Why Are Kids on TikTok Calling Themselves Ugly?

"I may be ugly, but at least I’m also … dumb and annoying"

tiktok
Hot people took over Instagram, but unapologetic ugliness is flourishing on TikTok.
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
By Kayla Kibbe / November 15, 2019 10:55 am

Self-deprecation has always been a staple of adolescence. This is perhaps nowhere better illustrated than in one of many iconic scenes from 2004’s Mean Girls in which Lindsay’s Lohan’s character watches in bemusement as her new popular friends take turns standing in front of the mirror and critiquing their own “man shoulders,” pores, hairlines and even nail beds.

Flash forward 15 years, and instead of criticizing their appearance in front of Regina George’s mirror, today’s teens are taking to social media to flaunt their (perceived) physical shortcomings. According to Vox’s Rebecca Jennings, the trend is thriving on the video sharing platform TikTok, where teens are actively calling themselves ugly.

“I may be ugly, but at least I’m also … dumb and annoying,” says one TikToker before dancing to Ariana Grande’s “Successful,” while another notable TikTok in the “I’m ugly” canon features 18-year-old David Postlewate singing, “I like a boy but I’m ugly, what do I do with that?”

It may sound like typical teen attention-seeking, but according to Jennings, the “I’m ugly” trend is more of an ironic celebration of ugliness in a world and on a platform increasingly inundated with (heavily filtered, often surgically altered) images of physical perfection. Unlike Mean Girls‘ queen bee parodies, the self-deprecating teens of TikTok are calling themselves out in an ironic, self-aware “reclamation of mediocrity,” as Jennings puts it.

As far as the psychology of this seemingly self-abusive trend goes, the experts are torn. “I kind of celebrate what they’re doing — they’re trying to push back on the idea that we all look perfect on social media,” Sara Frischer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Union Square Practice in New York City, told Jennings. “But I think it’s just a little misguided in how they’re doing it. It’s deflection, and it’s self-protective to then make a joke about it. It protects people from feeling vulnerable.”

Whether deflection or reclamation, ugly TikTok is here, and in a world in which people are still spending billions on plastic surgery and weight loss in order to conform to societal beauty standards, it’s refreshing to see young people letting their ugly flags fly.

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