A trend where young girls (typically between the ages of 9-14) post homemade YouTube videos asking; “Am I Pretty Or Ugly?”, is the topic of today’s blog. Imagine that! Young girls are asking strangers for their opinion. Many of these videos are painfully emotionally naked to the adult viewer, to which we see children displaying their insecurities for all the world to see. As a Relationship and Family Psychotherapist, who has been providing counseling since 1993, in my work with young girls I will tell you that this trend although does not surprise me – greatly concerns me. Children need help on their journey of navigating child-hood. Whose job is it to help them? Parents! Provided below you will find my insights and parenting tips to help the reader and parents of young girls to make sense of their behavior, and what to do to help them navigate their journey of girlhood.
YouTube features almost 500,000 of these Pretty or Ugly videos (POU), which includes an informal script. Many of them show additional pictures of themselves during their video in different poses, some with make-up and some without, posing for the camera sometimes shyly other times dramatically, while talking all the way through.
Why Are There So Many Young Girls Posting POU Videos?
Young girls are on a journey of the discovery of their self identity and self acceptance. Most yearn for validation and have self doubt. You cannot accept what you cannot identify. Therefore, these young girls seek out others to provide them with what I refer to as their CI: Category Identity.
Category A: Pretty, or Category B: Ugly.
These girls are seeking the answer from others as to which CI (category identity) they are in, because they are confused about which category they fall under. Specifically, many of them feel both ways- sometimes they feel their identity is one of pretty, and other times they feel ugly. And because they experience different responses from those they know, this confusion is exacerbated. This lack of category identity feels uncomfortable due to the lack of clarity.
For some young girls it is their pure need for validation of what they already think: “I AM pretty”, but . . . let me make sure/double check/confirm. Or, they desire reassurance that what they think is true; “I AM ugly”, really is not true. Maybe just maybe if someone says that I am not ugly, if enough people say it, I will believe it – is the thinking some girls have.
Bottom line: young girls need to feel reassured, they yearn for reassurance. POU plays on that.
PVC = Positive Voice Choice Vs. NVC = Negative Voice Choice
Parents must teach their children to find the nourishment of their inner spirit, soul, view of self from within, not from others. For if we seek others to fill our cup, our cup will always feel 1/4 or 1/2 way full. Communicate this point to your daughters. Teach them that they can choose to have a Positive Voice (PVC = Positive Voice Choice) or a Negative Voice (NVC = Negative Voice Choice). Notice the letter representation of words. That’s speaking your children’s language. Everything is shorthand these days. Perhaps this generation of texting kids has played a significant role in this. You will find it helps them to hear your voice, if you can incorporate their language when you are trying to explain something to them.
Share with your daughters that the relationship they have with themselves is the most powerful relationship! Young girls out there, here is the scoop: the relationship you have with yourself, how you see yourself ultimately affects how others view you, how you interact with others and how others interact with you.
Reassure your young girls of their beauty, that they are pretty. Provide them with concrete reasons why you are saying this, so they don’t simply say; “you have to tell me that because you are my parent”. Young girls will say that anyway. But, if you give them proof, concrete examples, they will be able to tell themselves these examples, and perhaps even find additional ones on their own by following your lead.
Validate Contradicting Feelings
Validate their contradicting feelings of feeling pretty at times, and feeling ugly at other times. Validate their wondering which is true by normalizing their question. Let them know this is a common struggle of young girls and all a part of the discovery of self process. Then go to the next step which is to explain to them that security in one’s self and positive view of self beauty vs. insecurity and negative view of self beauty is a discovery process of which you can choose how you wish to view yourself.
Discovery Process That One Can Choose
Others will see you through the eyes of which you see yourself. If you see yourself as beautiful you will produce and display that aura about you. Thus others will see you as pretty too. With that, do note, if someone does not view you as pretty, that does not change who you are. Another person’s opinion is just that! Their opinion. This very concept is what I invite all parents to verbalize to their daughters.
Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
What one person considers pretty another may not. Discuss different visual “types”. Have a discussion with your daughters about what is “pretty” to them. How does one define “pretty”. Can a person’s personality, how they hold themselves, interests – affect their view of self and other’s view of them in terms of the category of pretty? Or is “pretty vs. ugly” black and white? Are you either pretty or ugly- case closed? Who really is the judge and jury of this question of; “Am I pretty or ugly?” Young children often can be quite analytical, when you give them the opportunity to have such a dialogue.
Stranger Danger – Don’t Give Away Your Power
I am not talking about the danger of a stranger abducting your child, and other typically documented and reported in the media topics regarding protecting our children from strangers. The use of social media by young girls and the dangers of that in terms of what is typically discussed in the media, is not the focus of today’s blog. An important, relevant, concerning and disturbing topic indeed, but not today’s focus. I am talking about emotional stranger danger with specific regards to POU.
Discuss with your daughters that strangers have their own set of issues, experiences, challenges, emotional upsets and mental disturbances. And thus one stranger’s comment may be therapeutic and kind in response to a POU on YouTube commenting something like; “it is what you feel inside that matters”. Whereas another stranger’s comment may be hurtful, hostile, and/or racist . . . Some comments may be just what a young girl wishes to read: “you are soooo pretty”. Etc., etc. Explain to your daughters that people have their own issues having nothing to do with you, and if you give to others your power, they will take it! Talk with your daughters about the choice to keep your power over yourself by being your own set of eyes of judge and jury to yourself. Once you give over power to others to judge you, and you choose to take their judgment as your own, then you are no longer in power, they are. Which leads you to a lifetime of yuck (e.g., low self esteem, poor decisions…).
Provide Opportunities For Identity Beyond The Visual
It is our responsibility as parents to provide opportunities for our children to participate in that will help them on their journey of self identity and thus self acceptance. Examples of concrete experiences to provide to your young girls so they can have other outlets and experiences that will play a significant part in discovery of self identity includes; dance class, art class, drama, sports, music, computers, and more . . . Be supportive of their interests, and share with them yours as well as interests you may have heard about or read about. Although you will not take away a girl’s interest in feeling pretty, as it is typically innate to desire to feel pretty about one’s self. The key is that girls who have interests in their life, passions and activities to do with their time will fair much better then girls who don’t. How a young girl feels about herself has everything to do with her identity. The interests a young girl has and the activities a young girl participates in has everything to do with her identity development. Also, with interests comes socialization. A young girl who has friends, feels like she is accepted, she belongs. Thus, also impacting her self identity, self worth, and overall view of self.
YouTube And POU Further Explained
The internet/social media is simply a vessel of which to express both sides of one’s self which includes one’s insecurities as well as one’s “feel goods”. In essence, the internet is a not so private diary. Rather than sharing one’s concerns, thoughts, feelings, . . . only for one’s self to read and figure out, when young girls used writing in their diary as a form of expression as they navigate childhood. Nowadays, far too many young girls look to others for their feedback. It is this external need rather than internal that concerns me as to where we are in our culture for the development of young girls.
All in all it therefore makes sense why POU has become a trend. Just because something is a trend, does not mean it is good for the mental health and wellness nor growth and development of those participating in the trend.