The "Be U" in Beauty.
Toxic beauty standards, the perception of beauty through the media and mental health.
'Stand up straight'
'You're too dark'
'Wow, she's SO fair'
'No makeup is just lazy'
'Men don't wear makeup'
'OMG, you're so skinny’
'I'm SO fat'
These are just some phrases we have all heard in our lives, said to us or others. Toxic beauty standards affect us all, male and females.
Due to the mass reach of media in today’s society, the portrayal of these standards has heavily contributed to the perception of beauty. Women need to be fit, yet curvy in the right places. Wear makeup but natural, too much is cakey. Be young and age gracefully. It's a never-ending battle that cannot be won. 227 females surveyed said they compare their own appearance negatively with their peer group and with celebrities (BBC).
But the question that remains: why is it that we struggle to accept our real selves when these so-called “standards” vary so much?
Image editors, such as Photoshop, certainly didn't help our self-esteem. They portray a beauty that is simply not realistic. However, as it started becoming more widely used and we started seeing these “fake” images as realistic, it became ingrained into our minds that this is an achievable standard.
Once upon a time celebrities were looked at as unicorns, people unlike us and out of reach. Incomparable. Slowly this gap has been bridged by social media and the rise of influencers.
Influencers, in particular, seem like regular people we can connect with. The connection falls somewhere between that of distant friends and celebrities, which makes it only too easy to compare (as stated by the social comparison theory).
The standards set by Instagram influencers are more likely to be deemed personally attainable than of celebrities. However, what individuals don’t realise is that most of these influencers have had work done to look a certain way. Brow lifts, Botox, undereye fillers, nose jobs, jawline sculpting, BBL, lip injections are much widely available to the general public. All that is required is a good sum of money and thorough research. Only a handful of them truly reveal their procedures. As a matter of fact, this has led to so many “regular” beings in following these trends to look like them and fit into society’s beauty standards.
Whilst women face their share of toxicity, men are not without struggle. Be superman strong, no makeup, don't use too many products, don't do your eyebrows, but be groomed, have a pristine trim and be macho. In a study, men who reported looking at male #fitspo content more said they compared their own appearance more often and cared more about having muscles (BBC). Not to mention the never-ending stigmas with height, wealth, to be an "alpha" male and look after yourself, be breadwinners, put your woman first, don't show weak emotion, be strong... it goes on and on. The pressure that comes with just being a "man" can start to feel like a burden.
Toxicity doesn’t stop here, it extends to all genders, ages, races, out of control conditions, disabilities and the list goes on. It also varies worldwide. However, it must come to an end and only we can help ourselves. More recently, research from the Mental Health Foundation with more than 4000 participants, found that ‘idealised’ media images are not only undermining our self-confidence, they are also contributing to our poor mental health. It can lead to poorer quality of life, psychological distress, and unhealthy behaviours including eating disorders.
So next time you go to compare, remember that those people on the media, it is their job to look after their bodies. For most of us working 9-5, having to work two/three jobs to put food on the table, we simply do not have the time to spend hours on ourselves every day.
Let's learn to love our authentic selves, so we can help others along their journey too.
Love from FK, to you.