The impact of the beauty ideal

THE CONCERN

Beauty is a contested term. It is idealised by the media (that is to say, everything from broadcast and internet media to communications and advertising), not to mention sustained by the fashion, cosmetic, celebrity and beauty culture, and neglected by key social institutions that have become disempowered to make a lasting positive impact. Over time, it is slowly but strongly becoming apparent that what used to be seen as harmless and innocent marketing, audience-targeting, and supposedly “life-enhancing” strategies, have since been exposed as destructive, powerful and manipulative. The ideal of beauty has been projected into the hearts, lives and minds of people, particularly females, from an increasingly young and as always impressionable age, to result in an idealised version of beauty that is disturbingly distorted and far from the truth.

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

The beauty ideal is a normative assumption and assertion that beautiful is something to obtain, rather than something inherent in everyone; something to criticise, rather than something to embrace; something to be envious of, rather than something to celebrate. Beauty is now asserted as a homogeneous ideal, such that unique and wide-ranging visions and realities of beauty are made to appear abnormal and deviant, given little coverage in the media, and hardly encouraged anywhere else.

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’1 size does not fit all’

THE CONCERN

95% of women are excluded from the images they consume in the media. This is to say that a vast majority of the female population are shown what looks and feels good, what brings happiness and health, what secures love and security, and these strategies are presented as accessible, appropriate and guaranteed for all. In fact, it is vital to realise that “1 size does not fit all”. That uniqueness is a reality and a gift; that what looks and feels good for one, might not for another; that what works for one might not work for another; and that ultimately, happiness and health, love and security start with you. Not them. Not us. You.

 

THE OPPORTUNITY

Why is that women who feel they don’t “fit in” (whether that be “in” a piece of clothing, a certain crowd, a professional circle, an industry, and so on) are made to feel that the reason is because they are doing something wrong? That they are to blame? That they need to change? Why is it always assumed that if a person is excluded, that what they are excluded from is inherently better and brighter than where they are at right now?

 

Women feeling this way need to get a message. Urgently. “1 Size does not fit all.” They are important and valuable. Diversity is not something to hide from, and try to disguise or indeed even change. Learning to love where, who and how they are and not to compromise or undermine this reality, is a liberating and bold move, the impact of which will undoubtedly and always be positive and profitable.

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Natural is beautiful

THE CONCERN

Girls are no longer satisfied with their natural appearance. They have been led to believe that vulnerability, realness, and exposure of the self closest to the truth, make them defenceless or too defiant. They have been led to believe that natural appearance equates to laziness, carelessness, ugliness, or weakness. The insecurities that young people, especially, inevitably feel have been fed on by beauty and cosmetic industries, and have been spun into a mantra that says, “the way you are is not enough.”

“Almost a quarter of girls (15-17) would consider getting plastic or cosmetic surgery to enhance their looks.” Wanting to change how a person looks is unfortunately a growing desire among younger generations and this illustrates a real need to breakthrough the mainstream message and to bring a message of truth: of what truly defines beauty, and what “natural” should truly look and feel like. This message is not to say that external enhancements, such as makeup, are “bad”, but instead that depending upon these things in order to gain a sense of self, of beauty, of worth, of security, of confidence (and so on) is not healthy.

THE OPPORTUNITY

It has never been more necessary to re-persuade girls that the way they are naturally is good enough. By giving them a space, the resources and tools, thinking materials, and action points through which they can engage with an alternative vision of beauty, analyse their thinking patterns, self-image and stereotypes, and expose the superficialities attached to the notion of true beauty and how they intend to obtain it, a change can be made and a new “natural” created. Girls can be encouraged to see themselves beyond the opinions and expectations of others, and find their own understanding and unique sense of natural beauty.

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She is a leading lady

THE CONCERN

“In a survey of 1,000 15 to 19-year old girls, 80% chose glamour models as their main role model.”

There are several issues present in the topic of what it means to “take the lead” as a female. Firstly, female leadership in any context has been repressed for generations. Secondly, female leadership in traditionally male-dominated contexts has been heavily discouraged for decades. Thirdly, where female leadership may take place, for instance in lone-parent families, it is made to seem either inferior, or inevitable, or the last resort. Fourthly, female leadership has been presented in such a way that it is essentially bound up with institutional matters (within education, the labour market, or the family), yet female leadership is also, and especially, concerned with females feeling disempowered, disadvantaged inadequate, and/or inferior within themselves.

The aspirations of young women have seen a steady decline in recent years, following such worldwide revolutionary movements such as the feminist revolution in the mid-late 20th century. To this end, there has been a significant lack of positive female role models in key culture-changing areas (such as celebrity culture, the mass media, or music and fashion); and the confidence she needs to possess in order to step outside of her comfort zone has become inextricably tied to a devalued sense of her identity and a disbelief in her potential.

THE OPPORTUNITY

Steps have certainly been taken at a structural level to address these issues, but these are empty attempts to change what ultimately relies on the embedding of a positive and empowered message for generations after generations of girls on the ground level. It is our aim to inspire a generation of women to lead a life full of realised potential, fulfilment and step into a steady and guided amount of growth.

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