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When it comes to the topic of health and beauty, the United States reigns supreme. It’s a country where thin is the status quo, and anything other than that is considered distasteful. It’s a place where a woman is only beautiful if she meets certain physical requirements enforced by the media. A place where looks are everything. In the past, full-figured women were viewed as an indication of status; today, we consider these women objects of mockery. Society’s view of what is considered beautiful has taken over almost every aspect of people’s lives. It can be seen in everything: magazines, television, fashion, and most notably, social media. But, do we really need beauty standards?
Many will agree that the negative effects of beauty standards frighteningly outweigh the good. Many young girls and women go to excessive measures to reach unrealistic expectations of beauty. I believe that the beauty standards of today are flawed and outdated. Why not just get rid of them? Beauty standards not only affect women, but all people. They exist to reinforce the expectations of what both men and women, if they desire to be attractive, should look like. A large majority of body alterations expected of women by beauty standards—for instance, painted lips and nails, shaved legs, flawless skin, curvy bodies and exaggerated eyelashes—are in place to accentuate the differences between women and men and to make it clear what a woman or man should be (Ridgeway). In fashion, clothes for men and women are vastly different. Clothes targeted at women are usually tailored to accentuate the female physique. Hips, waist, breasts, and legs are the biggest signs of female attractiveness, so clothes are made to showcase these features. For men, this is relatively the same, with a bit more emphasis on the face and overall physique.
How it works
The point is, beauty standards force people to the edge of a specific gender spectrum, making it hard for those who exist in the middle to be comfortable in their own skin. It tells those who don’t comply with these gender standards that they are “ugly.” This is a major problem in today’s society. As a young woman, I have never truly considered myself “feminine.” My wardrobe consists mostly of jeans, sweatshirts, and other articles that aren’t designed to express any type of femininity. This is something that has brought a lot of headache into my life. My mother would constantly ask me if I liked girls or if I wanted to be a boy simply because I refused to wear colorful, feminine clothing. I wear my hair naturally and have never worn a stitch of makeup in my life. So, I understand what it feels like to be considered unattractive when it comes to female beauty standards. Another problem with American beauty standards, and with most beauty standards around the world, is their lack of diversity and the effect they have on minority women. Beauty and what is considered most attractive is something that is made clear to us at a very young age. For girls, we get our first toys. For most, these toys were Barbie or baby dolls, the default for which is still “Caucasian”.
Growing up, I had plenty of dolls, a majority of which were white with blue or green eyes and long, silky, blonde or brunette hair. All features I did not possess, instilling the subconscious notion that attractiveness was synonymous with being white. It’s much easier to find diverse and inclusive dolls today than it was thirty years ago (Li), but as girls grow older, the toys are replaced by the women in magazines, on television, in cinemas—overwhelmingly pale, thin, smooth, and flawless. Women of color are included in most media now, albeit presented with lighter skin and wavy or straight hair. These beauty standards permeate through generations until women of color and minorities feel beautiful only when they emulate and abide by “white beauty” (Patton). As a young African American woman, these perpetual beauty standards, compounded by weight gain after puberty, have made it difficult to embrace my self-image.
Advertisements constantly insinuate that thin and “healthy” would solve all our problems. However, women who naturally inherit thin bodies experience a different form of pressure: an expectation to look more “woman-like,” to have large breasts, wider hips, and prominent butts. So which is it? This question has plagued women for decades. There seems to be endless ways for women to possess the “wrong” body. Muscular and “fit” women are criticized for being too “masculine” or “bulky” while simultaneously, magazines publish articles on how to “get toned” and “in shape”. Women with smaller than average breasts are offered push-up bras and padding, while those with larger breasts are asked to hide them and cover up lest they be deemed “promiscuous.” Tina Fey captures the absurdity of beauty standards perfectly in her quote, ‘…
Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits…’ (Fey). Beauty standards have pervaded our lives for centuries and as a young woman in today’s society, I implore that they be eradicated. While this change is unfortunately unlikely in a world obsessed with physical beauty and outward appearance, it remains a desirable vision. Imagine if every boy, girl or person who feels unwanted, unattractive and unloved due to their inability to meet beauty standards suddenly decided that society does not dictate their beauty. The world would indeed become a truly beautiful place.
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