The heartbreaking teen Youtube trend you need to know about

Think back to when you were in high school. Were you happy with how you looked?

Chances are the answer is "not really". For many, the teen years are fraught with insecurities. Growing up and growing into yourself tends to go hand-in-hand with concerns about being "cool enough", "funny enough" and, in particular, "hot enough".

As if that's not enough to deal with, the internet has given teens a whole new audience with which to share these thoughts - and it's produced some heartbreaking trends.

Teens and pre-teens as young as 10 are posting homemade videos on Youtube, earnestly asking other users to rate their appearance. In the videos, usually filmed on webcam and given titles like "Am I ugly or pretty, be honest", the kids - usually girls - plead for straight answers, no matter how brutal. "People tell me I'm ugly. So tell me - am I?" whispers one girl. "All my friends say 'you're so pretty', but I kinda think I'm ugly, so I wanna know what you guys think," explains another with an air of feigned nonchalance. Many claim to "not really care" about the opinions of others, and are instead merely "curious" to hear an outside opinion.

There are almost half a million of these videos on Youtube. The young subjects sit alone in their bedrooms, surrounded by the innocent minutiae of their teen and tween lives - posters, books, photos of their family and friends - while putting their self-esteem at the mercy of people they will never meet.

They receive mixed responses. Many of the comments are complimentary and even concerned. However, others take the chance to post anonymous insults that have enormous potential to shatter a teen's self-esteem at a time when reassurance is needed most.


Though the first "Am I ugly?" video was reportedly posted in 2010, the trend seem to have picked up momentum in recent months. Unfortunately, it's part of a wider movement of teens and tweens seeking affirmation on social media.

Selfies are everywhere on Instagram.

This has been especially common on Instagram, with girls entering their photos to virtual "beauty pageants" voted on by hundreds of users. Others court the attention and responses of strangers by adding hashtags like #rateme to their selfies. On Facebook, the "like for a rate" trend encourages kids to 'like' a status update if they want to have their appearance rated out of 10 by whoever posts it.

Young people questioning who they are and how they look isn't a side-effect of the rise of social media - if you opened your teenage diary now you'd probably find these thoughts scrawled in purple glitter pen next to magazine cut-outs of Rob Lowe. (Don't deny it...)

Sharing them on a worldwide public forum, however, is problematic. Not only is there a security risk inherent in posting public videos or photos, especially if location or identification indicators are visible, but those who respond are afforded a level of anonymity and/or distance that doesn't exist in the real world. They can log on under a pseudonym, post a vile comment about a stranger (or even someone they know) and then walk away without ever knowing the damage they can cause.

Social media has a lot of pluses for teens and tweens - but this movement isn't one of them. It's just the latest heartbreaking consequence of a world that tells young people that their appearance is all-important.

How do you handle body image issues with your daughter?