How the Beauty Imperative Influences Our Life

beauty myth

We are constantly surrounded by symbols of beauty – gorgeous tanned women in bikini on the billboards, mysterious smoky-eyed seductresses, mothers that manage to take care of career, household and children, while still looking like goddesses. Female beauty is, as we’ve been taught, something essential. A woman needs to look her best at all times. But it turns out that “her best” is quite a slippery term…

“The Beauty Myth”, published in 1991, is one land-marking book focusing on how the beauty idea influences women’s life. With power come responsibilities, the book says, and these responsibilities – at least for women – mean adhering to certain standards. The “iron maiden”, as Naomi Wolf refers to it, is the impossible standard that punishes women both physically and psychologically for their inability to achieve it.

The ideal of female beauty isn’t new. It has started as early as the ancient times, with the ancient Egyptians using kohl to blacken their lashes and upper lids, and Romans darkening their eyes with burnt matches and fading their freckles with young boys’ urine. In history, beauty has always been a symbol of power and social status. The wealthy Renaissance women had to pluck their hair lines in order to make their foreheads seem higher, and to bleach their hairs to make them blonder. This trend continued up to the 1990s, where the ideal for female beauty was Kate Moss, the symbol of extreme thinness, with a strung-out and emaciated appearance, both in face and body.

We’ve all heard about the Photoshop debates and the unrealistic beauty standards, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Think about how many magazines publish dietary and exercise tips that guarantee you to “lose weight quickly”. How many tabloids compete to be the first to “comment on” (“shaming” is probably a better word) a celebrity’s weight gain. It’s not surprising that the incidence of eating disorders have doubled in the last 15 years.

The problem is not surrounding women with unreal physical standards. The issue is that women believe they’re expected to look like this, because they can. This is how the horrific cycle of self-loathing begins. Every time you open a magazine, you’re urged to lose weight quickly, to dye your hair, to shave your body, to be as feminine as possible. You can’t be beautiful if you have pores or gray hairs. You have wrinkles or freckles? Then you better do something about it. The problem is intensified by the pervasiveness of todays’ media: it’s very difficult to escape all these images, slogans and messages as they are ubiquitous and thus become the very fabric of our constant preoccupation with the way we look. Young girls’ role models are YouTubers like Zoella, whose videos are all about teaching girls how to achieve “that perfect look” through hours of make-up.

So many more girls today suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, depression, self-harm/cutting and trichotillomania. The more girls self-objectify, the more likely is that they will suffer from these issues. The worst problem is that we believe we need to be beautiful in order to be happy, successful and loved. We always fear that all our other qualities – no matter how great – won’t be enough to make us feel worthy in the eyes of others; unless we achieve the standard of beauty which we deem acceptable, we feel that we are falling short, while in reality whom we compete against are only abstract ideals. We will run and starve to death, or binge and purge, to get thinner, but they’ll always be a next magazine cover with a thinner or fairer model. I’ve personally practiced 15 years of this struggle before I started considering that perhaps my perspective was flawed…

The “beauty ideal” has influenced women’s throughout history, regardless of the country or culture. The beauty standards may change according to country-based preferences (although there is evidence that the white/western type of beauty is increasingly held as a standard more globally; an example is offered by some Asian countries – see this article about South Korea – where the western beauty ideal has prompted an alarming growth in the number of girls resorting to cosmetic surgery to “fix” their  Asian features. South Koreans currently have more plastic surgery than in any other country according to 2013 figures, with the craze particularly popular among 19 to 49-year-olds), but still these beauty standards dictate our life and judge who can be happy and who needs to “work more” in order to achieve their dreams.

In a world in which other skills and qualities in a girl are – should we say? – “less regularly” emphasized, beauty has become synonymous with happiness and girls are constantly pushed towards it, and punished if they fail to conform. The question is how can we revert the brainwashing once done and “unlearn” the bits of a beauty-obsessed culture that doesn’t serve us well, while keeping the ones that make us feel empowered. If only we could teach girls (and boys too) that there is nothing inherently wrong in the appreciation of feminine beauty or the grooming practices in themselves, but that, rather, the problems start when we take as imperative what society/media/advertisers tell us in regard to what our beauty ideal should be (particularly if that ideal of beauty become narrower, unrealistic and applied universally) and when we fail to strike a balance with all the other dimensions of our life, self and world, so that our preoccupation with appearance gradually becomes an obsession.

I know that for me and many other women, awareness has only come with age. I am still convinced in the power of awareness and participation, but I wonder what type of experiences can permanently raise young girls’ consciousness of being beauty-bound? And would that consciousness – once raised – be able to eradicate the feeling of unworthiness many young girls are battling with? Or is this – like many seem to contend – just a process that necessarily most girls will need to go through, living it and experiencing it in their own skin before finding themselves “liberated” only at a later stage of maturity?

36 thoughts on “How the Beauty Imperative Influences Our Life

  1. This is a really excellent post. I feel like everyone acts like unrealistic beauty standards are an issue they’re concerned about, but most people don’t really grasp it and don’t want to really stand up against it. If you are a woman, chances are you have looked at things such as magazines or billboards with beautiful, (but photoshopped) women and compared yourself. It isn’t fair! If you are a model, you’re expected to look perfect all the time and if you don’t, you get your photos edited until you are “perfect”. If you’re not a model, you are expected to look like one. Women lose either way, and it’s not okay. I know there are many women, especially young girls, who are afraid to stand up against it and for themselves. I get that, because I used to be that way, too. But for feminism to be successful, it has to be uncomfortable. Great post, I couldn’t agree more!

  2. As a mother of six girls, this topic is very near to my heart. My girls are imperfectly beautiful, but all too often they will notice the imperfect and forget the beautiful. They aren’t fat, but they’re not tiny. Despite filling their heads with knowledge of their worth as individuals, unconditional love from their parents, and value from God, they still compare themselves to others their age. They make comments about their appearance and are sometimes uncomfortable about it. They are beautiful, loving, intelligent girls–being structured differently than the models on the billboards or the twiggy teens should be the farthest thing from their mind. It isn’t the first thing in their heads, but it is there, and that’s a shame. It is in huge part due to the media, but that has farther-reaching effects than anyone realizes. You see, other girls that are immersed in media (mine stay on the outskirts as much as possible) are striving to reach these ideals, often in unhealthy ways. My girls may not be comparing themselves to the media standards, but they do notice if they’re the heaviest or shortest or most modestly dressed girls in a group. None of those things are bad–modesty, height, weight–but the girls are made to feel like less of a person because of those characteristics. It’s worse for the younger girls. Whether knowingly or not and despite vast movements to oppose this, people treat others differently based on their appearances. It’s a sad, sad society when we can feel under-appreciated and under-loved just because we were born with “breeder’s hips,” as a kid at school described me when I was a skinny little 12-year-old.

    I’m not entirely out of the blame. At 42 I am pregnant and still comparing myself to others. I make remarks on occasion and play the “I wish…” game. I wish I had cute hips like her; I wish I only gained a basketball tummy like her, and not a couple of soccer balls on my backside. Then my wiser-than-I daughters remind me that the extra cushion around my thighs and rear are to nourish that little life I’m working so hard to grow and to give him the best chance at life. In fact, we just read an article about larger thighs and buns on the pregnant mother contributing to higher intelligence in the baby. There’s a REASON women are shaped the way they are and that our bodies naturally tend to add weight during certain times of life. There are times when we should NOT fight it, and, in fact, I’ve also read of excessive exercise (within a normal range in today’s world) impacting health negatively.

    If only America could be more focused on character and health and less on an IMperfect body image (imperfect because it is unnatural). That will never happen en masse, but it can happen in the homes and schools–we can make a difference with individuals. I will start with myself an be glad I’ve got all that baby-brain-boosting goodness in my thighs! Hooray for big thighs and my soccer ball buttocks!

    • I absolutely agree with you, I have myself a daughter and I don’t want her to believe being perfection to a standard of beauty should be her goal in life! I want her to embrace and celebrate her difference and to learn to love herself and others with her heart and her head, not her eyes!
      It starts with us, parents!
      Beauty is such a subjective notion, it should not be standardized. Beauty comes in all shapes, colors and sizes! We have depended so much on Media to tell us what to think that we are forgetting that it is just an opinion. What’s on magazines, TV/movies, YouTube,… are one view, one opinion, one aspect of beauty of the person who created it. The definition of beauty should be personal and evolving. It always come to fitting in. We want to look like a model or a TV star to feel that we fit in this ever-changing society! And those who have decided not to fit in the mold are bullied or followed, copied and celebrated for it.
      Reading about the extent of what people are doing to fit beauty standards are alarming. I want my daughter to feel free to be who she is, express herself and find her own beauty without that social pressure to fit in. Diets should be about eating healthy so you nourish your body and not lose weight to be a size 0-2, or have the perfect proportions, and certainly not to stop being mocked or lonely because no one won’t talk to you because you’re different.

  3. The media has such a strong influence on every aspect of society. Fashions change because of what actresses start wearing. New slang pops up after commercials or comedians start a trend. It was a sorry day when South Beach and other “reality” shows aired on television a few years ago and the whole high school and even the junior high school started wearing skimpy outfits and talking sexy. My niece was a changed person. Her mother let her continue to watch it and replicate it so that she would “fit in” at school. Everybody is doing it. Then the magazines followed the trend teaching girls how to apply the makeup and where to get the outfits. I don’t know what will break this monkey see monkey do attitude that society has. We adopt very strange heros to look up to.

  4. This is a great post! A subject which makes me very sad as i myself have been through the ordeal of not feeling that my body is good enough, and sheer frustration at this bit of fat and those hairs that aren’t growing in the right place. I have also watched so many of my female friends and family members continuously try to live up to these unrealistic beauty ideals, and all of them not aware of how utterly beautiful they are on the inside and out!

    Now at the age of 20 I am finally starting to feel more secure with myself in how i feel and look, and just generally more at ease with my body. I feel that i was extremely lucky as a child in that my mother tried her best to protect her three girls from the bombardment of media that gets fed to children from a very young age. We did not have a television in my house and there were no magazines… we weren’t deprived, we had plenty of books and toys and nature and animals and when i was 14 we got a flat screen to watch dvds on, but no telly. At the time us kids were annoyed with my mother for it because our friends had televisions and thought we were strange to not have one. But now i appreciate so much what my mother did for us. Also i went to a steiner school from the age of 6-12 which i believe helped shield me more from lots of beauty ideals fed to children.

    All in all i had a better start than a lot of kids in life but somehow the media still slipped its ideas into my brain…

  5. I am very interested in this topic as a mother of young girls. One of the best ways that we can teach young girls how to have a healthy self-image is to model the behavior that we want them to have. Show them how to have a healthy relationship with fashion and beauty, without being obsessed with it. Don’t compare ourselves to other women or complain about what we don’t like about ourselves. We also need to use the media that is bombarding our kids with unrealistic images of beauty, to teach them what is healthy and not healthy. We can’t shield them from all of the negative messages, but we can ask them, “do you think that this girl in the magazine really looks like that on a daily basis?” We can educate them about airbrushing and all of the editing that is done to the pictures that most girls are trying to emulate. We can talk to them about what true fulfillment is and why striving after a perfect image is empty and unhealthy. There is a lot that we can do, it’s a daily conversation for a mother with daughters. Fathers can also compliment their wives in front of their daughters for their natural beauty, character, personality, and intelligence. Fathers should compliment their daughters for these things as well. Let them know that a real man will appreciate the important things about them and not just the superficial. Two cents from a mom in her mid-thirties in Texas. 🙂

  6. I was excited to see this post for so many reasons. Being a 24-year-old Caucasian woman in America is by NO means considered a struggle, but the psychological effects of mainstream media is REAL.

    I was so surprised to learn that Asian women are trying to “Westernize” their features. I am of the opinion that Asian women are gorgeous! We (American women) try so hard to mimic their blue-black hair-tone and beautiful flawless skin, and here they are destroying their natural beauty because of what the MEDIA suggests beauty really is. That bit is so enlightening.

    I’m not saying they shouldn’t participate in plastic surgery. If that’s what will make them GENUINELY happy with themselves, then that’s great. I just really hope that all of our young ladies (internationally) are doing these things to their appearance as a PERSONAL choice, and not because (as the article suggests) of social pressures. Though it’s doubtful.

    When will we be recognized for our intellect instead of our breasts? When will our sense of humor override our unibrows? When will society LAY OFF already??

    • I’m a 24-year-old Asian woman and I thank you for this comment! I can’t believe how wide-spread plastic surgery is in the States. I even read an article at one point about how getting a boob job might improve a person’s chances of landing a job because it’s been proven that more attractive people are seen as more confident and successful. I would never change myself just to get a job or be “seen as” more successful. A woman can get botox, lipo, boob jobs, nose jobs but ultimately if she doesn’t love her inside, she’ll never be happy, no matter how much she changes her outside.

      Everyone always wants to be something different. Instead of being content with the bodies God gave them, they want to strive for something that’s “popular”. I grew with tons of Asian friends who dyed their hair blond and wore fake eyelashes and heavy foundation just to look more “White”. It was such a popular trend that half the school was doing it. I could never understand why teenage girls would hitch onto a trend and let it spread like wildfire without ever thinking about what exact statement they were trying to make. I never participated in any of it and I was intrigued to find out that most of those girls reverted back to their natural hair color and embraced their Asian features when they became adults.

  7. I think age, or perhaps maturity, definitely has an impact on how women are affected by the unrealistic beauty standards in the media. I’m 28, and only just starting to become more comfortable in my own (heavily-freckled) skin. I’ve always lived in the American Midatlantic, which has its own specific culture and standards. However, like the article says, there definitely seems to be a more global ideal of beauty that overlays the regional standards. Blonde, skinny, and tall seems to be attractive everywhere.

    Even though I’m educated and successful and fun, I still feel insecure when I have to interact with women who are subjectively more attractive than me. I still get a little jealous when someone hits on my girlfriend at the bar, but I don’t get noticed. It’s absurd and gross and embarrassing, but I don’t think it ever goes away completely, no matter how mature you are.

    • I empathize with you, Nicole. It’s not exactly the same situation, but sometimes when my husband and I go out together, other women check him out or look at us funny because he’s athletic and I’m a plump Italian, who’s forever bleaching her mustache and arm hair. (it may or may not get out of control sometimes… don’t even get me started on the eyebrows.) I mean, honestly, I’m usually comfortable with him and with all of those “flaws”, until people start raising eyebrows. I shouldn’t care but it still hurts a little. People will never see how much I love & sacrifice for him, they just see tall, good looking dude with “sister” or “fat friend whos in love with him”

  8. I admit I felt a huge sigh of relief when my first child was a boy. “Girl world” today seems so alien – full of pink and purple tulle, sparkles, sequins and baby onesies saying things like “diva” and “spoiled.” I don’t know how to navigate this new world! It’s looking like my son will be my one and only, so perhaps I won’t ever have to worry… but growing up as a tomboy with two brothers I was always accepted, now it seems you have to be hyper-feminine to fit in. I would laugh at the moms in mommy and me attaching bows to their daughter’s non-existent hair… heaven forbid anyone think they’d have a (gasp!) boy!

    • I agree with what you’re saying, the celebrities today are more self-absorbed then ever! This gives today’s young ladies and future women even more false reality’s then ever. Unfortunately nowadays limiting tv and media exposure is almost impossible, but trying our best is all that we can do. It’s a sad state of affairs…:(

  9. I found the idea of the Iron Maiden very interesting. I also found it a little too close to home. I spent my teenage years punishing myself and feeling that I wasn’t worthy of affection or love. My friends were all petite and gorgeous. (When I look back at photos, I am ashamed at the self hatred I held so close. I was perfect with my human flaws. I wished I would have loved myself a little more) I started dieting way too young. I would not eat or I would binge. I felt that as long as I looked like I did, which was not the typical beauty standard-as told by the media, I deserved to be treated less lovingly, less special. I got into a series of relationships with people who were terrible for me because I felt like it was all I deserved. The feeling intensified when I got married. Not that my husband said or did anything, but I felt like every time we argued, maybe he’d be more inclined to love me better if I were beautiful and thin and did everything perfectly around the house. I’ve been going to therapy on and off for the last five years and more recently on. It is the first time in 28 years that I haven’t hated myself. I even like myself a little bit. Some days I feel really good and I love myself for all that I am. Some days I look in the mirror and see the same old “fat, ugly” girl. Frump girl. But I can tell that things are changing because I look at magazines differently now. I no longer look at the photos and wish that I looked like the model on the front. Now I am completely aware of the warfare that is directed at women and it doesn’t feel applicable anymore. It is now something that is unrelated to me. I no longer feel the need to apply that standard to my life. It took me 28 years to understand that I am worthy of love no matter what I look like. It’s going to take the rest of my life to keep undoing those old burdens. I only hope that blogs like this keep popping up and people keep having the conversation so the future generations have a chance!

  10. Thanks for this article, it made reflect on the fact that, as mature women, we now take for granted our new status of “liberated” women. I watch young girls in the bus covering themselves with so much make-up that you can hardly imagine what their skin could be underneat…what a shame I think!

    In answer to your last question: I am not really sure neither…perhaps as you said this is just a stage of girls’ life which is bound to be dominated by appearance anxiety and they will only learn with time to appreciate themselves and their natural unique beauty for what it is! But talking about these issues with them and making sure they understand this fake and hypersexualised reality surrounding them is not “real” CAN in my view make a difference in the way they feel about themselves at this delicate phase of their life.

    I have one daughter and one son and they are both in their akward teenage years (14 and 16): I cringe every time I see their anxiety in front of the mirror, they are both well-rounded individuals with many hobbies and good friendship groups, but I still see that the importance they place on their looks is excessive…perhaps the social media and the posting of pictures which now is a daily part of their life do not make things easy and only exacerbate the issue…! 🙁

  11. I taught 11 and 12 year olds for a good portion of my teaching career. I noticed that the girls changed in the second semester of 6th grade, girls became more mindful of what other girls thought about them. They were not un-interested in boys, but not what boys thought about them. Because let’s be honest, a boy is not going to critique you like another girl your age. If a middle school girl gained the approval of the other middle school girls that was the pinnacle.

    As a math a science teacher it was tough to overcome apprehensions of young girls eager to avoid being too smart or too interested in science and or mathematics; that was my small test. It was not, however, as monumental as the challenge a girl faced as defined by her peers; how to fit in was more sought after than how to stand out for any reason. Girls who either chose to not pursue approval, or were not able to fit into the ideal of a tween girl, were often characterized by the “group” in as many derogatory manners as could be imagined.

    I realize that someone taught these girls to think in a way which valued conformity, which valued positive reinforcement from the group, and which valued being part of any majority over being alone. As an educator though I know that we teach all of our students life lessons daily. I would love for this to be one of the life lessons we teach our tween girls, that there are as many different ways to be beautiful, smart, and stand out as there are girls!


  12. This is a powerful article and I agree there’s a real expectation for women to be beautiful. There’s reasons for this that I believe go beyond just making money. That being said, the answer to this is living an authentic life. I could talk for hours about this but the main point is that you shouldn’t be concerned with doing things for the approval of others. This is one of the hardest things to do in life, especially with the bombardment of advertising, but it’s a worthwhile achievement. One thing that is a testy subject is “fat shaming”. While fat shaming is pretty absurd and a waste of time, I do think that people who are fat should work to fix that because it’s unhealthy. But it’s their choice.

  13. Love this article! It is to the POINT! And it is very hard to raise girls (I have 3) in today’s world. My middle, 14, is very conscious of what she sees on TV and elsewhere and unfortunately she tries to emulate it. It is a daily struggle with her! My oldest (21) is on her own, but never really fell for the idea of a “perfect woman”, she did her own thing. My 11 year old is at the age where she notices how girls/women try to look good, and she is honest about her criticisms of them. She’s very, very outspoken about how women/girls will try to please a boy/man….and she doesn’t fall for that. Their dad is wonderful. He compliments them not just on their looks, but on their achievements in school, sports, work, etc. I believe it all starts from home, and if they are strong enough, they can overcome becoming a follower.

  14. I absolutely agree that the beauty standard is completely detrimental. It’s something all women who grew up in this society have to at some point cope with. Some women cope by conforming to the ideals while other women cope by analyzing and resisting. But it feels like not many women are able to completely detach themselves from this pressure. If we wear make-up, we feel like it’s not our choice, but if we don’t, we’re respected less and look less put together. There’s just no winning and we all need to work on breaking down this dynamic.

  15. I think our society is becoming more and more difficult for young girls growing up these days because of the ideals of “beauty.” They are young and impressionable and they see standards of beauty at every turn – magazines, movies, TV shows, advertisements, etc. Even as a grown woman I struggle with the pressure to look a certain way … perfect makeup/skin, great hair, tan skin, bikini-ready body. I would love to see a day when we can all just strive to take care of our bodies and be healthy without feeling like our beauty has to be part of a specific mold that the world has created. We are all beautiful in our own ways because of who we are!

  16. This is a really powerful post. It raises into question the cliche phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What that means, literally, is that each person should be happy with how s/he looks, but that shouldn’t necessary mean layers of cosmetics or having to go under the knife to get that to happen. What has society come to that women don’t have the best nose or perky enough breasts? Cosmetic surgery is not a contest. Eventually they’re going to sag and you’re going to have to get touch-ups so be thankful for what God gave you. Women look beautiful naturally and that’s all that matters. Don’t let society convince you that you need to hide behind a mask of eye liner, foundation or lipstick. If this is not how you’re comfortable then be yourself. You are beautiful just the way you are. Take care of your body because you’re the only one that can.

  17. Growing up in Canada, I’ve been bombarded all my life with ads showing impossible beauty standards. I was considered “lucky” by my friends because I was always so skinny. But I never thought for a second I was lucky. I think it’s ridiculous that people nowadays want to look skinny. I’ve always been underweight and I’ve battled all my life to obtain a healthy weight. People need to learn that happiness comes from the inside. It’s about how you perceive life. I think as long as someone has good self-esteem, they wouldn’t be held back by these popular “weight loss” trends. I’ve known a few friends and even family members with eating disorders. That’s more of a mental disorder and can be inspired by the media but not necessarily completely caused by it.
    It’s impossible to censor what kids read and watch nowadays both on TV as well as on the internet. We can try our best as parents but the most important thing is to teach our kids about the things that really matter. Inform them about how magazines photoshop their models. Inform them about what is considered healthy and what isn’t. Teach them to think for themselves and be confident and proud in their own skins. We can’t protect them from everything but we can sure give them the tools to allow them to protect themselves.

  18. The concept of beauty is a challenge for women, young and old. Young women are molded by what they see, hear and are told, but if we’re honest… does that influence not stay with us as we get older?

    I consider myself a fairly intelligent woman. I know better than to buy into mass media’s definition of beauty. I ignore ads that try to tell me what makeup to use, what color to dye my hair and how many pounds I should shed. I know that there are more women in their late twenties with gray hair than we think and that perfect skin is an ideal.

    Yet I still cringe when I see the weight I’ve gained in the mirror.

    I still flinch when my hair stylists tells me I’m far too young to have as many “grays” as I do.

    I still feel vulnerable without makeup.

    Which makes me wonder if “knowing” the truth is really enough? We can tell ourselves that society’s opinion doesn’t matter all day long, but there are still expectations in the gazes that surround us.

    The falsehoods behind beauty standards is a lesson that needs to be taught not just to women, but to society. We need the world to believe what we as women have come to know – that we are more than an image in a magazine; that we aren’t defined by our outward beauty.

    The pressure to meet standards won’t alleviate for women until society as a whole accepts that women are not defined by their level of attractiveness. It’s a mindset that needs to be accepted as a whole.

    -Elizabeth Carlton

  19. This is such a great post and really hits home for me. I, like many young women, have felt insecure and unworthy. I used to dress ‘a certain way’, tried too hard to be ‘sexy’, wore too much makeup – basically I used to be a puppet. I used to be so blind. I used to think that’s who I really was. Today, at the age of 25, I still struggle with these issues, but seem to have a better handle on my self-esteem and confidence. After letting go of a lot of those unrealistic beauty ideals, I became more ME. I became free … and it affected every aspect of my life! My mind was clearer, my relationship with my now-husband improved, I was more confident, accomplished more goals, I becomes stronger and happier. I became me. I have two younger sisters, soon graduating from high school – and I worry about them so much. I try my best to encourage them, empower them and help them understand what it means to truly be happy. You define you.

  20. I don’t believe there is a single normal person who thinks that they have reached a beauty level that they are happy with. This beauty imperative creates a huge insecurity in everyone and never really lets go. It takes deep realization of the today’s world and understanding of all the fake perfection that is projected to us to start accepting ourselves as we are -always improving but never trying to reach the fake perfection.

    At the very end, I will agree with something Ann said above: “I believe it all starts from home, and if they are strong enough, they can overcome becoming a follower.”

  21. Excellent post! Awareness does come with age, but at 37 I’m still not completely there. Although when I moved to California I got a lot better understanding of this. In Ohio I thought all these women really looked like these photoshopes pictures. But when I moved to California and have seen some of these actresses around town, I realized that they look just like me. It’s a shame that television and advertising does this to women.

  22. I’m really conflicted as I think about this post. I don’t know if acceptance comes with age and time or if there is a way to separate the pubescant girl from the incessant need to be beautiful, perfect, and up to standard. Of course, we all judge ourselves through the eyes of others (the male gaze hits home hard here). Even if we are judging our beauty, we are judging our minds, our insightfulness, our humor, our humility. So many comments preach self-acceptance but also an emphasis on the importance of mind and personality. So which is it? Should we only judge ourselves? Or should we be changing the gaze toward our intelligence? Is that not just as dangerous? Think of prep schools and the ghastly lengths students go to to get in to top tier colleges. Think of hazing as proof of ones worthiness and “coolness”. Judgment and the gaze of another is dangerous, beauty or not beauty involved.

    Still, beauty is inherently dangerous in its standards and what it promotes. Staying up late studying is far less detrimental than anorexia or the other health risks you point out. Again, I return to your final question and find myself perplexed. Does acceptance come with time? Again, I look to the comments and think, so many of these women share similar stories: they know their desire is wrong yet they still feel it; they overpower it for their children, though, which is a sign of maturity, of aging. Here I am, 22 and with no hopes for children soon, and I am yet overwhelmed with the sense that I too must overcome my unrealistic standards for my own beauty (and intelligence, and humor, and etc etc) because I could have children, I could profoundly influence a young girl… Is it our responsibility as we age? Must it be the role model? Or is it as you’ve suggested in other articles a problem of media? of representation? Beauty is so saturated in what we see and do, that so much is focused on the physical form and how we portray ourselves, imbedded so far deep in time! Can we ever overcome that? or must we work with it? Make beauty more inclusive? I don’t think it lies with just parents but with representation and who is seen and unseen. Look at Kendall and Kylie Jenner.. they’re young, so are they to blame? They receive so much plan because of their position of power, and that is the difference to me. It is the power to enact change (such as the power of being a parent) that changes the perspective. Power, not age, is where we must focus these spaces of change, in my opinion. But how do we change those who profit from beauty above all else (such as the Kardashians)? When there is money to be made off of beauty…I wonder what can really be done…

  23. It’s very hard to think if there could be a time and place in modern society where girls wouldn’t have to go through this type of horrific “ritual” in order to finally be at peace with themselves at some point.

    There are plenty of actresses in media nowadays – I’ll take Emma Watson for example – who say they are feminist and want to empower young girls and are adamant about the belief in natural beauty/not having to wear makeup to impress people. And yet, Emma Watson comes out during her premieres, her press conferences, her interviews, etc…very caked in makeup,her entire ensemble (makeup, hair, outfit, nails, shoes) all compiled by a team of highly trained stylists. So even some “media role models” in this subject are hard to take seriously, when their actions don’t seem to match their words. What are young girls suppose to think?

    Magazines and TV shows have to step up especially when it comes to “weight gain news” about celebrities. Wouldn’t it be great if we saw a headline that said, “So-and-so looks fabulous in her new plus-sized wardrobe,” instead of making some disgusting joke a headline. A talented actress gained weight…who cares?! She’s still talented! She’s still beautiful! But I can say that, because I’m older and know better. Young impressionable girls? They’ll believe what the “cool” tv hosts are saying instead.

  24. The article really hit home to me. I am a 27 year old female and the “beauty standard” for women my age is outrageous. However, then I go onto the YouTube sites and watch young preteens doing “the naked look” makeup tutorials and it just breaks my heart. These girls who are perfect and beautiful already at the age of 10-12 are thinking they need makeup to be accepted. That they need to dress indecently to be “normal”. Sadly, the same goes for adults. We are constantly having the topics “get slimmer now” and “how to please your man by looking like this” thrown in our face all the time when just in the grocery line, not to mention the novels that are popular, the commercials that are aired, and even the simple music that plays…somehow all if ties together to have the same message “be ‘healthy’, be beautiful, be accepted”.

    I recently watched a video about a young girl of the age of 8 explaining why she feels the need to put on a full face of makeup for school, to play outside, and even just to go out in public with her mom. Her mom yes allowed her to put on makeup and even helped her dress in a “grown up” fashion saying that she wants her daughter to feel like she’s beautiful and accepted all the time. However, the sad truth is that the young girl is already learning about insecurities and judgement. The fact that a young girl that young feels the need to “cover up” her flaws is just heartbreaking.

    I truly hope that the media begins to change, and that the message of “you are beautiful no matter what” will soon become the norm.

  25. Too many young girls struggle with self-esteem and unworthiness due to the culture of beauty thrown at them from all sides. I’m in my upper 30’s and have struggled with self-esteem issues my whole life. I never viewed myself as beautiful, but I can now look back at my pictures as a child and see how adorable I was yet I never knew it.

    I’m appalled at the inability of women superstars to “age gracefully,” instead having plastic surgery and looking even worse than if they’d just go with the wrinkles (in my opinion). I have fine lines and wrinkles, grays beginning to show, and yes, I feel the pressure to do all I can to cover those up with creams and hair dye. Why can’t we just be comfortable in our own skin?

    Still, I conform and put on the makeup. I’ll admit I do feel better when I’m all done up, and I avoid even the supermarket if I haven’t got my makeup on or hair curled! It’s difficult to escape the fears that someone might see you in your natural state!

  26. This —-> “And would that consciousness – once raised – be able to eradicate the feeling of unworthiness many young girls are battling with?”

    As far as I’m concerned, yes it would. But only with a level of awareness that encourages one to face themselves, question their own thoughts and beliefs and challenge them.

    In my experience, I’ve learned that contrast is often necessary to invite the desire for change. I do think it’s a better idea to raise our kids to be conscious individuals from the start, and I feel this is where we’re heading.

    However, if we didn’t start out this way for some reason or another, it can serve to be one of those things that becomes painful enough to enable growth through experience.

    Using my own example –

    I had to live a life filled with pain, self-doubt and lack of self-worth in order to experience enough suffering to decide (on my own) that enough was enough. I believe in the whole: “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” philosophy, so once I had reached that place where I desired a change, the material, circumstances, teachers, etc showed up to guide me toward the right thoughts and exercises to start encouraging me to become self-aware. It’s been a long process, but well worth it because along with contrast comes compassion and understanding (if we use contrast to empower us rather than to render us powerless).

    It also encourages critical thinking, discernment and therefore, independent thought.

    We can change our behaviors and teach people things. This is all wonderful. But in my opinion, true change happens when we’ve had enough and are willing to do whatever it takes to no longer be a victim of our own mentality and therefore, our circumstances.

    That’s the umbrella of it all. It naturally leads to the inner-work that’s required to become a different version of oneself – with full awareness and acceptance to that part of our lives that we no longer identify with, but still acknowledge as a necessary part of our experience.

    The media (while irresponsible and obnoxious) is doing their job. They’re around to sell things, and that includes the thoughts, feelings and therefore, perceptions necessary to produce a profit. We can view them as either this thing we want to change (and therefore, we may wait forever), or we can wake up, know thyself and then observe the media as if we were a spectator. It takes the power away from things outside of ourselves – and inspires us to seek within.

    You cannot fool someone who has insight and awareness. This is a “battle” that will be won from within.

    Raise kids in a way that encourages their creative natures. Keep them focused on what they’re passionate about. Engage with them as though you are their guide, but not their master. Keep the lines of communication open and point things out to them so they can start to see the illusion otherwise confused as absolute truth for themselves.

    It’s awesome that you bring these topics up.
    Truth be told, I have written about similar topics (I’m a health and fitness professional), so it’s cool to see others out there bring these things up for discussion.

    I’m in my 40s now and would have loved to have had this insight earlier in life, but it’s fine. As mentioned earlier, the contrast served me well. When we finally get to see who we are not, it allows room to discover who we ARE.

    When we know who we are, we simply won’t believe anyone who tells us “who to be”.

  27. I too wonder if the process is an inevitable one which self-corrects with age and maturity. I grew up in a socially, emotionally, economically, educationally and spiritually fulfilling home yet experienced this myself to some extent and at the age of 30 it was as if light bulb went off and I’ve really come to accept myself (most days, lol). It’s a shame to think that all women could possibly endure this, but also a little comforting to imagine that it may not last forever.

  28. For me, I don’t think there’s something wrong about girls thinking this way, that “they’re expected to look like this because they can”. For me, that’s part of nature, part of survival, part of achieving what nature partly intended you to do which is to attract other people, particularly men, who would like you instead of not doing about yourself and live your life alone. For me, that kind of thinking is not the problem. The real problem is knowing when to stop, to make a line instead of going all out and getting eating disorders and other sort of similar stuffs.

  29. What a beautiful insightful post. I can say I know this way too well as I suffered from an eating disorder and fell down the path of trying to be perfect. I feel that what you allow your child to be surrounded with at a young age will influence them greatly as to who they grow up to be, more importantly how they view beauty. Women are beautiful, and they are supposed to be aware of this but I think that there needs to be boundaries as to how far and involved they can become with their vanity.

  30. Great post!
    “I know that for me and many other women, awareness has only come with age.”
    I think a lot of girls/women have to have someone intervene, or some event occur that really makes them stop and think – or they’ll never really break out of the thought patterns they adopted when they were forming their ideals.
    “And would that consciousness – once raised – be able to eradicate the feeling of unworthiness many young girls are battling with?”
    I really think it would – not just a superficial understanding that the media influences us when we consume it, but a deeper understanding of just how it affects us, taking specific instances and specific consequences as examples. I’m hopeful that blogs like this one will give girls and women just that opportunity!
    I wanted to say something about the brief mention of self-harm, which I think applies to a lot of areas. I asked a youth group: Raise your hand if you, or someone close to you, has ever cut. Almost 3/4 of the room had raised hands. The parents in the room were APPALLED. They were commenting to themselves, shocked, asking their kids who it was, afraid it was their kid (the question is ambiguous on purpose, to make it safer to address these things). I think parents need to purposefully stop and ask those kinds of questions to their kids, let them know it’s safe to say if they’re the one struggling, and be willing to support them if someone they consider close to them is struggling with any body image issues, big or small.

  31. We have all endured some sort of process to beautify ourselves, and in each culture the process varies, but the purpose for most women is to be considered sexually attractive. Robinsons (The Quest for Human Beauty: An Illustrated History’, 1998) makes a valid point, that “human beauty is an expression of this inventive and aesthetic nature, a reflection of our inner sprit, a biological imperative sculpted into our soul by some seemingly godlike life force, about which we can do little except accept its reality and validity”. Although some reject beauty as a powerful tool, it is pervasive in all environments and can be paid for with a price.
    Women undergo many transformations to be beautiful, and although the changers are costly and painful the end result for them is a work of art. In the past five thousand years, the quest for beauty has changed significantly but they have the same purpose: to show off material wealth, social position, authority, and flaunt sexual appeal. “We have a desire to be more sexually attractive and this causes us to aesthetically alter how we appear, and as we become more aroused by our beauty we desire sexual activity from another human.”

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