Trigger Warning: Mentions of eating disorders anorexia and bulimia
We are all very much aware of the ever-changing beauty standards for women. Over the course of many centuries, women have had their bodies observed and gazed at. It is evident that there has been, and still is, a mounting pressure on women and girls to maintain a certain image of themselves that is deemed to be desirable to society. This has caused people to go to the extremes to conform: from life changing surgeries to skin bleaching and chemical hair relaxers. It has come to light in more recent years how unsustainable this mindset and pressure is, and yet we still find ourselves trying to fit these unattainable standards society has set before us. Is all the time, effort and money really worth it when these standards change almost every decade?
So, body standards are not sustainable, because they are constantly changing! Over 200 years ago, curvaceous body types were seen as the most desirable. 100 years later, thin and frail body types became trendy. Fast forward to today, the ‘slim-thick’ look, popularised by the Kardashians, has become the most popular, with large breasts, a large bottom and a small waist. As the late 90s and early 2000s nostalgia has become trendy, we are starting to see a slight shift towards the thin and frail body type.
We are constantly observing new body standards being set, and in the age of social media and influencer culture, all it takes is for a single figurehead to popularise a certain trend that could change the way society views beauty. Fast fashion brands also play a part; the mass production of clothes is to keep up with the latest fashion trends. When the ‘slim-thick’ look became popularised, brands such as SHEIN and FashionNova mass produced clothes that would fit this specific body type. When fashion brands are creating clothes specifically for certain body types, social media, influencer culture and society forces people to look one way. This often leads to drastic measures to attain the desired body type.
Young women and girls often turn to ‘quick fixes’ to attain the body type that is trendy. The most common and well known is cosmetic surgery. This saw people undergo potentially life-threatening surgeries in order to change certain parts of their bodies. This can range from lip fillers, to breast implants, to Brazilian Butt Lifts (BBL). This generation has also seen a significant rise in eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia in order to quickly lose a large amount of weight to conform to beauty standards. It is too often that because of these unrealistic standards, we see girls as young as eleven and twelve developing eating disorders and having low self-esteem.
A group that should also not go unnoticed are women of colour. They experience the pressure to conform to Eurocentric body standards as a result of European colonialism. It is an unfortunate reality that dark skinned women use skin bleaching products in order to lighten their skin. Skin bleaching is a practice that has transcended the Western world and is a common practice particularly in Asia and Africa. Despite it being so common, evidence has shown that excessive skin bleaching can lead to serious side effects such as cancer and pneumonitis. Another frequent practice, in black women, is chemical hair relaxing; the use of chemicals to straighten Afro-textured hair, which can lead to the burning and scabbing of the scalp and possible alopecia. Women of colour often find themselves bleaching their skin and relaxing Afro- textured hair, not only to conform to Western beauty standards, but also to avoid discrimination in Western cultures and moreso their own.
There is a worrying amount of girls and women who feel the need to conform to beauty standards, so much so that they are willing to compromise their physical health and sometimes their lives. Regardless of this, beauty standards and body standards are still going to change at least every decade, and people will still be expected to follow them. So what is the point? When the standards change, why should we follow it? The lifestyle of trying to conform to societal expectations is expensive, and mentally and physically draining. This is unsustainable, our bodies were not made to change so drastically and so quickly. Instead of comparing ourselves to the influencers that set these trends and to the models on fast fashion sites, we have to learn to appreciate our bodies in their natural form. The love for one’s body will never change but society’s love for other body types will. There is no need to dress to conform, there is no need to alter your body to be seen as desirable, it is much easier and much more satisfying to impress none other than yourself.