PARENTS have been warned of a sinister social media trend sweeping the web that sees teenage girls post clips of themselves asking viewers to judge whether or not they're attractive.
Bodywhys, the national voluntary group supporting those affected by eating disorders, said it has seen a "rising momentum" of young teenage girls posting videos on YouTube inviting viewers to comment on their appearance.
The so-called 'Am I Pretty Or Ugly?' postings on the video-sharing website, show children as young as 11. The majority of those taking part are aged in their early teens.
They look self-consciously into a camera and ask anonymous web users to tell them "the truth" as to whether or not they are pretty or ugly.
"We have seen a notable increase of young Irish people posting these type videos in the past six months," said Jacinta Hastings, chief executive of Bodywhys.
"It is a very concerning development as we have children as young as nine presenting with anorexia. A very vulnerable person can be seriously hurt and damaged by the responses."
Many of the girls mention bullying at school as their motivation for seeking an "honest answer" about their looks.
Experts in child psychology and online safety say the phenomenon – which started in the US in 2011 – is a natural expression of teenage desire for acceptance, "translated into the internet age".
They warn that having such a broad platform can pose dangers for teens – in terms of their mental health and the risks of exposure to sexual predators.
Dr Gillian Moore-Groarke, a Cork-based psychologist, said the latest wave of 'pretty/ugly' videos have now joined 'pro-anorexia' and 'pro-bulimia' sites which came to national prominence some years ago.
"If you have a person coping with cyber-bullying then these are the kids that are going to ultimately end up with psychological or psychiatric problems," she said. "These kind of videos only exacerbate matters."
One video shows one young girl begging viewers to tell her she's pretty since she's been "called a slut a lot".
"You look amazing, so beautiful" reads the top comment on the two-minute video which has had nearly 215,000 views.
According to experts the replies are also often "vulgar and nasty".
"There's a lot of pressure on Irish females to be very thin just like magazine models. This behaviour is fuelled by a desire to be liked by their peer group and be seen as attractive," said Professor Imelda Coyne, head of children's nursing and research at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Trinity College.