Beauty Standards and the Concept of Beauty: Why Do We Need Them?

Written by Francesca Lombardo.
Edited by Victoria Jones

When discussing beauty standards or plastic surgery, people usually take widely different stances, which is one of the reasons it is considered a controversial topic. The stances taken range from “why would anyone need plastic surgery” to “plastic surgery makes women feel empowered and self-confident”. In this regard, is it appropriate to assume or define plastic surgery as a “feminist” or “empowering” act? Recently, I came across an article which discussed the problematic rise in the number of girls that started getting plastic surgery after witnessing Kylie Jenner’s transformation on social media. During the #KylieJennerChallenge, young women rushed to plastic surgery centres. The challenge invited girls to suck in shot glasses, sometimes bursting their blood vessels to achieve Kylie’s lips. However problematic this may sound, this “challenge” represents the desire of young girls to imitate, quite literally, their favourite role models. Why do they need to “enhance” their features? One might argue that being on social media has led them to inevitably compare themselves to the people they follow.

Personally, I think adolescence is already too difficult (and awkward) of a time for everyone. I remember growing up and feeling very insecure about my body and myself in general. And that was at a time when social media were neither widely used nor designed as a point of comparison. Instead, our role models were mainly movie stars. Having to compare yourself to someone famous or trying to live up to such high societal beauty standards is already wrong in the first place. And what about this generation of teenage girls? They are growing up with influencers on Instagram and TikTok as role models. I am not judging influencers or celebrities for doing their jobs, sharing their photos and so on; they are, of course, free to do whatever they want. What I am trying to say is that just because these role models supposedly represent the ideals of beauty, their definition of beauty should not be your own definition of beauty. If you do not look like someone famous, whom you follow and admire, or if your body does not fit within these beauty standards, it does not make you any less beautiful or not pretty enough.

Photo by Joeyy Lee on Unsplash

When did this idea of societal beauty start though? Why should the size of my proportions correspond to an average which will further define whether I am considered feminine enough? In answering these questions, it is interesting to notice how this idea of beauty has evolved and changed over the years. Back in the 1980s, The Washington Post described the societal idea of beauty as something highly complex that indeed changes depending on what is happening in the society at that given moment. But it is not only teenage girls that are under the pressure of fitting in. Since some of us were insecure during adolescence, who says that we all grew out of it and started appreciating our bodies? While some might argue that undergoing plastic surgery procedures or lip fillers has indeed boosted their confidence, the central point of this argument is that there should not have been a lack of confidence in the first place. Has the definition of beauty switched to ultra-enhanced faces and bodies? Nowadays, social media filters have become a kind of beauty ideal that we are trying to achieve in real life. But we forget that these are special effects and not natural human features.

At the same time, we can see how these societal beauty standards are met with much more resistance than ever before. We are witnessing the rise of the body positivity movement, which refers to the fact that no matter one’s body shape or size, you are still beautiful. The movement also includes the freedom of keeping or not your body hair. Since the upsurge of Hollywood films and stars – or even before that – women who have been keeping their leg, armpit, or even pubic hair, have been considered disgraceful. Now, however, women are finally taking their stance, and body hair removal should only be a choice when they feel comfortable with it, and not because they feel pushed to do so.

However, the body positivity movement can also be perceived as too demanding, requiring self-love that can be achieved only when there is also self-acceptance and when people feel comfortable in their own skin. Self-love is a gradual process that can be achieved step by step. Actor Jameela Jamil, who is also known for advocating against the toxic diet cultures and the pseudo-feminist behaviour social media presents us with, has a podcast called “I Weigh”. I highly recommend it, as she discusses feminism, body positivity and other topics while being her complete self and sharing her own journey and struggles with self-acceptance. While this discussion is far from finished, I want to conclude with what has been the underlining focus of this article: your worth is not measured by how pretty you are because you are so much more than society wants you to believe.

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