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#DontJudgeChallenge Is a Sick Exercise in Narcissism. In Fact It's Downright Ugly

20/07/2015 11:26 BST | Updated 19/07/2016 10:59 BST

Look at that girl. Acne, moustache, monobrow. Hmm. But wait... Here she is again, simpering for the camera, a beautiful young woman. Boy, am I glad I didn't judge her too quickly.

What about this guy. Spotty face, glasses - bet he has trouble getting girls. But wait... Here he is again, makeup removed, a dapper young chap with gelled hair on his way out to a date. Amazing. He's just made me reconsider my entire attitude towards appearance - and all in a five second clip.

#DontJudgeChallenge is the latest viral challenge to hit our screens, joining previous causes like the Kyle Jenner Lip Challenge or #NoMakeUpSelfie and already attracting scores of posts on Twitter and Instagram. To take part users record themselves wearing "uglyface" - in this case a monobrow, some fake spots and messy hair. Then following a hand transition they reveal themselves without said decorations and pout at the camera like a diva.

And many have reason to pout. There's no official barriers to entry for this hashtag, but a good many of the videos I've seen were taken by some extremely good looking people once they've swiped the screen - the kind of people who are rarely, we can assume, judged for their physical attractiveness.

And that's just the first problem with #DontJudgeChallenge: the overwhelming stench of very obvious, very ugly narcissism.

Aside from how absurd they look (is anyone seriously fooled that these felt-tipped monobrows or crayoned lips are part of a real face?) this is "ugliness" of the Ugly Betty variety - the kind of play-ugly that people with photogenic looks think it's fun to assume, at least for a few seconds. Hey, just joking. Here I am. Beautiful again. Look. I'm beautiful. Look at me.

Instead of emphasising a message of "don't judge a book by its cover" the challenge actually puts a cruelly singular emphasis on someone's looks, while casting some extremely worrying judgements over what constitutes ugly. What's the message? That anyone who wears glasses (as millions of people do) or has less than perfect skin (as I do) is "ugly"? Or disastrous hair (guilty)? Now that sounds judgemental.

And what about older people? This is a pretty youthful club to go by the videos. Why's nobody over 35 doing this? Few adults seem keen to wade in on the exhibitionism; perhaps they know that when they do the big reveal they won't look like they've just stepped out of Glee. Who knows, maybe they'll get judged for that.

#DontJudgeChallenge is indicative of a whole lot more than just one meme. It's an example of a certain kind of web culture at its worst - a smug, "clicktivist" culture that presumes complex social problems can be smoothed over with a cute selfie, that assumes a mask of social concern while using the opportunity as an exercise in blatant narcissism. Are these beautiful kids really uploading their videos because they care about body prejudice, or because they love the attention? Viral challenges like this can yield some good opportunities for publicity; I can see some of these kids getting modelling contracts out of this.

Perhaps the worst thing about these kind of trends is that they can actually have the opposite effect to the one intended. Last year the #NoMakeupSelfie challenge raised £8 million for cancer charities while opposing the sexist expectation that women should smother themselves in cosmetics. On the surface this sounds like a healthy idea. But good intentions backfired. No sooner than #NoMakeupSelfie began doing the rounds, pages and blogs appeared giving beauty tips on "how to take the perfect no makeup selfie". Sometimes you just can't improve on life's own sense of irony.