If you haven't seen the videos haunting Facebook, Twitter, and the news, then search for "Am I Ugly?" on YouTube. In one of the earliest examples, user sgal901 — a little girl, no older than twelve, wearing a knit koala-bear hat — leans into the shot, chewing her nails. With wide eyes she says, "All my friends tell me I'm pretty but I think I'm ugly and fat . . . so I just want to know — am I ugly?" And people have been responding. With answers like "You're stupid as a donkey and twice as ugly, if a stranger whants [sic] you to come with him take your chance!" it's hard to imagine anyone, let alone a young girl, being able to handle that kind of cruelty for long.
Sadly, though, 15 months, 5 million hits, and nearly 130,000 comments later, not only is it still up, but there have been thousands of videos voicing similar concerns posted alongside it. It is a stark twist of technology — teenagers turning to the Internet like kids in generations past turned to lock-and-key diaries. Except, instead of a nosy sibling as the threat to those secret insecurities, these kids have the world invading their thoughts — even appearing to ask for these kinds of invasions.
It's not something we're used to, as a society: When private fears emerge into the public realm, we're often unclear on how to respond.
Local attorney Jennifer Kruszewski has an idea, and has enlisted a number of locals to help her fight back against this insecurity, and its accompany cruelty. She has launched the "You Are Beautiful" project, a montage video of nearly two-dozen women and girls explaining why they, and the many young people posting "Am I Ugly?" videos, are in fact beautiful.
"I was bullied when I was a kid," Kruszewski says. "I . . . felt terrible about myself sometimes. And when I saw [the videos] . . . I thought: 'I would have done the same thing, written in my diary . . .' Except, when your diary is the Web and the whole world responds to your pain, then [kids] are opened up to . . . negative, disturbing things . . . Instantly, I decided I had to do something."
With the help of Eric Bailey, her husband and co-owner of the Munjoyful Productions film company, and the interest of a supportive community of Portland women, within two weeks they had a plan — to film testimonials in one day, then create a montage. It's currently in its final editing stages and will be ready for a full release this weekend.
Kruszewski hopes the video will make a swift and powerful impact — one big enough to go viral. She is encouraging everyone to "see it and share it," thereby insuring that the positive message reaches those whom it was intended for — other impressionable, insecure girls like Kruszewski (and so many of us) once were.
See the "You Are Beautiful" project at vimeo.com/channels/munjoyful.