Darling, you shall be born with a slender body, clear skin, and a flat stomach, but don’t forget to have a small nose, large breasts, and a thin yet curvy waist as well. Don’t go bare-faced onto the streets! Be sure always to cover yourself with makeup, and don’t you ever show those ugly stretch marks on your legs! What are those wrinkles on your face? How dare you start aging! Oh, sweetheart, you’ve got lots to learn. Every day women face a constant battle; it’s them against the unattainable ideal of beauty. Throughout history, they have been pushed from an early age to fulfill impossible societal expectations to be accepted by the public, a struggle that continuously affects their health and self-esteem. Because of the dominant narrative, social media, and the beauty industry, women are too pressured to reach beauty standards.
The entertainment industry’s dominant culture begins to create a perception of beauty amongst children, setting unrealistic beauty standards for girls from an incredibly young age. The Barbie doll, for instance, inevitably influences a girl’s ideal of beauty since childhood. In America, the average girl between the ages of three to eleven owns ten Barbie dolls and grows surrounded by Barbie’s body image. If the traditional Barbie doll were a real woman, she would be 5’9” and weigh 120 pounds, making her severely underweight. Also, her body fat percentage would be so low that she would not be able to menstruate. So what do Barbies teach children about the world? A toy designed to allow young girls to practice for roles they will take on as adults and learn about their place in the world can also be extremely detrimental. Barbie dolls teach children that they are expected to be white and abnormally thin to be considered beautiful, encouraging girls to strive for such unrealistic body image, which sometimes leads them to develop eating disorders. Mattel, the multinational toy company, did introduce new Barbie dolls with diverse skin tones and body types in 2016, making the toy a better reflection of what girls see in the world around them. However, the aisles are still swamped with the traditional white slender doll, which is still the default toy in all Barbie playsets. Any other skin tone or body size is the alternative, making blonde, thin, and white the regular and preferable Barbie for all children, which reinforces the already constructed perception of beauty. This dominant culture begins to implant beauty standards in the minds of young children. Still, this cycle is far from over: as they grow up, girls continue to be recklessly pushed to fulfill societal expectations.
Social media can create a highly deceitful image of the human body, pressuring women to reach what is not attainable. Pictures are airbrushed, filtered, and taken at flattering angles. You can make yourself appear thinner, make your nose smaller, or your waist tighter, meaning that everyone has the means to create a facade of themselves. “Sometimes, bodies on social media aren’t real. However, people who see them don’t think about that possibility, and they feel pressured to look like those they see on their screens,” Paula Velásquez, 12th-grade student, said. Social media has a way of making people feel insecure and inadequate. It leads women to compare themselves with others and create absurd ideals of beauty. Every person can remove their “flaws” before posting, but viewers on the platform tend to ignore this prospect and believe everything they see. Striving to have the same facial or body type as other women can be severely detrimental, again leading to the development of eating disorders and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Despite its harmful nature, social media can also be beneficial. Recovery-orientated blogs such as Beauty Beyond Bones and I Haven’t Shaved in Six Weeks criticize the use of unrealistic model images, message boards, and publicize National and International Eating Disorder Awareness weeks that can promote recovery and challenge beauty standards. However, too much body shaming, bullying, and deception still exist on the platform for it to be considered fully favorable for all. Social media plays a massive role in creating beauty standards, as it leads people of all ages and genders, especially women, to strive to look like those they see on the platform. However, even if we logged out of social media, we couldn’t escape the crippling societal pressures.
The beauty industry has led to the formation of a global ideal of beauty, setting a distinctive and unrealistic standard for women worldwide. In earlier times, most people had neither time nor money to devote to beauty, and beauty standards varied enormously among geographies. In the 19th century, however, the modern industry was born in Western Europe and the United States. Beauty became a business, and it became associated with Western appearances, with Paris and New York as aspirational global beauty capitals. White Hollywood stars were used to sell products globally instead of local women or local celebrities, leading the features of thin white people to be hailed as the global standard of beauty. As the industry grew, women were gradually bombarded with more images of the ideal face and figure. The constant exposure to idealized depictions of female beauty on magazines, ads, movies, and billboards has made striking good looks seem normal. Anything short of perfection seems abnormal and ugly, pressuring women to do whatever it takes to fit into the societal mold. Some argue that while the industry has tremendously negatively affected society, it has also provided jobs and income to hundreds of thousands of people, primarily women. While it is true that the beauty industry is related to economic prosperity, there are better, more honest ways of depicting beauty and selling products. Diversity, transparency, and inclusion are qualities that the industry lacks, but hey, if it works well for the economy, nothing else matters! The princess-like universe of perfumes, silk dresses, and matte lipsticks is not so magical after all. Women worldwide, pressured by society, have been led to face an ongoing battle with themselves.
People, especially women, have been taught to compare themselves for most of their lives. On every corner, some signs engrave “you aren’t good enough” on their minds. Women should be searching for their place in the world, not loathing their reflection in the mirror, but societal pressures will not cease to exist until we decide to embrace beauty as what comes from within.