Hashtag activism, the use of hashtags to promote social causes over the internet, has existed for years, and has given rise to powerful movements such as #Blacklivesmatter, #yesallwomen, and #1reasonwhy. This past month, another hashtag has emerged as a possible proponent of social change: #DontJudge. The tag is part of the #DontJudge Challenge, which involves videos of attractive people filming themselves wearing large amounts of makeup in order to appear ugly, covering the camera for a second, and then pulling their hand away to reveal their “real” and beautiful selves. Apparently, the challenge is meant to combat body shaming on social media.
There are some pretty cool aspects of this challenge. It's undeniably exciting to see such an extreme transformation take place, and the videos, often set to music like Omi's "Cheerleader," are genuinely fun to watch. They're also cools demonstration of just how much one can do with makeup, and they add some serious aesthetic appeal to any Instagram or Facebook newsfeed. In fact, there’s really only one problem with the #Don'tJudge Challenge: it doesn’t combat body shaming in any way.
In fact, the movement seems far more likely to make body shaming more prevalent in society than it is to eliminate it. Think about it: the movement that’s meant to combat judging a person based on their physical appearance is a movement in which people pretend to be ugly for a few moments, only to wipe away some makeup and reveal themselves as attractive. There’s no reference to talent or intelligence or personality or any other way to measure the value of a person, just the replacement of an unattractive face with an attractive one.
The focal point of the campaign is the bodies of the beautiful instead of all the wonderful qualities of the unattractive. In focusing on this, the campaign itself reinforces physical attractiveness as the most important measure of a person’s worth, and seems to in essence be saying “Don’t judge unattractive people because they might be really attractive people in disguise,” or “Don’t judge unattractive people because they might be attractive if they put on enough makeup” which both seem like pretty miserable reasons to not judge someone.
Perhaps one could argue that the moment in the #DontJudge Challenge when the participants reveal themselves to be attractive is actually symbolic, that their beauty represents the inner beauty of the unattractive, and that this inner beauty is the reason we shouldn’t judge or shame someone based on their physical appearance. Even if this is true, though, (and I really don't think it is) there are better ways to make that point, ways to showcase the inner beauty of the unattractive that don’t rely on symbolism or attractive spokespeople. What if, for example, we had a #DontJudge challenge in which people who weren’t attractive showcased amazing talents? What if there was a social media movement dedicated to ordinary-looking people who could do extraordinary things? What if there was a campaign dedicated to not judging anyone, regardless or their appearance, talents, or personality? The #DontJudge challenge is fun to watch, yes, and the hashtag and cause are deserving of a movement. But we definitely can, and we definitely must, do better than a movement that's little more than a showcasing of vanity.
With excitement and optimism,