Backlash After Teens Post 'Ugly' Photos of Themselves for Body-Shaming Challenge

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A social media challenge that is inspiring teenagers to draw acne, unibrows, and moles on their faces in a supposed effort to encourage acceptance is now facing a backlash online.

For the viral “Don’t Judge Challenge,” teens are posting videos of themselves in which they transform from “ugly” to “beautiful” in a matter of seconds. Kids are using markers to draw pimples and unibrows, darkening their teeth, putting on glasses and messing up their hair to show themselves looking unattractive at the beginning of the video. Then they quickly pretend to wash their faces and cover the camera lens with their hands, and a second later reveal their true “attractive” selves, which adhere to more conventional beauty standards. The idea, in theory, is to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

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For the viral “Don’t Judge Challenge” teens are posting videos where they first appear “ugly” and then reveal their true, “attractive” selves. (Photo: Twitter/CaseyyRenea)

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The hashtag #dontjudgechallenge (and the misspelled #dontjudgechallange) was used online more than 2 million times in the last two weeks. But while it’s dubbed the Don’t Judge Challenge, plenty of users are calling out the trend for being judgmental and sending the wrong message – that anyone who actually has acne or unibrows or dark teeth is ugly. “You’re making it seem like people who wear glasses, who have acne, who don’t have good eyebrows are ugly and unattractive,” says the user TypicalGirl on a video that’s been favorited more than 55,000 times since it was posted on Monday. “It makes no sense. Stop! You’re just making yourself look more attractive just to show you’re attractive. What are we judging? It’s dumb!”

Experts say that while the challenge may have had good intentions, it’s celebrating the wrong ideals. “Putting on a costume to temporarily dull your looks could definitely send the wrong message. It may be easy for teens do when they know that in a matter of minutes, they’re able to transform their normal, attractive selves. Unfortunately, not all teens have that luxury,” Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Although the message is supposed to be about not judging people by how they look, the entire campaign focuses on each teen’s appearance. Ultimately, the teens appearing in the videos are able to show off how attractive they really are.”

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Instead of calling out what’s “ugly,” teens should celebrate kindness, generosity and doing good, Morin says. “Beautiful teens who draw on their faces to depict acne or stained teeth may appear to mock teens who actually struggle with such problems,” she says. “A more powerful campaign might include teens sharing about inner beauty and talking about what they’re doing to make the world a better place.”

Family therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer says the challenge’s message is the exact opposite of what is intended. “It tells our kids that self esteem and a healthy self concept comes from external validation,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “The truth of the matter is that self esteem comes from being confident and secure in one’s self regardless of your physical appearance.”

And the big reveal at the end simply shows that the star of the video “wins,” because he or she is actually “beautiful,” Hokemeyer says. “It says that it’s promoting an honest representation of one’s self while celebrating the victory of flawless beauty,” he says. “What wins in the end is a visual presentation of beauty rather than the strength of character and integrity inherent in human imperfection.”

But for now, the challenge lives on in social media, with videos, especially the “ugly” portions, are getting increasingly over the top. As one user explains, “You guys are just drawing all over your faces and then just taking it off and saying ‘I look better [now] than me with Sharpie on my face…. Duh!’ I saw one dude with Q-tips hanging out his ears. No one has q-[tips hanging out their ears!] What?”

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