One Halloween, I dressed up as the title character from Harriet, the Spy. To this day, it is still one of my favorite movies. In the movie, Harriet acts as a “spy” among her classmates and records her biting observations in her journal, until it is discovered and read publicly.
A modern-day Harriet, the Spy incident is taking over many teens’ twitter feeds. Known as the #HuhChallenge, participants take video of others while they say insults in a set format. For example, one might record Sarah while saying into the microphone “My name is Sarah and I’m so ugly I have to date guys my friends reject. Huhhh?” Typically the accompanying caption is somewhere along the lines of “We’re still friends” or “I love her, I swear!” to atone for the bawdy and acerbic remarks which fill the video.
Sometimes kids need to be poked fun at, and friends can often be useful in calling someone out on a bad habit. However, the online nature of the #HuhChallenge means the insults have the potential to reach the ears of those all over the world. Some of these videos have been liked and re-tweeted thousands of times. While Harriet the Spy could tear the pages out of her journal to destroy the evidence, the #HuhChallenge users don’t have it so easy.
And with all forms of online banter, it is a slippery slope into cyberbullying. Two middle schoolers at my sister’s school have already gotten in trouble for insulting girls not seen in the video. Though one can defend the typical #HuhChallenge videos as consensual, once the insulted party is not present it turns into something else altogether.
Though the #HuhChallenge is a very new (and possibly short-lived) trend, it is not the first to feature children reaching out to the masses to air their insecurities. A few years ago the “Am I Pretty or Ugly?” trend took off on youtube. The videos typically feature a young girl asking viewers to answer the question she asks, “Am I pretty?” Many of the 300,000 videos with millions of views feature girls that are too young to even legally have a youtube account, and certainly too young to expose themselves so vulnerably to the trolls.
Youtube also features many “parody” videos of grown men poking fun at the “self-absorbed” nature of pre-teen girls. Furthermore, this New York Times article covering the phenomenon was nestled away in the Fashion & Style section. However, evidence shows us that we should not be so quick to shrug off these acts.
The #HuhChallenge and “Am I Pretty?” videos I found are mainly focused on girls’ appearance and reputation. This study found that teasing and insults around body image and appearance in the adolescent years may be linked to the likelihood of an eating disorder later in life. Another controlled study discovered that pre-teen girls are more affected by insults based around appearance rather than those focused on their competency.
In the same New York Times’ article, a psychiatrist was quoted as calling the “Am I Pretty?” videos “a new form of self-mutilation in line with cutting and eating disorders” and cautioned others to treat them as such.
I reached out to an administrator at my sister’s school who is helping handle the outbreak of #HuhChallenge videos. He responded that educators and those who care for children have learned over the years that “videos like these and ‘bullying’ is almost always a cry for help. Happy, healthy children don’t bully, and when it comes to children our job is to care for them always.” Though laughter might punctuate the videos there is normally a darker undertone. He continued, “Those involved want to be involved for a reason. It is attractive to become part of a trend, and self-deprecating humor can sometimes be an easy way to gain attention and popularity.”
What is the best way to help stop these trends in their tracks? Don’t buy in, don’t like, don’t re-tweet, don’t comment. I consciously chose to not hyperlink in this post to any #HuhChallenge or “Am I Pretty?” videos. As adults looking out for children, it is our responsibility to not feed off their insecurities. With our lack of involvement, soon something that was once viral will lose its luster.