier” and “My Transformation from Ugly to Pretty.”

The age of participants ranges from preteens to young adults who seem to be genuine in their pleas for opinions. British artist Louise Orwin took it upon herself to explore this craze and was amazed at the comments her video received.

“I got torrents of abuse,” Orwin said. “I had to remind myself that it’s not me, it’s the character.”

What concerned Orwin the most was the meaning behind these videos — mainly, why  girls are opening themselves up for ridicule, assuming they know the risk of being judged by Internet trolls.

“One of the things that comes up time and time again when I interview teenage girls is that they feel a real anxiety about their online personas,” Orwin added.

Some have equated Orwin’s findings to “a new form of self-mutilation.” Other theories include that the participants are “crowd-sourcing their search for identity.” But even in the midst of the concerning hype, few adults have actually asked teens about the videos.

Slate Magazine’s Katy Waldman conducted an interview with a 14-year-old “Pretty or Ugly” YouTube star. The teen gushed to Waldman that posting her video was “one of the best decisions of my life.”

“I’m known more at school now,” the video’s starlet said.

When asked about the mean comments her inquiry garnered, the teen dismissed them, boasting, “I know I’m gorgeous … like, so pretty. So what other people think doesn’t matter to me.”

And there lies the irony. If the public’s opinion of her appearance was of no significance to this specific young girl, there would be no point in uploading the video, other than to simply gain attention. If some of these “Pretty or Ugly” YouTubers don’t need validation of their outward beauty, this must be a matter simply of “catastrophically externalized” self-obsession. It also demonstrates the negative effects of technology on our youngest generation.

Evaluating attractiveness has become second nature to almost everyone in the 21st century, with a helping hand from technological developments denied to previous generations. Whether it’s a model in a magazine, a celebrity on television or even a friend on Facebook, we all make judgments pertaining to appearance — and more often than we realize.

This phenomenon might just be the origin of “Pretty or Ugly.”

Sophie Roessler, one of the first “Pretty or Ugly” participants to attract national attention, has since edited her video by adding a message for teen girls who are genuine in their search for acceptance. Her message is summed up with “love yourself for who you are.” But this comes only after Roessler’s appearance on Good Morning America and a feature in Jezebel concerning her “performance piece.”

It seems to me that “Pretty or Ugly” is, among other things, a cry for recognition in a beauty-obsessed culture. So where will it end?

Opinion columnist Alex Meyer is a creative writing freshman and may be reached at [email protected]

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