As if being a teenage girl isn't challenging enough, there's a WikiHow floating around the internet that's guaranteed to make it worse. The WikiHow, titled "How To Be a Pretty Teenage Girl," is for teens who "want tips on looking your best and attractive to others." And while some of the advice — like the suggestion to brush your teeth every day — is harmless, the existence of the list itself is problematic. Shall we count the ways? For starters, girls don't need any more encouragement to think that being pretty is of utmost importance. Most teenagers do care a lot about their appearance, which is normal. But this list suggests there's only one version of pretty — that of a skinny white girl. Each illustration on the page uses the same teenage girl: She's white, with reddish hair. "Exercise. Keep yourself fit and trim," reads the first instruction. (As if teenage girls aren't always obsessing over their bodies as it is, we now have the idea that unless you're "trim," you're not cute.)
It gets worse. One of the instructions advises wearing makeup, because without it, everyone will notice how ugly you are: "Instead of trying to hide your flaws, make others focus on the good parts of your face." The few arguably fair points on this list — like how sun damage can affect your skin — become lost in the crossfire of what is quite possibly one of the greatest shit storms on the Internet. Yes, you and I know this list is neither a valid source of advice nor something that should be taken seriously. But you and I are also (presumably) adults who know the difference between a throwaway list like this and real information. How can we be sure that teenage girls — or even worse, girls who are approaching their teenage years — aren't looking at this and believing every last bit? Girls need to be told that looks aren't everything: Intelligence, kindness, hard work, and other attributes last longer and take you farther. And, okay, lots of people care about beauty, but we shouldn't give girls one narrow definition of what "beauty" is. They need to associate the word "pretty" with images other than a cartoon of someone who represents what very few women look like in reality. Refinery29 has asked WikiHow for comment and has not yet received a response.