When I was 11 years old, I remember participating in a group phone call with one of my friends and a boy I had a crush on. The purpose of this call was to “rate” the girls in my class on a scale of 1-10 in terms of prettiness.
The boy didn’t know I was listening in.
“So, what do you rate Carmen?” my friend asked.
“Seven,” was the reply.
Seven. I was devastated. Granted, it wasn’t a two or three, but certainly not a nine or 10, either. I was about a C+ in attractiveness — at least according to that boy. But his was all the opinion that mattered to me.
It’s been 16 years since that phone call, and yet things haven’t changed much for tweens. They still want to know what other people think of them. They want to be liked. They want to be accepted. And they want to be attractive.
A recent YouTube video that has swept the nation titled “Am I pretty or Ugly?” features a darling young girl around 10, wearing a koala beanie and tank top, asking viewers if they think she’s pretty.
The responses were incredibly ugly.
Many comments were obscene and degrading, calling this young, impressionable girl all sorts of names, prompting one commenter to say, “To all the people who are namecalling: I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”
Another commenter tried to give this “Am I Pretty?” girl advice by saying, “It doesn't matter what other people think. You aren't validated as a person based upon other people's opinions.”
But we’ve always been worried about what other people think of us, haven’t we?
In an article written for the Huffington Post, Emilie Zaslow, a media studies professor at Pace University in New York, said this about our viral world:
“When the Internet is your diary and your audience is global, the public posting of questions such as 'Am I ugly?' which might previously have been personal makes sense within this shift in culture."
Surely this young woman didn’t think about the repercussions of her naively honest question, or anticipate the 4.5 million hits on YouTube to date.
Nadine Kaslow, a family psychologist and professor of behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, warned against posting videos such as this:
"There's this constant messaging about looks and beauty. Their world is taking it to a new level. It can be humiliating, there may be a lot of shame, and you start to become public objects instead of being your own person."
In a separate interview with Billy Bush for Access Hollywood, Julia Roberts talked about people feeling braver making nasty comments when they’re in the dark behind a computer screen because they don’t have to confront anyone face to face.
“Come into the light let’s have a conversation about this,” Roberts said.
I’ve learned from personal experience to avoid reading comments about myself. For some reason when we were on “Idol,” it was Clay Aiken’s all-time favorite thing to do, and he’d frequently rope one of us into doing it with him.
“Come on, it’s funny!” Aiken would say. But it wasn’t so funny for me. In fact, my self-confidence really took a hit because of some particularly nasty comments.
I actually completely disagree with the old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” It’s through words that we can become the best and worst versions of ourselves. Negative words are like drops of acid poured on a soul, slowly eating away images of self-worth and self-confidence.
What can be done? I think it starts in the home. One positive, supportive voice speaks love and kindness to your kids — and use that voice frequently.
“19 Kids and Counting” reality mom Michelle Duggar said this about raising children and building confidence:
“Praise them 10 times more than you correct them.”
I think that same rule should apply to everyone — whether they’re family members, friends, neighbors, even strangers. No matter how difficult it may seem, choose to say something positive.
My own mother taught me something growing up that has stuck with me through the years and helped me to see the good in others. “Whenever you’re tempted to think something negative or judgemental about someone,” she said, “try to think of at least one good thing about them. Everyone has at least one good thing. Are they patient? Are they hardworking? Do they have a nice smile? What talents do they possess? Pretty soon you’ll start seeing the good in people, inside and out.”
This took a lot of practice for me. One day in junior high, I was in the locker room getting ready after gym. A popular girl came up behind me in the mirror and made a crack about how she really didn’t like my short haircut, making some other girls giggle. I wanted nothing more than to run out of the room bawling. Instead, I decided to put my mom’s advice to the test. It took a great big swallow of pride, but I turned around and said, “You have such pretty hair. I wish I could get mine to look like that!”
The girl was speechless. She didn’t know how to respond. Here she was, trying to get under my skin, and she received a compliment in return. That was a turning point for me. I realized I didn’t have to carry on the cycle of being mean.
By looking for the good in others we can be an example of kindness and acceptance. We can help buoy each other up and take a stand against bullying, in all its forms.
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes on entertainment and family for the Deseret News.