December 1st, 2016
Mirror, Mirror: Beauty Standards in Society
Admit it, we are all somewhat concerned with our physical appearance. If you said no to that statement, you’re lying to yourself, plain and simple. There is nothing wrong with staring at yourself in the mirror to take a moment to accept every inch of yourself and there is certainly nothing wrong with caring for your physical appearance in some way. In fact, I hope you do. This is not “vanity”. Vanity is conceit, excessive pride in your appearance. Concern, on the other hand, is absolutely normal. Unfortunately, people care a little more than they should and that is a growing problem in the world we live in today. The demand for “perfection” is on the rise, but, in reality, no such thing exists. Try to explain to me what perfection is. What does it look like? What does it do? How do you achieve it? If you can answer those questions for me then you must be one heck of a human being for knowing information on a topic that ceases to exist. Join me on a journey in this writing piece of mine to explore my take on this sociological phenomenon.
With every passing year this grand idea of beauty evolves. But, with every passing day my thoughts seem to go back and forth. At the sole age of 12 I was told, by a friend, flat out that I was “fat”. I’ll admit to the fact that i was a little chunkier in my junior high years but 12? Give me a break. At 12 everyone is still a fetus waiting to develop and already kids are getting the “you’re fat” name calling? From my experience yes. As a child even younger than 12 i used to live in Europe and over there the lifestyle is the polar opposite of here. Kids will go to school and be around you no matter what you look like. From a young age we are all taught respect, especially by our teachers. At the time that I was living there everyone’s food was mostly homegrown. Always healthy! In Europe being unhealthy is very rare. Not everyone will exercise but you will find mostly all families to be eating healthy. The number one thing - ALL FOOD IS HOME COOKED. Not until 2015 did the first ever famous fast food chain “McDonalds” open up. Up to date there are only 2 locations known in my entire country - Croatia. With the difference in eating habits from New York (where I currently live now) you expect a difference in the way people look as well. You are absolutely correct. Take a trip to Croatia and then take a trip to New York and examine the differences in lifestyles and the appearance of both people. It’s pretty noticeable. Upon attending school in New York from 2nd-5th grade me and my sisters were okay. Junior high kicked in and I was 12 and gaining weight. Looking back I wasn’t terrible but as a child you hear the words “you’re fat” from someone who you call your best friend and it automatically destroys your world. According to the Social Issues Research Center and its article on “Research Findings on Body Image” by Kate Fox “Female dissatisfaction with appearance - poor body-image - begins at a very early age. Human infants begin to recognize themselves in mirrors at about two years old. Female humans begin to dislike what they see only a few years later.” This was my case. By the time my second year of junior high came around my insecurities took over.
I would look in the mirror and feel disgust. I would slip on a bathing suit and want to change right back into a long sleeve shirt and pants. I would be in some sort of a depression and not speak and that was my worst mistake, I did not speak up. I would become frustrated at the slightest little thing and manage to find a way to relate it back to my weight and appearance. I had terrible skin conditions on my face, arms, and back which kept me from wearing tank tops for 3-4 years, even if it was blazing hot. For 2 years I suffered tremendously from insecurities involving my weight. As for my skin that lasted a little longer. My number one concern was my body. The way I felt I would never wish upon anyone. I want everyone to know why people go through this. Not just females, males as well. I want people to have some answers so I did a little digging.
According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, the word “perfect” means “being entirely without fault or defect”. Find me one thing in this world that carries no fault or defect. Imperfections create the beauty we see. Imperfections are the uniqueness that stand out within an individual. But why have these normal concerns such as what we look like before we step out into the world become more of an obligation and obsession rather than merely just a typical everyday concern? Media. We can thank them for what they’ve done to the minds and thought patterns of women and men all around the world. Kate Fox states the reason for this change is “Advances in technology and in particular the rise of the mass media” (Fox, 1997). Her main three reasons? One, “Thanks to the media, we have become accustomed to extremely rigid and uniform standards of beauty” (Fox, 1997). Two, “TV, billboards, magazines etc. mean that we see 'beautiful people' all the time, more often than members of our own family, making exceptional good looks seem real, normal and attainable” (Fox, 1997). Three, “Standards of beauty have in fact become harder and harder to attain, particularly for women. The current media ideal of thinness for women is achievable by less than 5% of the female population” (Fox, 1997). Now tell me why you still think you can achieve the look of “those girls” meanwhile the only way they achieve it themselves is Photoshop. Do you honestly believe pictures on covers of magazines and billboards aren’t edited? Come on. You know better.
The first resemblance to perfect for a woman? Barbie. At least that’s what society has made it to be. The traditional Barbie doll is owned by almost every little girl in the entire world and has by far been the most popular toy for children. According to the organization “Mirror Mirror - Eating Disorders”, and their article “Barbie and Body Image”, “the average American girl between the ages of 3-11 owns ten Barbie dolls…Surrounded by the Barbie body image.” If Barbie was a real life human she would be approximately 5’9” and weight 120 pounds. Her measurements would come close to about 38-18-34 while your typical woman measures about 41-34-43. Growing up I loved Barbie. I wanted to own all of them because I thought all of them were so beautiful. I clearly remember wanting to learn how to braid hair because I owned a Barbie whose hair was braided. At 7 years old you cannot comprehend what this doll is doing to your young brain. Looking at this doll I thought nothing more than “she’s so pretty” and “I want to look like her”. Now as I have matured, I have a different outlook on the whole Barbie spectrum. This doll is far too popular to be taken away from stores anytime soon but we have got to make them a little more realistic. When children see a doll like Barbie or a movie they will tell themselves “I want to be her” because seriously, who wouldn’t want to be Barbie for a day. It’s a fantasy life. Barbie has influence some individuals so much that they will spend money to create themselves to look like a Barbie doll. For example, Cindy Jackson is a woman who has gone through 20 plastic surgeries to resemble the look of Barbie and her body. We’re talking lip injections, buttocks lift, removal of fat, and the most known way to resemble the “hourglass figure”; the removal of ribs. Of course not everyone is as influenced to undergo such a change as others but our children are influenced by the toys they play with. “One study showed that girls who played with Barbie reported lower body image and a greater desire to be thinner than the girls who played with a curvier doll or no doll at all. So what do Barbie dolls teach children about the world? They teach children that it is desirable to be thin, white, and blonde. They may encourage children to strive for an unrealistic body image.” (Mirror Mirror). Is this really what we want for ourselves? Let alone our children?
Media images promoting unhealthy and unrealistic beauty standards continues to be the most harmful issue under the body image field. On a daily basis we are bombarded by approximately 400 to 600 images on TV, internet, magazines and billboards. Like the famous corset known for sliming waists and foot binding, these images preserving beauty ideals that the majority of women cannot obtain only serve in oppressing women further. Body dissatisfaction is not the same as body image. According to Maureena Biving in her article, “Body Imagine in the Media and Body Dissatisfaction”, body dissatisfaction includes “the beliefs, feelings, and perceptions a woman holds about her body and whether or not it matches the prevailing cultural ideal, which has left some women feeling bad about their bodies.” Media has indorsed this ideal that has led numerous amounts of women to undergo the process of tummy tucks, breast enhancements, and buttock implants to match society’s beliefs, just as Cindy Jackson who was mentioned earlier in this article. “Although the majority of women do not make the choice to surgically alter their body shape, many women who experience body dissatisfaction report the following health complaints: fatigue, tiredness, depression, poor quality of life, a diminished interest in sex, and marital dissatisfaction” (Biving, 2011).
We all want to be healthy, we all want to be fit, and we all want to be able to maintain that “summer body”. We know the risks of obesity and that it is not healthy but we also have to understand the fact that what the media portrays is not healthy either. Both overweight and underweight are equally unhealthy. The risks related to being underweight are anemia, nutritional deficiencies, cardiac problems, an increased chance of illness and infections as well as poor wound healing, etc. According to the organization “Mirror Mirror” and their article “Perfect Body Image”, “people suffering from anorexia and bulimia are not healthy and most people would agree that very underweight people aren’t very attractive, either. People with eating disorders often have distorted body images, though. They believe they are fat and ugly even when they aren’t. Without proper treatment, and sometimes even with treatment, people can die from these conditions.”
Body dissatisfaction and body distortion are eroding our power collectively and individually as women. Air brushed, digitally altered media images that promote unhealthy beauty standards are dangerous and irresponsible. These images only serve in stripping women of their true beauty by forcing us to conform to an ideal that does not recognize or embrace the power that comes from our diversity. Additionally, they reinforce sexist patriarchic views that fail to see women as more than their physical attributes. Furthermore, these images perpetuate ideas of inferiority by dwindling a woman’s self-esteem. The most important lesson I have learned being a woman, is that a magazine cover is unachievable in the real world. I have learned to deal with the fact that I will never look like a Covergirl or Victoria’s Secret model and I am okay with that. It is important for women all around the world to understand that they were put in their bodies for a reason. If we all looked like the women on magazine covers, what would distinguish one person from another? Physical appearance in the real world will only get you so far. However, personality, character, humor, passion, etc. will nail a woman’s ultimate dream. That is, to be successful in life, not just at work but also with building relationships, raising a family and reaching the ultimate goal of happiness.
Bivins, Maureena. Maureena Bivins Acupuncture. 1 December 2011. 23 November 2016.
Fox, Kate. Social Issues Research Centre. 1997. 23 November 2016.
Organization, Mirror Mirror. Mirror Mirror. 2016. 23 November 2016.
Organizaton, Mirror Mirror. Mirror Mirror. 2016. 23 November 2016.
"Perfect." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016