Is it finally the beginning of the end for outdated beauty standards?
Attempting to keep up with a new fashion trend every other week is exhausting, trying to keep up with the ever-changing ‘ideal’ body type is just impossible. So, why do we still try?
Leaving it in the past
Throughout history, we have seen countless trends of music, clothing, makeup, food, and many more coming and going in conjunction with society’s changing needs and wants. All can be constantly adjusted and produced to the consumers’ demands. Women’s bodies are viewed in the same way as these trends, like products expected to come out of a factory looking like the ‘perfect’ woman of the time.
A video by Buzzfeed shows women’s ideal body types as determined by society throughout history. Going as far back as 300 B.C. Ancient Greece, to the Italian Renaissance (1400-1700) when beauty meant a rounded body with full hips and breasts, in contrast to the roaring 20’s when a narrow, boyish look was favoured, then back to curvy with slim waists just ten years later, by the 60’s the slender frame was back in. These fluctuating body type trends continue and have been getting increasingly more unrealistic ever since. In the 2000s alone women have faced higher expectations than ever no doubt due to the rise of social media, thinking about my time as a teenager one moment I was told supermodel skinny was attractive then I blink and it’s the Kim K hourglass everyone wants. So who knows what body will be ‘in’ next month.
It seems crazy that we even attempt to keep up considering what is being demanded, but can you blame us? It’s not like we are born with the goal to look a certain way, but it becomes inevitable from a lifetime of being told by society what is deemed attractive. As author Florence Given puts it in her book 'Women Don't Owe You Pretty':
“We live in a society which prioritises our desirability over everything else… life is easier when we reflect societies idea of beauty”.
Resulting in women trying everything to fit the beauty standards and still never being enough for society. We are told to lose weight, gain weight, go to the gym, too muscly, get surgery, and look natural.
The list goes on. We've had enough.
So, are we finally done conforming?
Over the past few years, there has been a visible shift in brands' attitudes towards body image, incorporating the body positivity and neutrality movement into their campaigns in an attempt to combat toxicity surrounding the beauty standards they once maintained.
The body positivity social movement refers to having a positive view of how your body looks no matter what size or shape and appreciating your appearance even if it isn’t up to society’s made-up standards.
Whilst this is arguably a huge step in the right direction, it raises the question of whether it’s just a new marketing opportunity or the beginning of the end for beauty standards.
A wide range of brands incorporated the movement into their campaigns, some more successful than others. The Dove 2004 real beauty advertisement arose after surveying women across the globe and finding only 2% considered themselves beautiful, which after looking at the history of how high society has set the bar for beauty isn’t a surprising result. Dove saw this as an opportunity to inspire women to challenge the way we view beauty. The change in brand attitudes contributed to an increase in marginalised identities being represented in the media. However, the sincerity of the movement began to get polluted over on social media where Instagram vs reality-type posts started blurring the lines between movement and trend.
Mental health and plus-sized fashion influencer Raffela Mancusi was one of many to call out the flaws:
“I can’t use angles to shrink myself into fitting society’s unattainable beauty standards. Fuck the Instagram facade; it only serves those who profit off the insecurities of others.”
Despite the powerful message of the movement it has downsides. The main focus is appearance, and whilst being body positive, it fails to be body inclusive. Leaving women feeling pressure to love their bodies at all times. Another unrealistic expectation.
Following the criticisms of the body positivity movement, body neutrality emerged around 2015, moving the focus away from physical appearance and instead appreciating what your body can do. Psychologist Dr. Alberts explains:
“As the term suggests, it is neither loving nor hating your body. It’s based on the notions of acceptance and having respect for one’s body rather than love."
Breaking the trend cycle
Okay, what next? We can confidently say there has been a positive change. But it doesn't stop there.
Both movements have faced difficulties with catering to everyone, ironically because of one of the main reasons they exist, all women are different. No single movement or set of values is going to work for everybody. Telling someone you need to feel this way about your body is hardly progress from telling people your body needs to look like this.
If we continue looking at women and their bodies as they’ve been viewed throughout history, like a trend, there will be no change. Each woman has their own thoughts, opinions, and feeling, even more so when it comes to their body. A new approach to the issue is needed, celebrating differences instead of assuming one movement will make everyone change their mindset.
Incorporate whatever values of these movements work for you, and remember the main message that we are so much more than our appearance. Together we can finally remove the power society has to control how we feel about our own bodies, In hope of future generations never being victim to the phrase 'ideal body type' again.