Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Why the Don’t Judge Challenge made us Judge


Over the past few months our social media feeds have been overrun with challenges. These challenges have mostly been focused on self-image or summoning Mexican demons, which, let’s be honest is pretty standard activity for the bedlam of social media. Recently the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge was responsible for multiple lip injuries all over the globe while the Ice Bucket Challenge had us all dodging hypothermia. All these challenges have had their own reasons for becoming global trends, some with questionable motives such as the Charlie Charlie Challenge, while others served some purpose such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge which, if carried out correctly, was to raise funds for a worthy, charitable cause.

Most recently, the inescapable ‘Don’t Judge Challenge’ has been flooding our social media feeds. At first glance I just saw a video of a girl transform herself from having multiple dots of pen splattered on her face to resemble spots, raisins stuck in her teeth, cotton buds in her ears and glasses to finish the look off. A few seconds later, her hand covers the camera lens and a changed persona appears, in all aspects physically altered and ‘beautiful’. Confused, I scrolled down a little further and saw the hashtag, ‘dontjudgechallenge’. I then clicked on the hashtag and watched many more videos with the same ‘transformation’. The challenge’s purpose is to attack the media’s portrayal of what is beautiful and is trying to promote the message ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. The challenge’s aim was to be positive and encouraging but its outcome has been quite the opposite. The videos show an unrealistic image – the initial ‘ugly’ images consist of acne created with a few jabs of sharpie pens, paired with monobrows scraped on with eyeliner, glasses, cue tips emerging from ears and noses and teeth that are either jewelled with braces or blackened with raisins. These qualities are seen as defaults, as in the ‘transformed’ image all the qualities have been washed off and you are presented with a girl with flawless makeup, hair and skin, or a boy with self-confidence that penetrates through the screen and hair and facial features that might as well appear in a top modelling agency client book. 

I don’t want to make this post into one massive debate/ramble about self-image or even pay too much attention to the challenge itself, because by the time I’ve finished writing this I’m pretty sure there will be another challenge to divert the attention away from this one. However, I decided to write the post because I actually think that the challenge has been successful (hear me out before you collapse with shock and protest). The videos display two extreme versions of self image. I agree that the way the challenge has been handled by many people who have produced the videos is questionable. The initial body shaming ‘ugly’ image is created artificially with food and strokes of a sharpie pen, paired with ghastly facial expressions and an attitude of little confidence. In contrast, the second ‘transformed’ image shows a person who is self-assured, alluring and conforms to the media’s idea of what is beautiful. An image of a perfectly groomed specimen with little/no flaws and the confidence of an A-List Celebrity = 'beautiful'. Glasses, acne, monobrowns and dental deficiencies have been eliminated and replaced by an image of media ‘perfection’. Perhaps what would be more effective would be if we saw a true, blank canvas of a person – stripped from makeup, application of products and a more humble presence – then conforming to the typical ingredients of what is beautiful – eyeliner and eyebrows that are ‘on point’ for girls and a cheeky, well groomed boy. The main point of failure in this challenge is its inability to show two states of genuine self. We’re not seeing a true form of person in the initial image. We’re seeing a person exaggerate and falsely create flaws, creating a Halloween mask rather than displaying their natural face. The flaws that they are creating, however, are problems that are real and the cause of many self-confidence issues in teens and  adults. Society and media emphasise the importance of looking ‘perfect’ and perfection is something that is strived for by many as a result.

The challenge has got people talking, debating and arguing that the challenge isn’t realistic – only giving attractive people an opportunity to show the world how well they can draw on their face and how attractive they look in the second video. What makes the initial appearance so shocking, however, is the amount of absurd junk they have on their face – it is an image of comic ridicule and has an overwhelming element of hilarity thus proving entertaining to watch. It’s therefore only expected that the responses to these videos are ones of critique. The video's messages can be interpreted as saying that the flaws that these people have falsey created poke fun at real issues. For example, the spots they have drawn on with pen are not real, nor are they convincing replicas. They are dots and they are removed in an instant using a baby wipe. This inspires a judgement, the viewer sees these dots which are supposed to resemble issues such as acne and sees them disappear in the image of ‘perfection’. The video is therefore promoting the message that flaws such as spots are seen as ugly. OK, so I guess the video was successful in one sense – it’s highlighting the media’s portrayal of what is beautiful, ergo not spots. However, what we are not seeing is a genuine problem to begin with, we’re seeing an exaggerated false form of a problem. The concept of the video is clever but the reality is destructive because these are not real flaws that we are seeing. The flaws are drawn on – real people don’t choose to have these flaws, quite often they are inescapable and the cause of self-confidence issues.

Click the image to be re-directed to the video. 

A more effective ‘transformation’ is the real issue that beauty blogger Em from My Pale Skin displays. The pictures and videos on her social media accounts are courageous, brave and inspiring as she shows herself naturally with her ‘flaws’ and then immerses them in a mask of makeup to face the world. Em, tired of conforming to the image she's expected to have from the media and society, rebelled against it. This video and her blog posts have provoked internet trolls and bullies, inspiring the hashtag #YOULOOKDISGUSTING. Em received comments that she looked ‘ugly’ and ‘disgusting’ without makeup, she no longer looked like the media’s image of perfection, but looked like a real person. On the flip side her videos have inspired similar responses on social media, with videos and pictures of people stripping off their makeup masks and showing their natural state – ‘flaws’ ‘n all. These videos are empowering and it makes me wonder whether the trolls that call her ugly are the ones who are suffering with a similar problem who lack the courage to show to social media what’s beneath their contoured cheeks. Not showing your friends and strangers what your true, ‘I woke up like this’ face looks like is fine – after all, we have role models like Beyonce to compete with – right? WRONG.


What the ‘Don’t Judge Challenge’ has failed to do but attempted to achieve is the acceptance of ‘flaws’ and natural imperfections. Social media is partnered with an overwhelming pressure to be perfect. We follow celebrity accounts that post a stream of perfection. It's a rare case if we see a celebrity bare faced and naturally blessed with skin as fresh as a baby. The majority of the pictures we are seeing are either photoshopped or results of 3 hours in hair and makeup. Let’s not forget that even Beyonce has suffered some media attention for having less than perfect skin. While we don’t know the reliability of these pictures the articles nevertheless are trying to promote the message that ‘real’ isn’t 'perfect' nor is it natural. 

It would be asking far too much of human nature to stop judging. There will always be people who find enjoyment in picking flaws and glorifying the perfection of celebrities and models. But, these celebrities and models that appear in magazines are worshipped for a reason – they are the minority. They have undergone intense photoshop sessions, hair and makeup time that has eaten into their hours of sleep and bodies that have taken sweat and tears to sculpt with their personal trainer. While we may strive for the image of ‘perfection’ the ‘#DontJudgeChallenge’ and #YOULOOKDISGUSTING hashtags should make us challenge the image and idea of what is ‘normal’ in contrast to what is artificially created and ‘normal’. Some are seeing the #DontJudgeChallenge’ as a failure, but the responses that it has inspired display that it is a success. Teens are questioning why glasses, acne, braces and all the other images of ‘flaws’ displayed in these videos are ‘ugly’. The challenge has challenged perception and made people question why they judge. The #YOULOOKDISGUSTING hashtag similarly is challenging the media’s image of ‘normal’ and sharing the truth. Why is the natural face such a shocking image when the majority of us stare at our own versions of it in the bathroom mirror?


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