Teens Post 'Am I Pretty or Ugly?' Videos on YouTube

Naomi Gibson never could've prepared herself for her daughter's new YouTube post

ByABC News
February 23, 2012, 3:38 PM

— -- Naomi Gibson, who lives just outside Denver, always makes a point to tell her 13-year-old daughter, Faye, that she's beautiful. So when she started getting calls from media asking to interview Faye about a video she had posted, she couldn't believe her ears.

"I was floored," Gibson said.

The video was called "Am I Pretty or Ugly?" and asked anyone who watched the YouTube video to comment on her attractiveness.

Faye says that she has long been a victim of bullying. A day does not pass when someone at school does not call her ugly, she said."I get called a lot of names, get talked about behind my back," she said.

The psyche of a teenage girl is understandably muddled. Faye said she goes to the web to get opinions from those who don't know her.

"Deep down inside, all girls know that other people's opinions don't matter, but we still go to other people for help because we don't believe what people say," she told ABC News.

What she received were mixed reactions. Though some comments were innocuous enough, others spewed hateful messages toward the young teenager.

One read, "FAYE! Stop asking for this attention. It makes you look so pathetic and dumb. "

"It hurt me to see those comments about my daughter," Gibson said.

Faye's case is not unique. Similar videos have been posted in recent months, all asking often unknown users to comment on whether or not a teen is ugly. Some have accrued thousands of hits, with one video, posted by user sgal01 getting 3,622,844 views. Comments are mixed, with some good Samaritans imploring the teens to know their self-worth, as more disparaging commentors hurled insults, some even taking a sexual, predatory tone.

But while posting videos like this may be a recent phenomenon, experts say that teens' desire for approval is nothing new.

Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, says that teens have always had a fervent desire to be accepted.

"This is just an extreme version of something that's very normal," Klapow said, adding, "Another piece that's normal is impulsivity. Give them a medium that is so easily accessible and so potent, you get the problem we're seeing."

Dr. Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale, agrees. "There's a part of it that's unfortunate, but there's a part of it that's natural. Technology has made it so that it's not new in principle but new in practice," he said.

Older generations may have used slambooks to share their feelings about peers but, for this technology-inundated generation, the internet is teenagers' open forum, providing them the comfort and ease to open themselves up to the enormous and often anonymous cyberuniverse.

"'The question is not, why would [teenagers] take their problems to the web? The question is, why wouldn't you take it to the web?" said Kazdin.

Experts say that part of the appeal of asking viewers open questions comes from the immediate reward the teens get. Rather than sitting down and having a conversation, teenagers can post something on the internet and immediately experience the thrill associated with seeing a response, whether positive or negative.

But the negative comments can have deleterious effects.

"They have no safe place now," Kazdin said. "As long as they're electronically connected, they become vulnerable."