Why the Don’t Judge Challenge made us Judge

photo source: pinterest

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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