Beauty standards are applied to everyone, but they are especially difficult to attain for those who don’t naturally fit them. Most of the people cannot have blade-sharp jawlines and toned bodies. As creatures enticed by the pursuit of socially approved beauty standards, the obsession with how good our looks are is something that most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. It’s hard for anyone to feel good about themselves when they do not fit into a specific mould. With images constructed to make people feel inadequate, it is easy to forget that there are no ideals for beauty.
Body image refers to the combination of a person’s perceived and ideal body image. This perception pronounces how a person sees themselves in their mind’s eye when they consider what they look like. There are varying degrees of how realistically a person may perceive their body image. Experts say this perception directly impacts how an individual treats their body. Better the perception, better the treatment to their body. However, of late, there has been a distortion of this perception by artificially manufactured ideas of chiselled bodies, otherwise called beauty standards.
Beauty standards are specific bodily features, socially constructed images of physical attractiveness, therefore, modern-day references which is used to measure the perfectness of the human body. These include facial features, body structure, weight, shape, muscle structure, hair growth, and skin-related areas. These standards change with geographic regions and from culture to culture. In Asian countries, women with wider hips, ample breasts, average height, and curvaceous bodies are thought to be ideally feminine. In the West, these standards change to smaller hips, leaner bodies, and flatter chests with sharp jawlines. Likewise, men with broader shoulders, developed muscles, and taller height embody perfect masculine handsomeness standards. If not followed, we are judged for not living up to ‘perfection’, more often by ourselves, and pushed into a state of body inferiority. However, when soundly reflected upon, these beauty standards are unrealistic and flawed to the core.
The evolution of makeup and cosmetic industries has made it possible to change certain features and take a larger control of one’s body, totally a personal choice, harmless until it becomes a necessary validation. But there are several physical features of the body that cannot be changed. There is a uniqueness in a person’s features that comes from genetic makeup. The notion of beauty standards makes the acceptance of this genetic uniqueness ‘ugly’. It is hard for people to believe that they can be different when the images in the media tell them that they should not exist at all. It is difficult not to end up comparing oneself when all that’s shoved into one’s face are chiselled faces, diamond-cut bodies and flawless skin. This can result in anxiety, anger, embarrassment, eating disorders, and even self-loathing resulting in problems with mental health, self-worth, and social, professional, and romantic relationships.
Historically, the supremacy of beauty standards has taken more toll on women, expected to look a certain way and stay in their roles. However, men have more often fallen prey to body dissatisfaction in the last few years. Men who are dissatisfied with their body image are more likely to suffer from depression and other anxiety disorders. With social media outlets like Instagram, men are also faced with unrealistic beauty standards. Men do not have the same pressure on their bodies that women do, but they still feel pressure due to societal expectations. They are seen as unattractive or ‘too thin for a man’, ‘too fair for a man’, and ‘too short for a man’.
The desire to look good is natural to human beings; however, it seems like society has given up on trying to make these beauty standards more attainable for people who don’t meet them by default. It is important for the overall well-being of an individual not to feel ashamed of themselves because they don’t fit the narrow definitions of what beauty should look like. A birthmark is not grotesque, clear skin is not perfect. No height is ‘too short for a man’. The standards of beauty are arbitrary.
Taizeem Bilal is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Zaina Shahid Khan