Am I Ugly?

First Posted: 02/21/2012 5:54 pm by Huffington Post writer Emma Gray:

“People say I’m ugly. So … tell me — am I?”

A young girl stares earnestly, and perhaps a bit awkwardly, into the camera asking the world wide web of YouTube users to comment on her appearance. With 35,000 views and nearly 1,200 comments, her video is just one small piece in what seems to be a growing trend of teen and “tween” (between the ages of 11 and 13) girls taking to the Internet to broadcast concerns about their looks — and asking strangers to weigh in on these insecurities.

First reported by Jezebel, these YouTube videos seem to be made predominantly by middle-school aged girls, though there are boys featured in some of them as well. A simple search turns up pages upon pages of similar clips, entitled things like “Am I Ugly?” “Am I Ugly Or Pretty?” “Am I Ugly, Be Honest” and “Am I Pretty Or Not?”

One video, posted in December of 2010 has gotten over 3.4 million views and 92,000 comments. “I just wanted to make a random video seeing if I was like, ugly or not? Because a lot of people call me ugly and I think I am ugly … and fat.” She goes on to show the audience a series of photos of herself and asks users to “tell me what you think.” The comments on these clips range from astoundingly awful (“my vote: UGLIER THAN A DEMON” or “F*ck off whore wannabe”) to supportive (“I think you look pretty and nice,”) to concerned (“Sweetie, ur 2 young to be using the Internet, much less having these losers judge you.”)

The sheer number of these videos, and how regularly their creators reference other ones, suggests that a virtual community has formed around the concept.

SFGate’s Amy Graff expressed concern that these young people are only harming themselves by asking anonymous strangers for look-based critiques:

A 12-year-old isn’t mature enough to deal with vicious remarks made by their mean-spirited peers and sick-minded Internet trolls … Adolescence is dark and savage and when teenagers put themselves up on the Internet it only magnifies the experience.

HuffPost Teen reported recently on another disturbing online trend — a community of “thinspiration blogs” on Tumblr. As reporter Carolyn Gregoire discovered, this “thinspo” collective is built around young women encouraging one another to lose extreme amounts of weight, in an insular (well, as insular as the Internet can be) environment. In contrast, these YouTube videos are built around the anticipated responses of “outsiders,” and though the young people in them purport to want honesty, they’re likely also looking for affirmation.

This need for approval coincides with the girls passing an age when self-esteem tends to peak. After age nine, researchers find that body confidence plummets. According to the NYU Child Study Center, one study showed that 59 percent of girls in 5th through 12th grade were dissatisfied with their physical appearance.

Given how fragile kids are at this stage, not to mention privacy concerns and the potential longevity of Internet exposure, bloggers have responded to these videos by urging YouTube to shut them down. Jezebel’s Katie M. Baker asks “How do we get YouTube to make this illegal?” And while the video sharing site officially requires users to be at least 13 years old, getting in when you’re younger is simple. Graff calls for parents as well as YouTube to more closely monitor kids’ use of the site. Given that many parents already believe they should be making decisions about their child’s Facebook use, this solution doesn’t feel particularly far-fetched.

The (somewhat) good news is that a small but growing number of “response” videos to the “Am I Ugly?” trend have been posted, which means some kids are questioning the idea itself. But, in a world of carefully curated Facebook profiles that put personal lives (and looks) at center stage, and a constant bombardment of “aspirational” digitally altered images both online and offline, it’s perhaps unsurprising that young people are sharing their body image anxieties in such a forum. Deleting these videos from YouTube channels could act as a band-aid solution, but their existence is indicative of something much larger.

What do you think the role of parents is in situations like this? What can we do to encourage our children to feel confident about their looks?

Nerd Rock (Nrock?)

Today I set myself an apparently Herculean task: find the female Jonathan Coulton. Promote her on the blog. I thought it seemed easy enough. There are tons of musicians on YouTube; it would simply be a matter of the right search terms.

I found plenty of folksy female singers, filkers who write novels, Wiccans, non-geek comedy singers, and was reminded of Team Unicorn, the group responsible for the “Geek and Gamer Girls” parody version of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” I’m not spotlighting Team Unicorn because, while I definitely think you can be both traditionally “sexy” and a geek (something our culture is constantly telling women they can’t be), I don’t appreciate the way they sexify themselves. That and, really, the female Jonathan Coulton wouldn’t be sexifing herself, she’d just be herself, and if she happened to be sexy, well, she wouldn’t lie naked in a pile of comics/games/etc. (I get that they’re parodying Katy Perry, but still).

Well, my search made me so desperate I tried Googling “female Jonathan Coulton.” Surprisingly, this sort of worked. I found a Geek Mom post called “Ukulele Nerdettes!” that led me to a sister duo called The Doubleclicks.

The Doubleclicks look like nerds. I mean this in the best way possible. They remind me a lot of people involved with wizard rock, but without the Slytherin ties. Sometimes the references in their songs seem a little forced, which makes sense after reading in a Geek Mom interview that “I [Angela] don’t know if games or movies directly inspire our songwriting–mostly our songs are inspired by feelings or morals (or jerky ex-boyfriends), and I add in the details from games and culture because that’s the stuff I relate to, the metaphors that come to mind.”

Whether the references are forced or not, the Doubleclicks are definitely worth a listen (or two). If you’re a fan of the cello and/or the ukelele, musically you’ll be in heaven. If you like stripped-down, down-to-earth music, you’ll be ecstatic. If you like smart people making music, you’ll be overjoyed. And if you’ve ever fell in love with someone in your D&D party, you’ll be able to relate.

My surprise favorite is actually “Be My Stalker,” a song that’s funny, though not necessarily geeky. (I say surprise favorite because initially, when I read the title, I was like, Stalking isn’t funny! Big ole frowny face! But then I listened to the song.)


Another of my favorites is “Sent From My iPhone,” a song that expresses the kinds of frustrations everyone has with people who only say typeface, never font. Unfortunately it doesn’t have a YouTube video I can embed, so head over to their website and have a listen.

A great thing about the Doubleclicks is that they have a song for everyone!

For anyone with an Uncle Geek, and for those of us, like myself, who wish they had one:


For those of us who’ve ever fallen in love with a D&D companion:


For those of us who love grammar:


For those of us who think EVE Online is dumb:


And, lastly, for anyone who’s ever found themselves crushin’ on Mr. Darcy:


While I’m not entirely convinced the Doubleclicks are the female Jonathan Coulton, they’re damn good anyway. The Doubleclicks are themselves, female nerds, who write songs about stuff they’re interested in. They don’t need to get glammed up to sing good songs, and they’re funny. The Doubleclicks are the kind of duo that I always like to discover, but maybe that’s just me pining for my high school wrock days.


P.S. If anyone could suggest to me any other contenders for the title of the female Jonathan Coulton, please leave a comment!

Art and Superheroines

Tonight I am reposting this trending article by David Brothers from Comics Alliance. The title of the article is ‘Art and Superheroines: When Over-sexualization Kills the Story’ and compares the work by two very different artists who both illustrate Wonder Woman.

(Superheroines is also not a word in the spell-check dictionary- but that’s a different discussion.)

When I first read this article I realized this is the story of my life. As an artist and a woman I am often disgusted when fetishized versions of the Superheroines I look up to worm their way into my life, the comics, and ultimately ruin the story. I find myself slapping the comic into my face asking: “Was that really necessary?” Answer: It was not.

I am not asking for censorship or for these artists to stifle their creativity. I’m just asking them to stop being so lecherous. Lecherousness breeds lecherousness. For example: You are a woman at a convention. You are cosplaying as Wonder Woman. You start to notice that when people smile you, there is something in their eyes that makes you uncomfortable. You wish that Wonder Woman wore a sweater instead of a bustier. Someone’s been following you. You hadn’t noticed before, but they’ve been taking pictures of you the whole time. (True story, but I was dressed as Momiji from Fruits Basket.)

Now, which Wonder Woman do you think they saw you as?:

Ed Benes

Cliff Chiang


Although usually when I read the comment section on articles like this I hate myself, I came across this from a poster by the name of Larry:

“I agree with Brothers, and I appreciate his approach to this issue. First, let me make clear that I am an avid collector of comics and have been for thirty years. Now then, while I find the depiction of female characters degrading and insulting to women, I also find it insulting to me a male–the idea that all I am is an animal attracted to sex and incapable of using my brain to think. However, making this argument is not going to have a single effect on the comics industry; the industry exists to make money, and the industry will continue to sell what it believes will make money. The industry is not really interested in art or intellectual stimulation, though it will pay lip-service to such ideas. Therefore, Brothers very intelligently speaks in terms the industry will understand–if the stories stink, the comics don’t sell, and the industry loses money. And I agree with him that the stories stink–the art is so oversexualized that it does distract from the story, and the comic as a whole ceases to be a work of art. Furthermore, the art is illogical–the female characters are NOT going to be dressed as they are for any practical reason, and most of them could never function (i.e. walk) if they were shaped as they are either. I know that some are going to say, “Of course, these characters are illogical. It’s a comic. It’s fiction. It’s all illogical and fantastical.” My reply is that I enjoy stories that exist within the realm of logical possibility or at least trick me into believing that they exist within the realm of possibility. I cannot be tricked into thinking that a woman with breasts larger than her head and who walks around in the position of someone impaled is going to fight off a villain or even stand up long enough to intimidate a villain. However, I sadly hold little hope that things will change.
One writer below expresses that he sees nothing wrong with what’s going on in comics; he thinks that creating ridiculously oversexualized women leads to greater appreciation and encouragement of women; and he writes with this kind of spelling and grammar: “a sexy women in a positve role that is just insain.” The comic industry knows the majority of its consumer population is only as intelligent as this person; thus, the industry will continue to publish this trash because it is going to continue to make money from consumers like this guy.”

But then there was this:

“Wonder Woman is a sex symbol. Always has been always will be so any examples with her should be thrown out the window entirely. No point in elaborating on that any further. This article was a waste of time, they’re over sexualized because thats just the nature of the genre. Comic characters represent ideals i.e. the “ideal” attractive yet strong woman. Applies to the male characters too, look at Green Lantern (or Superman for that matter) in that picture posted. He’s got muscles in places most people don’t have places. Anyone who is suggesting this leads to the way young males develop as adults is either biased or simply uneducated. Look around the media, this stuff is everywhere. If you want realism or something more conservative, read a novel.”

This sort of makes me wish I was a Superheroine so that I could get off this planet. Instead, I must play the role of BatCat the internet blogging Superheroine who stands up for the rights of the downtrodden every Tuesday night though her jointly-owned super blog!


Valentines Day Power Couple: Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi

Happy Valentines Day, readers!

On this day of love and special things I want to give a shout-out to my favorite famous couple: Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi. Both women are independently successful, philanthropic, and -you guessed it- lesbians! In American media, we love to focus on homosexual male couples- Neil Patrick Harris and his partner received a cover and spread in People when they had twins- but where was the public outcry when Wanda Sykes was diagnosed with a breast cancer? Or when Jane Lynch and her wife were married in 2010? (I vaguely remember a photo in one of the magazines- but that was it.) So not only are Ellen and Portia successful separately, together they have broken the mold of Hollywood media and became important as lesbians as a couple.

Recently, the retail store JC Penney hired Ellen as a spokesmodel for the season, which has caused outrage from right-wing group One Million Moms (the group also opposes Macy’s ‘two grooms’ advertisement). Although Ellen is already a spokesmodel for CoverGirl and American Express, Ellen representing clothing is a step too far.

Funny that JC Penney thinks hiring an open homosexual spokesperson will help their business when most of their customers are traditional families. More sales will be lost than gained unless they replace their spokesperson quickly. Unless JC Penney decides to be neutral in the culture war then their brand transformation will be unsuccessful.” -OMM

Since JC Penney has shown its support for Ellen as refuses to bow down to OMM, the support for JC Penney has blossomed. The JC Penny Shop-In is a Facebook event in which people go to their local JC Penney and take pictures of themselves shopping. Additionally, a ‘Gay Day‘ flashmob was organized in front of a JC Penney to show the public’s support of JC Penney.

Relatively recently, Portia released an autobiography, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. The book is about Portia’s struggles with her weight and self-image as a model and actress. And it was truly one of the saddest things I have ever read. I have never had an eating disorder, but after reading this book I can understand how easy it is to slip into that line of thinking. While the book itself has had some mixed reviews, I feel that it is incredibly important for all women to read.

Like I harped upon in two earlier posts, Fhotoshop by Adobe and Why I Shouldn’t Watch TV, the way women are portrayed in the media is sickening (sometimes literally). While stick-thin models are still used to promote most things, Ellen (a real women who is always herself) is now the spokesmodel for some very important companies.

So on this Valentines Day, let’s not wonder how Brad and Angie might be spending the evening, or who Jennifer Anniston really wants to be her Valentine. If we are to focus on any celebrity couples at all, why not the ones who are challenging conventional roles and changing the way the media sees lesbian couples?

Hell, I’d sure care a lot more about what keeps Ellen’s skin so glowy than which Kardashian is getting divorced.


Wonder Women!

If you’re interested in finding a timely, relevant superheroine documentary, look no further!

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines is currently raising money for the World Premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, TX this March. The film, originally titled The History of the Universe as Told by Wonder Woman, traces the history of Wonder Woman and “looks at how popular representations of powerful women often reflect society’s anxieties about women’s liberation.” They’ve interviewed a wide variety of people involved with Wonder Woman, comics generally, as well as important “real-life superheroines” like Gloria Steinem and Kathleen Hanna. (A more complete list of major contributors can be found here.) It looks awesome, especially for those of us who are skeptical of Wonder Woman’s exalted status among feminists.

They’ve completed the actual making of the film, so now they’re raising money to “to professionally sound mix and color grade the film and prepare a festival print.” If you’d like to support a woman-made film intended to “introduce audiences to a cast of fictional and real life superheroines fighting for positive role models for girls, both on screen and off, and remind us of our common human need for stories that tell us we can all be heroes,” stop by their Kickstarter page and donate some money! Plus, if you pledge at least $25, you get cool stuff. So not only are you helping to start a discussion about the importance of kick-ass women, you get to smugly wear a T-shirt that lets everyone know you’re a total badass who supports female filmmakers.

I personally look forward to hosting and/or attending a screening once they finish the film. Because who doesn’t love superheroines?



Found on

Found on


Today the Federal Appeals Court declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional! Now California is finally as gay as Iowa, Massachusetts,  New York, Delaware,  Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island! 8 down, 42 to go!

‎”Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.” -Judge Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

A Q&A from the Mercury News sheds light on what may come next:

Q What is likely to happen after the 9th Circuit rules Tuesday?

A The losing side can ask the 9th Circuit to rehear the case with an 11-judge panel, a process known as en banc review. A majority of the 9th Circuit’s two dozen full-time judges must vote to rehear a case en banc, but this often occurs in high-profile cases where there is disagreement within the court. The losing side has 14 days to ask for such a rehearing. If the 9th Circuit refuses to grant the request, the next step is the U.S. Supreme Court.

Q How long will all this take?

A The legal fight over Proposition 8 isn’t likely to be concluded anytime soon. If the 9th Circuit rehears the case with an 11-judge panel, that appeal is likely to stretch through this year. And whatever the outcome in the 9th Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court is almost certain not to get a look at the case before the upcoming presidential election.

Q What would be the impact of a 9th Circuit ruling declaring California’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional? Would it legalize gay marriage in all nine Western states covered by the 9th Circuit?

A It depends. The court can take a narrower approach and apply its ruling only to California, finding that Proposition 8 violates the rights of same-sex couples because it stripped away a previous right established in a California Supreme Court ruling in 2008 (Proposition 8 wiped that ruling off the books). Or the court can issue a more sweeping ruling that finds any such state ban unconstitutional, which would extend the ruling’s reach.

The battle for Love, as I like to call it, is far from over. But I leave you with this political cartoon:



The Girl-Friendly World of Studio Ghibli

Though women and girls in anime can be very problematic, one kind of animated Japanese import doesn’t make me worry about the portrayal of female characters. These films are imaginative, beautifully drawn, highly successful, and usually feature good portrayals of girls and women. This group is, of course, the films made by Studio Ghibli.

So, I’m personally pretty excited about their newest film, which comes to US theaters February 17. Even though Ponyo, the last Studio Ghibli film released in the US, was a little disappointing, I’m still looking forward to The Secret World of Arrietty.

Like the trailer says, the film is based on the novel The Borrowers, a book I remember reading as a child (though I can’t remember how much I liked it). It also features a girl protagonist, like many Studio Ghibli films. Though it doesn’t seem like it will be on the epic scale or have the same adult appeal that movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke have, it looks fun and the kind of movie you’d want to take your daughter to see. It seems to keep with the studio’s tradition of realistic, not stereotypical, female protagonists and quality storytelling.

(Incidentally, if you live in the Boston area, consider checking out the Museum of Fine Arts’ series of Studio Ghibli film screenings happening throughout February! They’re showing many of the beloved Ghibli films (14 in all), as well as the often-forgotten The Cat Returns.)