Pretty Ugly Albany Blog, Feb 2015
In 2013 I became someone else online. And when I say someone else, I actually mean three people: three teenage girls.
It happened after I came across a specific YouTube trend. Reader, I dare you: google this now: ‘am I pretty or ugly youtube’. If you did that, you might understand my immediate horror. If you don’t fancy taking a stroll down into the youtube gutter, let me explain. This is a YouTube trend in which young girls, largely aged between 8 and 14, post a video of themselves asking viewers to rate their looks. You’d be right to assume its best not to read most of the comments posted below these videos. And there are comments, lots of them. Currently, there are around half a million of these videos on YouTube.
My journey down the YouTube rabbit hole began back in 2012 when I was researching how teenage girls are using the internet, and in particular social media today.
Around that time I was becoming a bit obsessed with the kind of language they use. When I say language, I mean the language of the internet: fashions in fonts and acronyms and video-editing, self-referential memes, and the abyss of circular re-blogging. This was a world of sideways smiley faces; the unironic posting of emo video diaries; a world of ‘thinspiration’ sites sitting in the same blogosphere as hello-kitty-fan-blogs; a world where teen suicide videos went viral at the same rate as Justin Bieber’s stratospheric rise to fame.
I was intrigued about how this very specific teenage voice and language was being assimilated into the mainstream, and I began to wonder what it all meant.
Then I came across my first pretty/ugly video. Recoiling in horror, as I watched I had one thought going round my head: ‘WHY?’
I couldn’t stop mentally asking this young girl why she was doing this, and then, I couldn’t stop asking myself whether I would do it. The next step was obvious for me. I wanted to know how it would feel to post a video like this, and what the effect might be. So I devised an experiment. I came up with three generic teenage identities, made some very quick, very lo-fi videos, posted them on YouTube, and sat back to wait for the results.
I won’t tell you the whole story (you can come and see the show for that) but I can tell you it was addictive, and thrilling (in the worst way), and eye-opening. I can tell you my videos attracted a lot of attention, and I can tell you that this journey didn’t end there. The videos were online for a year before I took them down. The show tells the whole story of what happened in that year- from the responses to the video, to the people I met along the way.
I’m so excited that Pretty Ugly is coming to The Albany this week- it’s a hugely important show for me, both artistically and politically. And it feels right to be bringing this show to an organisation who understands how important it is to let teenagers speak honestly about there lives, through programmes like Uncover.
Alongside the show, I’ve also worked with young teens through organisations such as Girl Guiding UK, have given talks on the project (e.g. Southbank Centre’s festival Web We Want), and have a blog to help raise awareness about the kind of issues the show covers. You can find more here www.louiseorwin.com and here: www.prettyorugly.wordpress.com
I’m also thrilled to be here at the Albany for the next two weeks starting work on my new show A Girl and A Gun, which will be premiering later this year. Its very early days, but really wonderful to be working on a new project. If you’d like to keep up to date with the show’s progress I’m blogging about it here: www.louiseorwin.com/blog