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The Evolving Beauty Standards Of Reality Television

The unrealistic and toxic expectations established by America's Next Top Model

A model walking on the catwalk at a fashion show
Photo by Pixabay | @pexels

The early 2000s was a conflation of iconic pop culture moments; from unforgettable dance hits to questionable fashion choices, the 2000s are looked back at as a time of romanticized nostalgia and naivety.

However, looking back from a modern perspective, it's apparent that many of us were blissfully unaware that we were caught in the crossfires of a uniquely judgmental and fat-phobic time in pop culture. Our formative years were shaped by unrealistic beauty standards coming from every direction - particularly on our televisions.

One particular show that contributed massively to women becoming victims of unrealistic beauty ideals was America's Next Top Model. Premiering in 2003, young women competed in front of Tyra Banks for the title of Top Model, being judged entirely on physical appearance and (implicitly) weight.

The Indoctrination of Top Model

This show not only established a smaller petite figure as the standard of beauty and the physical manifestation of hard work and dedication, but it also equated appearance with value. Young women were praised for being thin and tall, while others were critiqued and inevitably kicked off the show when they expressed discomfort with conforming to Tyra's very particular standards of beauty.

Many of the photo shoot from a contemporary perspective have been deemed incredibly controversial, despite being show dedicated to expanding beauty standards and empowering women. From depicting dangerous eating disorders to having the models switch races and ethnicity, America's Next Top Model has consistently pushed a narrow and suffocating depiction of beauty.

By constantly forcing the models to change their appearances and submit to specific beauty standards, the show implicitly shows its mostly young female audience a distorted definition of 'normality', portraying pale and thin as the paradigm of femininity.

Reality Television Today

Despite all of this, much progress has been made in leaving the unprecedented expectations of beauty in the past, as we strive towards an understanding of body diversity and acceptance that was not present in the early 2000s.

Magazines and TV shows are beginning to show a wider variety of body types in their photos, as well as including transgender women in their campaigns. The necessity to be perfect at all times is beginning to dissipate as an emphasis is being placed on relatability rather than unattainable beauty ideals.

The world is finally realizing that size is not a determining factor of beauty and that being unapologetically yourself will never go out of style.


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