Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: If you can't say something nice...don't go online

Published: Thursday, March 8 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

This image made on Friday, March 2, 2012, from video posted on the YouTube website on Dec. 17, 2010, shows a girl with a koala hat asking "Am I pretty or ugly?" The video has more than 4 million views and more than 107,000 anonymous, often hateful responses.

Associated Press

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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.

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