The alarm bell rings, sharply interrupting your peaceful dreams and forcing you to face your day-to-day reality. After having hit the snooze button twice, you finally decide to face the world and open your eyes. What is the first thing most of us do right when we wake up? Majority of people will probably provide one of these two responses: many will instantly grab a hold of their phone, while others will be forced to follow their more basic needs and head straight to the bathroom. Regardless of which alternative might have started your day, they both have one thing in common: confrontation with beauty ideals.
Whether it be so-called influencers posing on Social Media or you passing the bathroom mirror shocked by your own reflection, chances are inevitably high that you were led to question your own physical appearance. As a frequent Instagram user and a woman owning multiple mirrors in her apartment, I know that both experiences can be equally painful. But what is it that makes us constantly question our own bodies and compare ourselves to others, whether online or in real life? Beauty standards.
A Woman’s Most Important Asset
This answer might appear simple at first sight, but represents complex societal structures dating back to way before social media was invented. To dive into the problem at hand, it was necessary for me to fill the empty words “beauty standards” with life. Typing the expression into the google search engine, the first entry provided by Wikipedia ( shockingly enough… ) defined the standard of beauty as follows: “the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is one of women’s most important assets and something all women should strive to achieve and maintain”. -Hold on. Let me read this again in case I overlooked something. I didn´t. There it was, in black and white: “women”. I had specifically searched for the general definition of the term, so did this imply that physical ideals do not apply to the male gender?
Clearly, men, and especially male teenagers, can suffer significantly under the pressure of having to look a certain way. However, as shown by Wikipedia´s one-sided definition, many in our society still like to determine a woman’s value on the basis of her looks, whereas for men other factors such as career achievements weigh heavier.
In order to appear attractive on the marriage market, women from less developed countries, such as Sudan or Nigeria, take weight-gain pills, specifically the “appetite stimulant” Apetamin, whose sale is illegal in most countries, to adhere to the current demand for curvier figures. In addition to the moral absurdity underlying this trend, many women risk their health and even face death due to organ failure. Evidently, the underlying issue constitutes the fact that women in these countries depend on being married at an early age with men being the designated financial providers.
Seeing that, luckily, in most western countries, women do not depend on men and marriage as strongly anymore, they are surely less susceptible to the pressure behind beauty ideals, right?
Isn’t the fact that while women on one end of the world are taking weight-gain pills, women on the other side of the equator starve themselves, proof enough for the arbitrariness of the concept of beauty?
Despite the difference in cultures, women from western nations have not yet managed to escape the society-constructed prison called ‘prettiness’. As opposed to African women, in our world, female bodies need to be slim in order to be praised. Isn’t the fact that while women on one end of the world are taking weight-gain pills, women on the other side of the equator starve themselves, proof enough for the arbitrariness of the concept of beauty?
Social media undoubtedly intensifies the problem by distributing photoshopped images of non-existent “perfect” bodies. Seeing that especially young teenagers are akin to becoming victims of the false realities created by Instagram&Co., the internet must be utilized as a tool to spread body positivity messages instead of further perpetuating false and negative ones.
Beauty plays a huge role not only on social media and in romantic relationships, but also on the job market. Why is it that in most countries it is deemed unacceptable to *not* include a photo on your CV? Shouldn´t employees be chosen purely on the basis of their abilities and professional experience?
Redefine Societal Values
You´ll soon come to realize that ( hopefully ) you would never choose your friends based on their looks, so why put so much pressure on your own body?
It is clear that we, as a society, need to rethink and question our values. On a personal scale, ask yourself: would you ever judge a friend on the basis of his or her physical appearance? Are attractive people more valuable to you than others? You´ll soon come to realize that ( hopefully ) you would never choose your friends based on their looks, so why put so much pressure on your own body?
Let us all wake up tomorrow morning and instead of grabbing our phones or scrutinizing ourselves in the mirror, prepare our favorite breakfast – because there is truly no better way to start the day off.
Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash
Edited by: Pritha Ray