Beauty Standards and Us
Being a woman is hard.
We are paid less, we are routinely harassed, and even in this day and age we still take up the lion’s share of housework and childcare.
Oh, and the entire time we are doing any of the above our appearances are constantly being scrutinised.
We have to look beautiful, but of course, we can’t look like we tried too hard in case we come across as desperate. Think a ‘no make-up’ make up look. We have to be slim and dainty, but large boobs and an ass to rival kimmy k is a positive. And it goes without saying, we can’t be surgically inhanced, that would make us ‘fake’. No- we we need to achieve this all naturally. But god forbid anyone see the hours of work you put in at the gym, that would be too high-maintenance! We are simply just God’s favourite Sim and woke up like this hun.
The irony of this all is, that in trying to become this illusion of a ‘perfect woman’, we forget that we are trying to emulate has never been real.
In some sense, we know that these photos are all edited, and many of those models have had the help of the surgeons knife, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. It is only when we have the ability to peek behind the curtain of our beauty standards that this all changes.
This Oz moment all became clear to me when I started travelling.
Peeking behind the beauty standards curtain
The first time I really clocked that what was ‘beautiful’ was different around the world was in Thailand. I was in the most amazing Thai shopping mall perusing the different instant noodle flavours because you can’t buy taste. Noodles, noodles and more noodles. It was my version heaven! I went up to pay and whilst I was looking at the impulse buy face masks, I realised something. Every single one lightened your skin.
Now in England I spent years fake-tanning to try and pretend I lived in a country with some semblance of a sun. So the skin-lightening was a pretty weird concept, but I figured it was a one off. It wasn’t there first, nor the last time, that I had seen some pretty weird things in shops abroad.
But now that I had seen it once, I saw it everywhere. Massive commercials on the highway about snail ‘lightening’ products. Every single model in an any advert was so pale. And all the beauty products, including deodorant, lightened your skin. Pale skin was in. This was the beauty standards.
In fact, it seemed any sort of ‘western’ feature was in. I remember travelling up to Laos with my then boyfriend. He was a pretty tall guy, and he was pale with light eyes. People stopped us to ask for photos with their children… on multiple occasions. At a lake, at a train station it didn’t matter.
I remember I thought it was kind of weird, because we weren’t exactly off the beaten track. White people were everywhere and this town was not new to Western tourists. It seemed that he was an adonis or something in South-East Asia.
Bienvenidos a Nicaragua
And then my next stop Central America.
I had come from a country where Kate Moss, thigh gaps and visible rib cages were all the rage. And I was a woman in my early twenties, so unsurprisingly, my beauty standards were a bit fucked.
And I had just landed in Central America…. In the land where big booties, juicy thighs and sensuality were the catch of the day. It felt like a fucking revolution!
All this time, I had been sold these very specific beauty ideals. That to be a tall blonde waif was the only way to be beautiful. And here I was in a country were people complimented me on my thighs.
My thighs that touched together? The same thighs that *gasp* had cellulite? My thighs that I had convinced myself were so hideous that I refused to wear anything other than a skirt in the depths of winter because it was more ‘flattering’?
I was quite frankly confused.
And yet nothing about me had changed, and if anything, I was eating more than ever *. My body hadn’t changed, but my environment had.
*that gallo pinto is just too tasty!
And then I realised. I was just being sold a different model of what was ‘beautiful’. This model may have been more inclusive, but it was still just another bullshit ideal. And this realisation was liberating, it gave me an insight. There was nothing wrong with me. There was something wrong with the society that I was living in. So why was I allowing my life to be ruled by a metric that was all made-up anyway?
For the first time in my life, I had accepted myself. I stopped standing bow-legged in photos to try and fake a thigh gap. Tight dresses became an option, even if I had eaten a proper dinner!! I was letting go of the beauty standards. I was embracing being a woman.
Even at the time, I was cognisant of this change, and I distinctly remember being worried about what would happen to my self esteem when I landed back in a country where every song was not about nalgas or culo. When I returned to a place where I did not fit the beauty standards.
I return to being ‘curvy’ again in Los Angeles.
Hopped off the plane in LAX with a dream and a cardigan (big up Miley). Except without a dream, and I had lost my only cardigan.
Now, if there is one place in the world that exemplifies the societal pressure we feel it is Hollywood. Hollywood, the land that told that Jennifer Laurence was too ‘fat’ to be hired and where women over 40 getting a leading role is equivalant to seeing Bigfoot.
As soon as I had landed I could feel the difference. I had gone back to being the ‘curvy’ girl.
But this time although the beauty standard was different, so was I.
Being ‘curvy’ or ‘skinny’ or ‘beautiful’ was all a matter of perspective. My weight had not changed from one country the next, nor had my face. The only difference was the standards.
And guess what, they were unrealistic in every single country.
The Bullshit of Beauty Standards
Nicaraguan women are naturally beautiful. Thick dark wavey hair falls over their caramel skin. And yet I constantly saw foreign women getting complimented on their pale skin, their light hair. I remember hearing people say how they liked ‘blanquitas’. I saw how my Nicaraguan friends looked down on wavey hair and always insisted on straightening their own. The advertisements I saw were full of women with bleached hair, pale skin and light contact lenses. And when I went to the ‘fancy’ mall in the capital, the shops were full of furry winter coats, which in tropical heat, must have served purely as an aspirational purchase.
I had never viewed beauty standards so clearly before. I was so used to just seeing everything as adverts, fashion or tv, that I was not seeing the messages behind it. But entering into an entirely new society allowed to me to view things from a distance. I saw behind the smokescreen.
And when I came back to England this distance did not go. It felt like I was seeing everything fresh for the first time. Everything felt foreign.
In a country an ever-increasing obesity problem, we fetishize being skinny.
I was once again surrounded by women who would only eat when other people ate. Like we need permission to give our body nutrition. A woman enjoying food was no longer seen as something natural, something sexy. I ate a doughnut at work and a male manager made a comment about me enjoying it ‘too’ much. A comment that served as a warning that if I continued to eat like that I might not be ‘attractive’ anymore. Going out for a big meal was constantly accompanied with comments about exercising heavily the next day, or about eating nothing that day to justify eating a large portion. I was back in diet culture and it felt disgusting.
It felt like everything around me was so casually perpetuating this awful mindset. This mindset that I had worked so hard to get rid of.
The Paradox of Beauty Standards
Our beauty standards thrive off the fact that the average person does not fit the ideal. Though the beauty standards may change from country to country, the fact remains that it is largely unrealistic.
Take the USA as an example/ To look like an ‘Instagram Baddie’ likely requires some form of investment, that is, unless you are naturally born with a ski-jump nose, large ‘foxy’ eyes, Eastern-European bone structure, hair that defies limits, permanently tanned skin, long skinny legs, a Kim K ass, a waist that seems inhumanly small, and of course lips that would give Kylie Jenner a run for her money.
Genuinely how many people are naturally born looking like this? I can’t imagine it is that many. But don’t worry, there is a solution! Endless beauty products and cosmetic surgery. Yes that’s right, don’t worry that you aren’t ‘perfect’, you can just buy it all!
Sales famously works off of identifying the problem, and selling a solution. But what an amazing tactic- you don’t even need to find problems now, you can just make them up. We had never even heard of hip-dips, banana-butts or ’11 lines’ ten years ago. But now there is an ever growing list of everything ‘wrong’ with you.
These wild beauty standards profit off the fact that no one can achieve them. By selling the idea that what we look like naturally is wrong, it makes us more inclined to buy things to ‘fix’ this. And the more this beauty standard differs from the average person, the more profit can be made. Therefore, is it any surprise that our beauty ideals tend to the look the opposite of what people actually look like?
“In a society that profits from your self doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act”
And when I realised that our beauty standards had very little to with beauty, and a lot more to do with marketing and making money, it became a lot easier to stop caring.
For example, I have been blessed with a large-ish nose. A gift from my Eastern European heritage. I got the strength of my ancestors, the resilience, and of course, my nose.
My nose always used to bother me. I stuck out and I constantly got asked questions about my heritage. In a world of ski-jump noses and Kelly Kapowskis on TV I had been convinced that my nose was ugly. That no nose could be pretty unless it was small, petite and euro-centric. I even remember being convinced that before I got married, I would have a nose-job so that it looked good in photos. Afterall, God forbid I look anything like myself for my wedding day.
But much like all these weird body hangups, I realised this nose thing was just internalised bullshit once again. Everything in the media was telling me that my nose was ugly, but was it?
I don’t think so. I love it.
The Real T
Travelling has given me so many things over the years. Friendships I treasure, beautiful memories, stories that make me laugh and smile to this day. But is also gave me freedom. And I am not talking geographically. It gave me freedom of mind.
It allowed me to see how other people live. That I don’t need to feel trapped into a certain type of job, because I’ve seen people do all sorts of weird shit to make a living. Or that having a certain type of house or car isn’t essential. That there are lots of people in the world who feel the way that I do, even if they are a little harder to find.
It allowed me to see that so much of what I had been told in media, in school, and by our society at large was bullshit. It opened my mind up so that I could decide what I thought. So that I could decide what was beautiful to me.
I decided that I love my thighs. They are strong, they allow me to run, to balance, to dance. They keep me upright and moving. And that is a privilege. I decided that I love my nose. It is the nose of my ancestors. My nose is the rich history of my culture. It is all the family members I love and cherish. And I would never want to wipe that off my face for the sake of fitting in. I decided that I am beautiful just the way that I am.
Every part of me tells a story, of my life, of my ancestors’ life. It is one big jumbled puzzle and that puzzle is me. And as I visited destinations more exotic that the next, I realised, I would not swap that jumbled puzzle for the world.
Song of the day
Today’s Song of the day is of course Beautiful by Doja Cat. Doja Cat is a woman that beautifully demonstrates complete self acceptance and self love. And this song is the eptiome of this!
If you liked this blog and want to read more why not check our some of my most recent posts-