She interviewed artist/performer Louise Orwin who has recently done her own version of these videos, while playing different characters, as a kind of experiment. They were downcast at the idea of young girls asking the internet whether they're pretty or not.
I'm writing this post to say that I disagree with Jane's sad head-shaking, and I never disagree with her, hardly.
I watched some of the videos for myself. Lots of the girls are wearing heavy make-up, and on some you can tell they're making the videos late at night on their family's desktop. The worst ones are where you can overhear family members talking. They're in the same room with the girl and just letting her ask high-charge questions to the internet! Come on people.
While I wouldn't recommend watching these videos - it feels pretty creepy - I don't fault people for making them. They're being sensible.
Here's how I break down the Ugly/Pretty YouTube trend:
1. Attractiveness is a social currency.
For girls it is the social currency. Every little girl, by the time she gets to high school, knows that inner beauty is the Weimar Mark to outer beauty's dollar.
2. Social currency is important.
Because it gets you laid. (Plus other things - like people just generally being kinder to you and all those studies about attractive people making more money and living longer and being uniformed of the gross hardship that is suffering of any kind! But mostly it gets you laid.)
3. Attractiveness isn't objective. But it is, kind of.
Those "she don't know she's beautiful" songs absolutely lie. If a woman is getting a top 40 song written about her, bitch* knows she's beautiful. No question.
Otherwise, there's a lot of grey area - 50 shades of it - wah wah. A lot of average-y looking girls who are wondering if they're going to be allowed to participate in any grand adventures, if they're going to be anybody's princess, if crowds of people will love or remember them. It's important in mapping out expectations for her life, for a girl to know whether or not she's pretty.
It's like all these girls are given so many drachmas of beauty and shoved into a strange country. These YouTube videos are just queries to find out what the exchange rate is.
*Am I allowed to say "bitch" on here? Do I believe in that? Oh well, if I wake up in the night feeling remorseful about it (happens), I can alter it.
I remember thinking in college that if I just knew exactly where I was in the spectrum of pretty, then I could budget for the social-currency equivalent of some Pringles.
Economic metaphors aside, so much of life is an assessment of risk. Should I talk to that guy? Should I crack a joke? If I get up in front of these people, will they be mean to me? Having an objective-ish idea of her attractiveness is an important element when a girl evaluates risk. So why the shock and dismay when she consults the internet about it?
It's like Old Gregg says, "Make an assessment."