“Am I pretty?” Questions better left unasked

I am not so sure this is a new trend, but it is one that the media have picked up over the last few days. Most of the articles and blog posts say pretty much the same thing: Middle-school aged girls are posting videos on YouTube asking viewers if they are pretty or not. Then let the responses begin…

This is not unlike Hot or Not, the web site specifically created to answer the question, which has since morphed into a dating site full of risque pics and cleavage. And given the focus on dating, this site is not really meant for the younger set. So, for tweens and early teens, YouTube, in their eyes, will suffice.

My thoughts on this were featured on the amazing Anne Collier’s blog post. Anne and I exchanged thoughts over whether these videos are more harmful than a site like Hot or Not. I think the jury is still out. What I want to add, however, is that although I did say that many of the comments under this one particular video were “stupid” — and by that I mean irrelevant and off topic, there were also ones that were quite harmful and disturbing. For example, one person replied that the poster was “pretty enough to rape.” No one should ever read that.

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The desexualization of bullying

I was going to try to come up with a fancier more accessible title, but I can’t right now. But I sure better by May! I’ve been invited to speak at an bullying awareness event in Austin Texas this May. While I jumped at this opportunity to share my work (and support my friend who is organizing the event), I quickly realized that I am no bullying expert. But, for better or for worse, not being a total expert on a topic as not stopped me before…

I am an expert on adolescent sexuality and sexual development. I also have a pretty good handle on youth and technology and how that impacts their development (hence, this blog). So, how to use my strengths in the context of this upcoming event? Tie all of these issues together — sexuality, technology, and bullying. I have found my comfort zone!

What’s odd is that while so much of bullying has a sexual undertone or is blatantly about sex or sexuality or at least gender, most bullying curricula, anti-bullying campaigns, etc., do not acknowledge this important association. Bullying is seen as harassment, teasing, isolation, and assault. But under no circumstances should one put the word “sexual” in front of any of those terms and call it bullying.

Why this separation? Why not discuss sexual harassment while discussing bullying? Where is the conversation about sexual respect and self-worth in curricula that addresses the need to be nice to others? Are (anti) bullying experts afraid to talk about sex? Does it complicate things too much? Does it narrow their message?

Whatever the reason, I think it’s important to accept the fact that a lot of bullying has to do with sexuality. An obvious example is about name-calling due to sexual orientation and/or gender expression (and the “Think Before You Speak” campaign does a good job of calling this out). But what about sexting under pressure? Spreading rumors? Calling someone a ho or slut? These are unfortunately very common ways to bullying another, but where’s the conversation about the sexual components?

I hope to be able to speak more eloquently about this topic in the future. For now, I will continue to explore this rift and see if I can’t begin to bridge the gap between my interests and the important work done to decrease bullying among youth.

Will it work for me, too?

This study has made the headlines over the past week or so — apparently teens benefit from blogging about their feelings of anxiety and depression. In a randomized controlled trial, those teens with some level of social anxiety who were asked to blog about their feelings were more likely to demonstrate improved mood.

So far, 2012 has not been so kind to me. I have lost my dog (to bone cancer) and partner (to a mutual decision to let go). I find I am able to reach out to friends, but wonder if the sadness becomes too much, if writing will help an adult too? There are studies that substantiate the benefits of journaling — but only if the emotional expression is coupled with cognitive processing. While the blogging study did not consist of a cognitive component, it may be that reader comments supplied that piece, or a reasonable substitute. In the New York Times article referenced above, it was stated that commenters were very supportive and sometimes offered solutions or encouragement.

I hope my own journey forward can benefit from such interaction.