What should we do about #ugly selfies?

If you want a glimpse inside a teenage girl’s interior life, and you are willing to feel your heart plummet, then fire up Instagram and type in these hashtags:


…and so forth. Instagram is teeming with girls whose adolescent pain is laid bare, conveniently brought forth by a self-loathing hashtag. There are hundreds of ugly-tagged selfies from all over the world, and almost every one features a teenage girl who doesn’t feel good about the way she looks. The tone is different on each one — some girls openly hate their appearance, others seem to seek validation — but they all broadcast the same message: I am not pretty enough. Not good enough. Just not enough.

Last week, I spent almost an hour scrolling through pages of #imugly girls (and the text phrases they’re quite fond of posting). Teenage girls have long been hard on themselves, but seeing it all laid out was overwhelming, especially because they’re only the ones admitting that they feel ugly. It was all train-wreck depressing, particularly because these girls were wrong about themselves. I saw a variety of girls — short, tall, thin, heavy — but I didn’t see a single ugly one.

I wished I could talk with these girls, because I remember feeling the way they did. I also remember slowly opening up to the slight chance that maybe I wasn’t hideous, and how that idea is scary. Stepping toward our personal possibilities — in this case, to believe that maybe we’re not just not-ugly, but possibly beautiful and worthy — can be more challenging than choosing to see ourselves as small. And while I think it’s imperative to root one’s self-esteem in something other than appearance, I also think that girls do need to hear that they’re pretty. Especially when they keep telling themselves that they’re not.

#notugly. #yourepretty. #youlookgreat.

So I started to comment on their photos. You know how trolls leave random mean comments? This is the same thing, except instead of nasty notes, I leave nice ones to the girls who insist they’re ugly. When a girl talks about how she needs to pluck her “ugly” eyebrows, I tell her that they are gorgeous. (They are.) When a girl says she looks like a potato (!), I tell her she is beautiful. (She is.)

This reverse-trolling is admittedly a little odd, but I don’t know what else to do. I suspect that, consciously or not, many of these girls put forth #imugly as a question to the world: Am I ugly? And so I answer no, no, no — hoping that it may help one of them hesitate to call herself ugly the next time. Because that spark of compassion, if tended, can reverse the effects of selfie-loathing. Baby steps.

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  • Jennifer Severns

    Love this idea! Reverse-trolling. Count me in!

    • http://www.theglowhow.com/ Annie

      Let’s do it. (I truly think that, if done right, the reverse troll can make someone’s day.)

  • Gloria Yang

    I’m so on board with this. People say girls who take selfies are vain and simply seeking validation, but you know what, sometimes it feels damn good to have friends and strangers tell you that you are pretty! Let the reverse-troll revolution begin!

    • http://www.theglowhow.com/ Annie

      Vive la révolution! I find selfie culture FASCINATING. I do think that some girls are indeed seeking validation, but is that any different from teenagers in the past? I mean, didn’t we all seek validation on some level? We just expressed ourselves differently. I think you’re right, sometimes it really does help to hear that we’re pretty. Not if it’s the ONLY thing that matters or means something, of course. But as icing on the cake? Yes, please.