Beauty Standards – The Role of Social Media

“Multi-Ethnic Beauty. Different Ethnicity Women – Caucasian, African, Asian.” Multiethnic Beauty Different Ethnicity Women Caucasian Stock Photo (Edit Now) 1028011084. Accessed November 14, 2019.

Social media is becoming an ever-present facet of life for a significant proportion of the population, particularly the youth of today. It is supremely uncommon to find a teenager without an Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter account. Social media has become one of the defining aspects of our generation, for better or for worse. On one hand, the internet has provided a greater scope for imagination and connection than ever before and is a vast well of knowledge and human experiences. It has greatly accelerated the globalisation of our world and for many is a doorway to new relationships, cultures, and opportunities. However, the mental and physical toll that it may be having on adolescents is far less innocent and wholesome.

As social media is entirely visual, it is no surprise that it would be placing more focus and pressure on appearances. Editing applications like Photoshop and Facetune have become normalised as people erase blemishes on their faces, slim their waists, or enlarge their bottoms to an alarming degree of accuracy. People can smooth their photos over until the figure that remains is almost unrecognisable to the one you would actually see, but this can have a hugely degrading effect on young girls that perceive this as reality. Sure, beauty standards and expectations have been hot topics in society for many years now, but now with the rise of social media beauty has almost become its own sub-culture. Millions of cosmetic advertisements, huge numbers of video tutorials on how to achieve that specific eyeliner wing, hundreds upon hundreds of fitness specialist Youtubers, and of course, the endless supply of highly edited, seemingly perfect photos streaming into your feed, timeline, or whichever social media platform. These aspects all contribute to the often suffocating beauty ideals that we struggle to conform to. The majority of this content is either created by or directed towards women, and the effect of this constant barrage of pressure about our own bodies is very apparent in the attitudes of young women towards their body image. A survey conducted by the popular personal care brand Dove in 2016 found that approximately 20% of women in the UK feel confident in their bodies[1]. This indicates the severity of low body-esteem and the burdens women feel because of social media, with many citing the “unrealistic standards” determined by media and advertising as the most serious issues. While also experienced by men, low body-confidence is evidently an overwhelmingly female struggle, and the demand on women to remain thin, young, and pretty is stronger than ever.

In this new age of beauty standards and social media activism, body positivity is now being spread as a tool to combat low self-esteem in women. The inclusion of plus-size models such as Ashley Graham as well as various hashtags (such as #nomakeup) seemingly mean to oppose the body conformity normalised in our increasingly visual culture. Indeed, less focus is being placed on the effort to become beautiful in campaigns by beauty companies, who instead have pivoted to the belief that the beauty industry is not one focused on appearance, but rather on wellness. Now, being beautiful, or ‘fit’, is an indication of ethical prowess and mental fortitude. This is demonstrated by the increasing number of companies focusing their ethos on the promotion of ‘wellness’, when it is clearly a business model focused on the perceived aesthetic improvement of women. The astronomically popular SoulCycle frames their business as a primarily moral endeavor, stating: “With every pedal stroke, our minds clear and we connect with our true and best selves”, similar to Weight Watchers who have begun offering “lifestyle solutions” instead of diet tips.  This conclusively sums up our culture’s new relationship to beauty standards – pressures women have to be beautiful are not being addressed with the dismantling of these beauty standards but is rather being combated by beauty-standard denialism.

As political correctness has taken off, the promotion of these concepts (like body positivity and the expansion of the beauty ideal to fit in more diverse body types) are being capitalised on by celebrities and corporations in a disturbing exhibition of corporate feminism. By doing this, we ignore the internalised beauty ideals, and almost begin obsessing over the attempts to meet it, painting the struggles that women go through as simply an effort to become healthier and thus more successful in life. It also places the onus on women to improve their self-esteem, as new beauty mandate reflects many examples of corporate messaging; that all women need is confidence to be beautiful.  These beliefs, which have popularised themselves in pop feminism, signify the attempt by social media to lessen body confidence issues, yet they fail to do anything ground-breaking or remotely effective in terms of improving the crisis of women’s body confidence. Instead, the message of body positivity has been hijacked by corporations that instilled these insecurities in women in the first place, under the false pretence that it simply comes down to women choosing to improve their self-esteem, rather than being pressured by a world that values good looks more than it likes to admit it does. Nobody can achieve perfection, so we should make the effort to lessen pressure on the expectation that a woman must be beautiful and unassuming – that people must promote both feminism and outdated ideas of femininity.