The AmIUgly subreddit homepage
Do you have deep-seated insecurity issues? Are you constantly looking for validation from family members, colleagues, and retail staff? Instead of bothering your mom or your Instagram followers—who are already exhausted of commenting on your photos every time you go fishing for compliments—you should give the AmIUgly subreddit a shot. It’s a page that allows you to post a photo of yourself and get immediate honest feedback from more than 40,000 faceless strangers.
To me, this sounds like a fucking nightmare. It’s the bedroom equivalent of standing in the center of a football stadium with every person taking a stab at your appearance. “You’re overweight!” shouts one. “Your eyes are too far apart!” adds another. “Your forehead is disproportionate to the rest of your face,” says a Brazzers subscriber in a Megadeath T-shirt. “But, TBH, you do have great tits.”
Unless you’re a keen masochist, it would seem that this place is the last corner of Reddit you’d ever want to visit—a venue for people you’ve never met to write incredibly mean stuff about your nose, a cyber-cemetery of self-worth. However, despite the ability to be honest without repercussion, most of the anonymous comments on r/AmIUgly are remarkably nice.
“I’m always honest—I try to make my responses detailed and never, ever rude,” explains a 37-year-old American Redditor who visits the forum often. “My main motivation is [the idea that] my words can help brighten someone else’s day, or maybe give them that little spark to keep going.”
In fact, in a recent poll of more than 70 r/AmIUgly users, nearly 60 percent of respondents called the forum “a good thing” for self-esteem. More than half said it boosted their confidence, and 40 percent said they were pleased to finally get an honest opinion on their looks.
Whether it’s 21-year-old Matthew Towers from South Africa, who was thrilled to be compared to Alex Turner (presumably minus the unbearable smugness and pompadour), or Kaylan—a 21-year-old American who was ecstatic to be described as beautiful—the subreddit seems to have a much more positive effect on its users’ lives than you’d expect. Just under half of posters even claim that the comments on their pictures helped them to improve their appearance.
But why do people post in the first place? Ninety percent of respondents uploaded their image because they were “curious”, with 80 percent claiming they just didn’t know how attractive they were. This sounds like brazen narcissism, but it also makes sense; can you really claim to objectively gauge how attractive you are to others? Despite one study finding that humans have an “enhancement bias”—meaning we recognize our own faces as being more attractive than they actually are—for many men and women appearance is a daily worry.
Joonas Broodin, a 30-year-old from Sweden, has suffered from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) since the age of 12. His motivation for posting on r/AmIUgly was to help others who have BDD but may not know it yet. “BDD makes me constantly aware of my appearance,” he confessed. “I simply can’t stop thinking of how I look. And the answer is nearly always the same—hideous.”
For Joonas, r/AmIUgly was a place to turn for help with his condition, and an opportunity to help others himself. “I think r/AmIUgly could help people with BDD if the people there are sincere and genuine,” he said.
“Your brow looks a bit heavy, your nose looks heavy also,” typed one commenter in a reply to Joonas’ picture. You might think this would be the last thing a person with a traumatic disorder focused entirely around their appearance would want to hear, but he was extremely thankful.
“I’m grateful to hear people point out some of the details I’ve been obsessing over for nearly 18 years,” he said. “In the past, if I pointed out the things I obsess about and people told me, ‘No, I don’t see it, you’re fine,’ it made me feel more crazy and lied to. When someone points out the things I hate about myself, it makes all the difference. The truth is a beautiful thing, and the truth is that I only see details, while others see a person. What I’ve failed to realize until recently is all these features I see do exist, and people do see them but they don’t experience them as I do.”
Joonas is not alone. Nick, a 16-year-old from the US, also suffers from BDD and turned to r/AmIUgly for help. “I’ve had self confidence issues about my appearance for a while,” he admitted. “When I had a breakdown due to other issues, the first thing I found myself doing was locking myself in the bathroom and verbally tearing my appearance apart.”
Unlike Joonas, however, Nick didn’t find solace in r/AmIUgly. “I found a few of the responses to my post unnecessarily harsh, especially considering I feel many people with self-confidence issues will post here,” he said, before adding he was flattered by commenters who compared him to Ryan Gosling. “It would have ruined me to have been called ugly,” he continued. “I wouldn’t have handled it well. But curiosity got the better of me, and I posted.”
Mostly male users on the AmIUgly subreddit
If you scroll through the subreddit you’ll see men behind the majority of the posts. User Santhonyj, a 17-year-old from the US who posted a picture of just his chin on the forum, was quick to point out that men are also held to high beauty standards. “It’s important to be attractive. If you are a 6-foot tall white male with a strong jawline, you have a higher chance of being a CEO,” he said. And where girls can turn to their girlfriends for reassurance and advice, it’s not often you’ll hear guys critiquing each other’s appearance, so it makes sense that r/AmIUgly is male skewed.
Claire—a 21-year-old from the US who first posted as an 18-year-old with self-esteem issues—told me about her experience as a girl posting on the site. “I had some constructive critique that helped me shape my image,” she says. “But then I also had people be very mean to me. I had several people make horse jokes about my smile, which still really upsets me. I was 18. I was still developing mentally. It makes me sick that there are people out there who can explicitly know how young I am and still call me names."
Claire and Nick’s experiences of r/AmIUgly demonstrates, unsurprisingly, that among the compliments, the site can have a darker side, and constructive criticism can be damaging for some—especially the site’s younger users. Twelve percent of respondents to the recent survey admitted to finding people on the subreddit “mean," with another 15 percent stating that the comments they received lowered their self-confidence. These numbers may seem small compared to the positive responses, but that’s still around 6,000 people walking away worse off than how they arrived.
It's hardly a shock that people are visiting r/AmIUgly just to be a dick to strangers. But it is kind of unexpected that others frequent the subreddit to talk kindly about other people's appearances. It's a page designed to give you feedback on you, but in the end you almost leave learning more about others than yourself.
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