“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: A statement that can be heard many times over, but it seems that it should really say beauty depends in the eye of society.”
Beauty can be defined as a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013). An ideal beauty is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection. The experience of beauty often involves an interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this can be a subjective experience, it is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty). Beauty can be interpreted in many different ways across time and culture but this subjective concept has been adjusted so men and women feel like beauty is objective. We live in a world where we are constantly under scrutiny and conscious about our physical appearance.
Women and men are persistently striving hard to look extremely good and will use variety of different mediums from the cheapest to the most expensive prices to achieve this. Nowadays, a lot of teenagers also struggle through everyday life because they don’t or can’t match up to what everyone (society) wants and demands to see. So therefore, anyone that doesn’t have these ideal and physical beauty that the society demands is considered to be weird, freaks, ugly, or outcasts. Beauty in today’s society is perceived in terms of one’s size and complexion. The notion of beauty in today’s society has been misconstrued to mean slim bodies, flawless skin, etc. Most people think that beauty is just on the surface. This idea is very unhealthy in a sense that it could lead to a very ill judgment. The idea of beauty nowadays is very shallow, inconsiderable and empty. Everybody loves what’s beautiful on the surface, and the moment ‘beauty’ is acknowledged, they think to be in love with it and desire for it.
The fundamental point and purpose of this paper is to enlighten the people that true beauty isn’t just skin deep, to know how society affects the perception of beauty of an individual, and changed the true essence and meaning of beauty.
Beauty, like fashion, is ever-changing. It is a product of its time, and subject to change whenever there is a great historical or cultural shift. Beauty is one of the primary tools people employ to present a specific image of themselves to the world; therefore, it’s obvious that beauty trends give us big clues about the values of that historical time and place. They adapt as people adapt. Today, we pinch, peel and inject to make ourselves beautiful, but thousands of years ago people were doing dangerous and down right gross things to reach the pinnacle of perfection and beauty that society demands.
Cleanliness and beautification were considered as essential practices in ancient Egyptian society. Ancient Egyptians were pioneers in several fields, including the field of beauty, in which they excelled. Physical appearances and good grooming were crucial to maintain for both men and women, especially royalty and the wealthy. So, cosmetics, perfumes, and incenses were used liberally by both genders. Ancient Egypt had very sophisticated cosmetics and application techniques, sourcing ingredients from plants that grew by the Nile, crushed insects for stains, and minerals like malachite. Makeup enhancements were very common: henna served as hair and body dye, kohl (a lead-based make-up, toxic ) darkened the eyebrows and lined eyes in the famous almond shape, and red ochre and carmine colored the cheeks and lips. In fact, we still use a version of the makeup techniques that Egyptians used. (http://lxedit.com/2014/07/28/beauty-standards-through-ages-1/)
The women of Ancient Greece and Rome were as fastidious about their beauty regimes as the Ancient Egyptians. Baths were an important ritual, and like the Egyptians they were obsessed with disguising body odors by smelling fragrant with oils and solid perfumes. Unlike the Egyptians, both civilizations prized fair skin and light-colored hair and eyes. Rudimentary hair lighteners like vinegar, goat fat, beech wood ash, and natural sunlight were reportedly used by Greek and Roman women, though the strong sunlight and their naturally olive complexions suggested that lightness did not come naturally. Elaborate wigs were employed when the desired results couldn’t be achieved.
They also began the dangerous use of lead-based powder to lighten their skin, a practice which would not end until nearly the 19thcentury. Although the application of the product is very dangerous, they need to match up to what everyone (society) wants and demands to see. Beauty standards in these times were all about youthfulness and fertility: beautiful long hair and reddened cheeks and lips. The Romans were a bit bolder with their makeup choices than the Greeks, as they adopted some of the dramatic kohl makeup of the Egyptians, and sometimes used burnt matches to darken their eyes, and a young boy’s urine to fade their freckles. (http://lxedit.com/2014/07/28/beauty-standards-through-ages-1/).
Throughout history women have had to endure horrible things to be deemed beautiful. The ancient tradition of foot binding in China, however, takes the beauty is pain concept to a whole new level. In Ancient China, Foot binding (also known as “Lotus feet”) was the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding). Chinese foot binding is an ancient tradition of beauty and torture, passed from mother to daughter, generation to generation, that lasted for almost 1,000 years. Foot binding was seen as a sign of beauty and attractiveness.
Once a girl was of marriageable age, prospective mother-in-laws would come around and pick a wife for her son by the appearance of the girl’s feet. Foot binding was the act of wrapping a three- to five-year old girl’s feet with binding so as to bend the toes under, break the bones and force the back of the foot together. The bound foot was also a symbol of identity and virtue. A bound foot signified that a woman had achieved womanhood, and served as a mark of her gendered identity. Foot binding was not considered mutilation but a form of adornment, an embellishment to the human body. (https://ispub.com/IJBA/1/2/7565)
Life in the Middle Ages was markedly different from the flourishing societies hundreds of years before. The dominance of Catholicism, and shorter life spans all contributed to the beauty ideal of the young, naturally beautiful and rosy-cheeked virgin. Where women of today idolize celebrities in magazines, during the Medieval period it was the Virgin Mary who reigned supreme. She was memorialized in paintings and sculpture as a youthful woman in her teens, her long flowing hair exposed. Very white skin was the main ideal, which women would achieve with a flour-based paste or lead makeup which is very dangerous and poisonous. While white skin connoted lily-white purity, it also helped disguise a lot of skin imperfections (while unknowingly causing many of them). Because of the popularity of pale skin, it made many European women and even men cut and bleed themselves to achieve it. (http://www.slideshare.net/emilypeng1/history-of-what-society-viewed-as-women-beauty-8005550)
Following in the wake of the Middle Ages came the Renaissance era (15th Century), or the “rebirth” of the region. This began in Florence, Italy and quickly spread to the rest of Europe. During the Renaissance, art and beauty flourished once more, and it was not only considered in vogue but a necessity for women to look their best. The prolific art of the era, such as those drawn by the Renaissance masters portrays the beauty ideal of the time: a full, rounded figure, delicate features, smooth and pale skin, light-colored hair, a very high forehead, and flushed cheeks. Such features were associated with wealth and nobility, which equated to beauty. The upper class ladies of Northern Europe would pluck their hairlines to make their foreheads seem higher, while in Italy, blond hair was a sign of beauty and high class. As a result, women and men attempted to dye their hair by using bleach, saffron/onion skin dye, and sitting under the sun for hours.
England did not hit its stride until nearly the end of the Renaissance when Elizabeth I became queen. The era of her reign is also known as the English Renaissance, and some consider it the golden age of England. Elizabeth I adopted the mantle of “The Virgin Queen” and took serious measures to preserve this, even up to old age. Queen Elizabeth set many of the trends during this era. She popularized elaborate hairstyles (ideally in a shade of blond-red and with a frizzy texture like her own) and having a pale complexion. To do this, they would use white powder called ceruse, a poisonous mixture of white lead and vinegar. The use of this make-up withered the skin, caused sores, and damaged internal organs. As if lead-based make up wasn’t bad enough, arsenic and radiation were later added as well. In the 1600’s women began to wear face powder that was made with arsenic. Health effects has been linked to a number of cancers including bladder, lungs, skin, nasal passages, and more.
Women in Italy also were in the habit of applying eyedrops of poisonous belladonna to their eyes to make them sparkle, which could lead to vision loss over time (http://lxedit.com/2014/07/28/beauty-standards-through-ages-1/). Wearing headdresses along with huge wigs also symbolizes beauty and wealth. Instead of hair gel and spray, lard was used to sculpt wigs in the 1800’s. The lard would attract rats and often these wigs would become infested with them. The wig was attached to a woman’s real hair, which they would leave on for weeks. Sleeping with cages over their wigs became popular to avoid a rat infestation.
In the 19th Century, women advocated a modest and natural beauty which means less use of cosmetics. In this century, beauty was all about what was on the inside: as long as your insides were pure, virtuous, and knew their place as a woman. The reign of Victoria brought about an era of modesty, morality, and a life devoted to conservative religious values. The elaborate cosmetics, hairstyles, and fashions of previous eras were now considered vulgar. If you wore bold makeup during this time, you were either an actress or a prostitute, none of whom were considered respectable women. Victorian beauty standards dictated that women appear pale, meek, and delicate creatures – it helps that the restrictive corsets of the time led to a lot of swooning.
Hairstyles were very modest as updos and soft curls were the norm, and if respectable women wore makeup it was with a very light touch, and in soft natural colors. Of course, fair skin was still prized and Victorian women went through great lengths to keep their skin pale to the point of looking sickly. Cold creams scented with rose and pomades made of lard and herbs kept skin smooth and hydrated. The Industrial Age would bring on the rise of mass-produced cosmetics and skincare, such as Pond’s with their famous cold cream, and the arrival of subsequent brands would change the landscape of beauty in the next century (http://lxedit.com/2014/07/28/beauty-standards-through-ages-1/).
During the Roaring Twenties (1920s), societal trends reacted against the puritanical Victorian standards of beauty. Popular new short “bobbed,” waved or shingled hairstyles symbolized the growing freedom of women. The impact of cinema was felt for the first time, as women increasingly took their beauty cues from film stars such as Louise Brooks and Clara Bow. The heavy use of makeup also returned to fashion in this era. Generally, white women applied pale powder and cream rouge circles to the cheeks, plucked their eyebrows and penciled in thin arches, and painted their lips very red, emphasizing the cupid’s bow of the upper lip.
Fashion-conscious white men wore their hair parted in or near the center and slicked back with brilliantine — an oily, perfumed substance that added shine and kept hair in place. This look was popularized by screen idols such as Rudolph Valentino. Some African-American males adopted the “conk,” a hairstyle popularized by entertainer Cab Calloway. The conk was an attempt to straighten the hair and was accomplished by enduring a truly painstaking process of “relaxing” with a solution dominated by lye. (http://www.ukhairdressers.com/history%20of%20beauty.asp)
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood starlets continued to set the trends in women’s fashion. Longer, more feminine hairstyles became popular again, and women immediately copied Bette Davis’ curls, Betty Grable’s topknot with ringlets, and Rita Hayworth’s gleaming waves. Veronica Lake created a sensation by wearing a lock of hair that covered one eye. The hairstyle that most symbolized the era, however, was parted on the side, with soft curls falling over the shoulder. Also, for the first time, tanned skin (for both men and women) began to be perceived as a symbol of high class — again showing the influence of screen stars on standards of beauty. Men continued to wear their hair short and often slicked back with oil, and skinny, trimmed mustaches were popularized by stars such as Errol Flynn. (http://www.ukhairdressers.com/history%20of%20beauty.asp)
In the 1980s the “age of excess” was easily translated into hairstyles, in general — the bigger, the better. Pop stars such as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper popularized a style that included heavy makeup with vibrant neon colors and intentionally messed-up and off-colored hair. Michael Jackson sported the “jheri curl,” a sparkling wet-looking, heavily processed version of the Afro. Decidedly less audacious middle-class white teen-age boys adapted the punk-influenced spiked hairstyle, which sometimes included a small braid at the back of the neck (the “rat tail”). Androgyny also made a stunning impact in the ’80s, from Sinead O’Connor’s shaved head to heavy metal “hair bands” with their makeup and explosion of long, dyed hair. In opposition to these trends, a neoconservative “preppy” look was also in, popularizing traditional short hairstyles for men and women.
Today’s perception of Beauty is molded by society. By the advertising, fashion, and cosmetic industries. We live in a society of billboards and ads, Photoshop, and Botox. We are trained to believe that size two is perfect, while most healthy women in America fit into a size 12, and the true meaning and essence of Beauty slowly fades away.(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/temimah-zucker/aging-and-beauty-_b_5134228.html) The media can greatly affect young people’s health. The media broadcasts its perception of what is attractive and young people (both boys and girls) are susceptible to feeling the effects of that. Young people can develop a distorted self-image which could lead to eating disorders, depression, or an unhealthy obsession with working out. You can’t turn on the television or flip through a magazine without being bombarded with advertisements for weight loss pills, home gyms, and shake weights. Women are airbrushed on the cover of magazines to hide flaws. This creates an unrealistic and unhealthy image of beauty.
When we open a magazine, we never see some 400-pound woman on the first page. Instead we see a woman who is 23% skinnier than an average woman, with her beautiful and flawless face. Many magazines (especially those for teens) offer content about how to look good. These magazines include three things that can affect body image. First, articles about appearance; these articles often include information on how get “perfect” abs muscles, advice on how to apply makeup, and tips on what to wear. Second, advertisements; magazines often include ads for beauty and hair products, clothing and perfume.
Many of these ads feature women that are underweight and men who are overly muscular. Then, the photos; most photos in magazines are altered so that wrinkles, fat, and pores disappear. Readers only see perfect and unrealistic bodies represented. One study found that 70% of teen girls and as well as boys agreed that magazines strongly influenced what they thought was the ideal body type. Seeing all this content related to appearance can make children and teens feel badly. When they compare their developing bodies to the images in magazines, they might feel depressed that they do not look like what they see. While most of the body image research has looked at how magazines affect girls, research is beginning to show that boys are affected by magazine images as well. (http://cmch.tv/parents/)
The Internet and social media provide a platform for women to seek out images of what they want to look like, a place for women to search for diet and exercise advice, as well as a an outlet through which women can perform outward comparisons with their peers and celebrities. Social networks may not create new problems for women, but they do certainly intensify existing ones. Social media has made constant the ability to critique and analyze bodies in such a way that promotes body dissatisfaction, constant body surveillance, and disordered thoughts – all of these factors that can potential leading to very serious eating disorders. (http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1749&context=cmc_theses)
Today, as advertising and socializing have begun to merge, our lives have become photo heavy – basing much of our judgments on what we see on the screen of our computers or smartphones. The Internet and social media have become more ubiquitous, so the line between the virtual and the real is blurred even more. Now, the perfect female body is not only on the billboard down the street or in the commercial on TV, but is strategically, yet seamlessly placed in our social networks.
The slender, yet big breasted and flawless figure is intertwined with photos of our peers on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, the body type is even replicated amongst ordinary people, not only models and actresses. This unachievable ideal is deceivingly normalized through social media, but is still misleadingly achievable. Comparisons have only become stronger and more powerful, and as a result, more and more drastic measures have been taken to reach a certain ideal. There are now thousands of young girls who post “selfies” on their social networks – “selfies” that are not airbrushed. Girls are attempting to achieve unhealthy body weights that they see in digitally edited photos in advertisements and replicating them on their own social media profiles.
Although the ultimate goal of advertisements is to sell a product, and social networks are, as stated in their title, “social,” both technologies communicate ideals: what we want to be like, whom we want to be with, and what we want to have . So, then, it is not that surprising that as the woman in advertising has decreased in size, so has the real woman tried even harder to reach that size. Are people unknowingly succumbing to the same dangers and corruptions that are raised by advertising through their peers on Instagram and Facebook? After establishing the critical role that advertising plays in the lives of women, I think it is logical to assume that female body image will be similarly affected by other types of media. As the thin ideal portrayed in the media has quickly decreased in size, often due to photo editing software like Photoshop, more women have participated in extreme dieting habits. This is very horrible if social networking sites will exacerbate this problem.
The perception of beauty is forced upon people in society from an early age through Cartoons and Animated Films. Firstly in children’s literature, Adams (1985) argued that children have become accustomed to hearing fairy tales, whether they are in books read before bedtime or in films. These stories continuously associate ugliness with bad and beauty with good (cited in Bull and Rumsey, 1988). This can be applied to the well-known story of Cinderella (1950), a beautiful girl living with her stepmother and two ‘ugly’ stepsisters. The stepmother and stepsisters mistreat Cinderella and make her do all the chores so they are instantly portrayed as bad people and their appearance is associated with this. Then towards the end, Cinderella finds her prince at the ball and lives happily ever after, implying that good things only happen to beautiful people. In addition to this, another popular fairy tale is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which is about a young girl who is poisoned by her jealous stepmother, the evil queen.
Weitz (1998) argued that when the evil queen said if who is the fairest of them all. She is not asking a simple question; it has a much deeper meaning. The evil queen is battling with her loss of beauty and the thought of someone else being more beautiful than her. It shows that beauty is not just a physical entity but also a symbol for power and position. Not only is the evil queen getting older and losing the features that made her look young and attractive, she feels that on (Evil Stepsisters, Cinderella, n.d.) (Evil Queen Gives Snow White Poisonous Apple, n.d.)8 top of this, she is losing her power as queen to her stepdaughter. Therefore, this sense of jealousy causes the queen to poison Snow White so she can continue to be the ruler of the land. This children’s fairy tale conveys the impression that you should do whatever it takes to be beautiful even if it means hurting someone else.
However, the famous novelist, Roald Dahl had contrasting ideas of beauty. In his book The Twits (2007), he put a lot of emphasis on inner beauty, as opposed to external beauty. This book is very positive for children as it suggests that people who have good thoughts are beautiful. External features such as the length of hair, the size of eyes and the shape of nose are not important when considering who is beautiful. In my opinion, this is a very key issue for children to be educated about rather than external beauty and consumer products such as make up. Secondly, the societal standards of beauty are enforced on children through toys. The Barbie doll has dominated the consumer market for toys for over fifty years, Barbie is so pervasive in contemporary popular culture that she hardly requires description (Toffoletti, 2007: 57). As one of the best-selling fashion dolls, the Barbie doll can be very influential on impressionable children.
According to Dittmar, Halliwell and Ive (2006), girls exposed to images of Barbie dolls reported lower body esteem and a greater desire for a thinner body shape in comparison to girls exposed to Emme dolls, a US size 16, and no dolls. The Barbie doll covertly enforces the expectations of society in relation to beauty onto children. The Barbie doll has a large variety of clothes, shoes and other commercial goods along with an endless list of different careers. One example of how the Barbie doll negatively affects children is the creation of the Slumber Party Barbie in 1965. Her accessories were a set of bathroom scales permanently set on to 110lbs and a book titled ‘How to Lose Weight’, which only contained one instruction – ‘Don’t eat’ (De Lacey, 2012). Furthermore, the book that contains the phrase ‘don’t eat’ is very unrealistic, as it is widely known that forcing yourself to miss meals can be very dangerous, as the body needs fuel to function. The Barbie doll is targeted at children and if they are able to identify with their dolls, they are more likely to be influenced by them or even consider them as role models.
Most of the children who have these dolls do not already know that her figure is unachievable and would therefore; want to conform in order to have a similar appearance to Barbie’s. The only way they could try and attempt this is by using the means Barbie uses: not eating. Children are impressionable so by playing with this doll, they unconsciously become aware of what is expected of them, in regards to beauty, from society. In my opinion, just as the pretend baby dolls that little girls play with condition them for their future role as a mother, the Barbie doll conditions young girls for what is expected of their future appearance. It is sending the message that beauty is the main priority and girls should use any means to achieve it, even if it leads to being unhealthy.
Sometimes, because of your ‘not so blessed’ physical appearance some will just drop a comment at your photo and say something unpleasant. Cyberbullying occurs when a child or teen threatens, harasses or humiliates a peer using electronic technology, or is the victim of such actions. Modes of cyberbullying include e-mail, texting, instant messaging, social networking sites, and other mobile apps and websites. With so many children and teens online or using digital devices, it is understandable that 1 in 4 youth say that they have experienced hurtful behaviors online. Research has shown that cyberbullying can affect a child’s mental, physical and emotional health. (http://cmch.tv/parents/cyberbullying/)
For anyone who are not blessed with physical beauty they could become shunned, called names, pushed around, or physically harmed. (This is usually more of a guy thing). Either way it’s considered bullying. Most people that society deems ‘odd’ are just misunderstood, but that doesn’t stop them from being beautiful. Beauty has gone from personality based, to know only based on looks which really brings pain to those not blending in. Honestly everyone is beautiful and should be praised on their good traits instead of always being put down due to one little flaw. More than anything, it can lower your self-esteem to always have people tell you how ugly you are.
Instagram and Tumblr are two other types of social media that are widely used today and both are concerned with posting pictures. People will post pictures of anything from the outfits that they are wearing to photographs of their meals. With approximately 90 million blogs and 89 million new posts every day (Savitz, 2013), Tumblr users are exposed to a vast amount of pictures. Users can reblog the pictures and posts they like and agree with onto their own blogs. Instagram is a very similar concept but is only available for iPhone and Android users. Both Instagram and Tumblr have a popularity feature, for example, if you are user who has lots of followers, you would be considered ‘Tumblr famous’. On Instagram, there is a ‘popular page’ for people who get a large amount of likes very quickly.
The idea of popularity can be (Warning: Reflections, n.d.) interpreted negatively, especially for people who post personal pictures. When people compare the pictures they post of themselves with others who have more ‘likes’, The development of insecurity will occur. If a person feels like he/she cannot compare himself/herself to the ideals shown in magazines and advertisements, he/she will identify himself/herself as undesirable and believe he/she is not physically fit and beautiful, therefore he/she can develop insecurity.
Continuous development of insecurity will often lead to eating disorders. The types of eating disorders include; Anorexia nervosa, in which you become too thin, but you don’t eat enough because you think you are fat. Next is Bulimia nervosa, which involves periods of overeating followed by purging, sometimes through self-induced vomiting or using laxatives. Lastly, Binge-eating, which is out-of-control eating (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/eatingdisorders.html)
Eating disorders are the most deadly mental illness and statistics show that various media outlets are partially implicit. This infographic displays the disparity between the way the media presents a physically “ideal” woman and the actual average woman. These statistics reveal that the way that the fashion and advertising industries influence women’s self-image. From an early age we are bombarded with images and messages that reinforce the idea that to be happy and successful we must be thin. It is nearly impossible to open a newspaper or magazine, listen to the radio, shop at a mall or turn on a TV without being confronted with the message that to be fat is to be undesirable. The most frightening part is that this destructive message is reaching kids.
When adolescents feel as though their breasts, weight or hips don’t match up to those of supermodels and actors, they feel fatally flawed. Sadly, even children of elementary school age nowadays are obsessed over their weight. (http://www.raderprograms.com/causes-statistics/media-eating-disorders.html) Because of this mindset, baring in their minds that starving themselves will make them look more beautiful and physically fit, and soon to be accepted by the eyes of society, there’s a big possibility that all of these will lead to psychological illnesses like depression and later on, suicide. (http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-recognizing-signs-of-suicide) Nowadays people couldn’t escape his/her teenage years without enduring some beauty pressure. In a teenage girl’s situation if she can’t shave her legs and doesn’t have those perfect shade of frosty-pink lipsticks, she would think that she’s consigned to social oblivion forever.