Beauty is subjective. There are so many factors that come into play when we talk about what is beautiful because when we talk about beauty we also need to take into account cultures, nations, countries, and historical times. For instance, in the 19th-century teeth blackening among girls and young women was considered beautiful in Japan, and if you wanted to find the ideal woman during the Han Dynasty, China, (206 B.C.-220 A.D.) the first place you’d look were her feet. Young girls had their feet wrapped in tight binding in order to prevent their feet from growing, causing extreme disfiguration, the aimed result being to have feet no longer than 3-4 inches. Nowadays, being skinny is considered “pretty”, but there were times in history around the globe when skinniness had a negative connotation of a malnourished, sickly body and plumper women were beauty icons.
Beauty standard is more fluid than water and constantly changes. Today’s desired beauty consists of a slim face, defined jawline, plump lips, flawless skin, tall, hourglass body, and no signs of any type of blemishes. Sounds like a big to-do list, or a to-look-like list.
What a lot of people fail to realize is that this “universal” beauty standard comes from hundreds and hundreds of years of internal racism, ideology, and colorism.
Hundreds of years ago when the Europeans colonized the world, they, the white colonists, decided that other races, colors, and cultures are inferior. This would mean that white is the best and white is the most beautiful. People of color were robbed of their versions of what beauty is and what it looks like – and, consequently, of their cultures. Because beauty was in the eyes of the colonizer.
For instance, it is a known fact that plastic surgery is incredibly popular in South Korea: girls can legally get double eye-lid surgery or the straightening of the nose as early as sixteen. Plastic surgery is considered the best gift to a daughter from her parents on such occasions as finishing high school or graduating from college. What most people don’t know, however, is that this obsession with ultimately looking more “white” began after the 1950s Korean War, and the first double eyelid surgeries were performed on Korean women by Western doctors. All to please the men from American troops. Before the 1940s, only white women were allowed to participate in the Miss America pageant – and the first time an African American woman actually won the title was not until 1983.
Even today, Eurocentric beauty dominates the world – and “the rest” of humanity is forced to subject to those beauty standards.
And the worst part about it is that a lot of people of different cultures forsake their natural beauty for the sake of whitewashing. In India, for example, being fair means being beautiful – if you are of lighter skin tone, you will get better job opportunities and more friends, you will instantly be considered attractive, and people will be kinder and friendlier to you. If you’re un-fair… well, there’s a billion-dollar beauty industry that can help get you all fair and beautiful. The measures go from make-up consisting of light shades that don’t match a range of skin tones for Indian women who are naturally darker than Europeans, to actual skin bleaching products containing truly harmful chemicals. All of that just for the sake of fairness – and it doesn’t matter that professional dermatologists and clinicians have said over and over that skin cannot be bleached to a lighter shade. It is a billion-dollar industry exactly because of that – because women want to be beautiful.
But justice exists – if not on Earth, then somewhere higher, as the beauty standards of today are slowly shifting into the natural features of a black woman.
The beauty industry and media bombard young girls and young women with the Western ideal of beauty on a global scale and on a daily basis: fashion magazines and big brand names showcase women as highly objectified “things”. What makes matters worse is that not only women but girls – and by that, I mean actual girls, child models – are sexualized from such a young age. Those journals and magazines are filled with tips and notes on what to wear, what to eat, how to wax, what kind of make-up to use, and so on – just to “appease and attract men”. And all of this in the name of “self-care”. Somehow, society thinks that if a woman doesn’t wear make-up or doesn’t sit on a diet 24/7 or doesn’t follow all the beauty standards – she “doesn’t take care of herself” or has “given up on life”, whatever that last one means.
The air and trend of “exclusivity” in representing a “minority” sells through shaming. Women are constantly told off for what they look like: they are too fat, not skinny enough, too wrinkly,they look too tired, they need to get it together. The unhealthy skinniness is glorified, but then, once a woman actually tries to “get it together” – starts putting on make-up, goes on different diets, even has plastic surgery – she is shamed once again. Only this time, it is because she is too skinny, she is fake, she is unnatural – I mean, seriously, did you have to put that much make-up on?! Ew, what a hypocrite!
Forget the fashion magazines and society’s demands. Look to what is trending among teenagers and young adults – social media and the Internet have a far bigger presence and, by consequence, can be a far bigger influence. K-pop, for example, has been one of the biggest influences of the last few years. Truly, why not? K-pop idols are beautiful, fashionable, multi-talented, and come off – and are marketed – in a very personable way. They perform in big arenas in front of millions of people, wear designer clothes, and are ambassadors to all these big brands.
Most see this facade of glamour, beauty, and success, but over the years many people have come to know the darker side to all the glitz and dazzle. Extreme work pressure, never-ending online bullying, immense media scrutiny, complete absence of private lives, the “idols-are-objects-that belong-to-their-fans” syndrome, completely inhumane living conditions, and over-the-top strict beauty standards of the K-pop industry. Many K-pop idols, idols that have been in the industry for eight, nine, even ten years, have taken their owns lives, unable to hold under pressure and if the industry and the society remain the same, as heartbreaking as it sounds, surely, there are those who will follow them.
The industry, in turn, is all about the visual, the appearance: there is a very specific criterion – more strict for girls than for boys – on how much an idol must weigh, what their face needs to look like, what they need to look like and the list goes on. Most K-pop idols – again, the emphasis on female idols – are also mistreated by their respective companies. Female idols are known to be extremely skinny – and to always maintain a diet the company told them to stick to. As such, many K-pop idols have fainted on stage in front of hundreds of fans due to being overworked and maintaining extreme diets – and many more have developed serious eating disorders, but only a few idols are known to have come forward and openly spoke about having mental health issues and eating problems. And all that – all the while these K-pop stars are icons and role models to so many girls and young women who aspire to be just like them. Now, it is important to remember that this is by no means the fault of any of the K-pop idols – they are victims to the regime and the industry just as much as the fans that look up to them and want to be like them.
While K-pop is undoubtedly a powerful foreign influence, a desire for an hourglass body dates back to times where women wore corsets and though the beauty standards are constantly changing, the desire for an hourglass body seems to be regaining popularity.
An hourglass body was first introduced as socially desirable during the 1950s, with Merlin Monroe and the infamous Barbie being its undisputable icons. Barbie quickly became the most desired doll of all time and had a significant impact as a role model on millions of young girls. However, her unrealistic, disproportionate body later sparked a conversation about exactly what kind of impact the doll is leaving on the minds of yet-to-be-teenagers. Some might think that those conversations are ancient history and, going through so many controversies and debates, Barbie is no longer relevant. A bold statement, considering that Barbie is now bigger than ever. Constantly being in the eyes of the media, being bullied and body-shamed by said media and by nameless, faceless people online, being publicly compared to your siblings, being made fun of for your natural appearance and many more factors can really do a number on one’s mental state and one’s image of oneself.
That being said, the Kardashians are humans and, thus, by definition, are not perfect. They have a whole team of doctors, nutritionists, dieticians, and yes – plastic surgeons. Yet they target specifically young girls, claiming that they, too, can be just as beautiful – if only they would buy the Kardashians’ products. The Kardashians have an entire history of lawsuits for selling weight-loss products, however, that didn’t stop them from promoting weightloss products on their Instagram and making all kinds of false claims. The Kardashians always deny having gone through any kind of plastic surgery. Kim even filmed a video where she went to do an X-ray of her butt to shut up the entire world and prove that the lower part of her gorgeous body is real. The X-ray, in turn, didn’t show any implant or anything, other than what’s naturally there…
That being said, liposuction doesn’t show on X-ray. All these claims and stories of success and achievable “natural” beauty are incredibly harmful and toxic to the young girls and people who think that this is natural and attainable without the use of cosmetic surgery.So many women and girls and people, in general, feel insecure about their bodies because they look up to the Kardashians and many more are ready to go through drastic plastic surgeries just to be like them.
Nowadays, everyone has access to the Internet, which means that younger girls would be exposed to this distorted idea of beauty. That, in turn, will have an impact on self-esteem and the image of oneself – and the younger the child, the bigger the effect. Younger and younger girls are becoming obsessed with weight loss and dieting and ultimately, this is all because of the unattainable beauty standard.
So what can we do about this? What can you do? Educate and spread awareness. Our society, now more than ever, needs teachers, adults, and young adults to teach younger people about mental health, body image, eating disorders, and the impacts of social media. I say educate – not force down someone’s throat or cut the Internet in your house so that your child or your cousin or your younger sister won’t ever see anything, because they will – and you can’t go cutting wires in their friends’ houses, at schools, cafes, libraries and, well, everywhere that is not your house.
We all need to learn to love our true selves, to embrace who we really are. Because when you tell someone you love them – you love them for who they are, not what they look like. The beauty standards are more fluid than water – they always change. And the majority of them are designed to make you insecure to then sell you this idea that you as a human being need them and their products to become more beautiful than you already are. Profit-greedy industries work hand in hand with the media to offer us a distorted perception of ourselves and then use that distorted self-image to sell us remedies for the distortion.
It’s hard to redefine “beauty” when the image of said beauty was twisted and limited for such along time. However, the media’s representation is only an insignificant part of the true diversity of what beauty can be like. The truth is – we are all so beautiful the media is terrified of it and terrified even more of us realizing it. We are beautiful in all colors and skin tones with wrinkles,scars, and acne; there are so many different beautiful shapes of noses, eyes, and bodies; you are beautiful no matter the age – because it is not the aging that makes you ugly, but the twistedperception of aging that was forced upon you. We also need to stop comparing ourselves – our beautiful, living, breathing, smiling selves – to an image we see online. We are all different in bodies, shapes, and colors – and nobody in this world is perfect. Finally, we have to realize that industries and companies function only because of us – the consumers. Without us, they have no power, no money, and are by definition nonexistent.
So, don’t silently take the insults. Speak up. Demand change. Do not underestimate the power you hold. We’ve demanded a realistic wider representation of bodies and women in the media –and we’re actually getting it. There’s a demand for less photoshopping and editing and embracing our natural selves. Movements like body and beauty positivity teach young girls to love themselves in a world that has taught them to hate themselves so we are definitely evolving and progressing. So I wish that in the upcoming year every person that would read this will try to be a little bit more accepting and a little bit more kind.