Kids do some really crazy things, but I think the craziest thing I’ve heard lately is “Am I Ugly or Pretty” videos. Young girls are making videos of themselves then posting them on YouTube and asking viewers to declare the girl “ugly” or “pretty.” I hope it comes as no surprise that the girls generally get a lot of positive comments but just as many that are mean and abusive. Some of the comments I’ve read should land the commenter in jail.
Experts call the phenomenon normal tween behavior. Young girls, the logic goes, have low self-esteem and are insecure about their appearance so look for affirmation. Add to that a huge shot of impulsivity and it can seem like a really good idea to find out if others find them ugly or pretty. We, as parents need to build our daughters’ self-esteem, reassuring them that they are beautiful, special and capable so that they won’t go looking for compliments from strangers.
I’m not swallowing the low self-esteem thing whole anymore. Every generation since I was in grade school—and that was a long, long time ago—has focused on raising girls’ self-esteem. We’ve been raising our daughters’ self-esteem for so long now that every one of them should believe she’s capable of reversing the Earth’s rotation.
The girls who are making “Am I Ugly” videos definitely have issues, probably with insecurity and self-esteem, but I’m thinking there’s something more going on there. Most girls are not making videos begging for affirmation and critique. I’ll bet most girls aren’t making videos at all.
When a girl is treated badly she feels bad, not because she has low self-esteem but because it feels bad to be treated badly. Teaching girls that they are treated poorly because they don’t value themselves lets the people who treat them poorly off the hook. At the same time, the over emphasis on parents instilling self-esteem seems to pull the rug out from under the reason we focus on it to begin with.
I run for fitness and one day my daughter asked to go with me. It was drizzling with a stiff wind out of the north. I told her it would be tough. She wanted to come anyway. Her hat blew off three times, her nose was running and her cheeks were red, but she kept running. I asked several times if she wanted to quit. She didn’t. She ran 1.5 miles in the rain and wind. We called it quits when she was ready. It’s an achievement that still makes her glow in the telling.
We want our kids to feel good about themselves. Well, kids feel good about themselves when they do things that they are proud of, when they reach deeper and try harder than they have before. Yes, we should be proud of our children, but it’s more important, in the long run, that they feel proud of themselves.