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Beauty Standards How They Impact Your Life

Every culture has its own unique standards of beauty, attractiveness, and ideals of what “beauty looks like”. In our culture, it tends to be individuals who are young, fit, thin, white and privileged. Our beauty standard is dangerous because it often contributes largely to body image issues, eating disorders, discrimination, and excessive self-critical behaviors. Unfortunately, this beauty standard largely impacts how we see our own bodies and the bodies of others.

Body image is largely complex, and unfortunately cannot be summed up with being connected with just our culture. However, as a therapist who works predominately with body image, I am often educating my clients on the dangers of beauty ideals. Most of my clients come into office with a large amount of disgust for their bodies ranging from their: weight, height, facial structures, chest, fitness levels, to normal signs of aging. They frequently believe their bodies are the problem- and that they need to change the way they look to fix their body image issues. If you happen to be someone who thinks similarly, I want to share a story that may enlighten you of how dangerous beauty trends or standards can be for shaping your personal beauty ideals.

In China, there was a practice that persisted for over a millennium called “foot binding”. Foot Binding is the practice of breaking and tightly binding feet in order to shape feet to be as small as possible. Not only was this practice considered to be for the “most elite”, but it was also a large representation of femininity and beauty. A painful and also damaging tradition for someone’s health was largely idealized within this culture. For those who are not familiar with this beauty trend this may sound outlandish or foreign. Today we see the manifestation of very painful and expensive practices to uphold to beauty standards such as: multiple diets, plastic surgeries, a make-up products, hair styles/ products, and new styles to adhere to beauty ideals. Beauty cultures are powerful and are largely to blame for unrealistic expectations beauty and attractiveness.

Activities People Often Avoid Due to Body Image Issues

1) Vacations: People often avoid going on certain vacations (generally vacations a swimsuit is involved) because of the fear of being judged or mental comparison they engage in more with others.

2) Dating: Individuals avoid dating until they feel as if they will “look good enough” or avoid dating all together. They worry about judgement from potential significant other, or rejection they worry about intimacy and someone seeing their bodies.

3) Taking Pictures: People regularly worry so much about what people will think of how they look, or they will start to excessively review images of themselves. They also avoid getting pictures taken of themselves altogether due to the fear of what they will look like.

4) Social Events with Friends or Family: Often individuals will avoid talking to old friends or socializing due to fears of “not looking good enough” or worries about what their friends or family think of their bodies.

5) Clothing: People will often avoid buying clothing that draws attention to themselves or things they feel comfortable in because of the fears of drawing observations to their bodies. We often see people who will hold onto clothing for years with the hopes they will fit into these outfits again, which can often be disheartening and disordered.

How would your life be different if beauty was not something that was so idealized? The dangerous parts of having beauty standards dictate or largely influence thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs is that we are being influenced to view ourselves and our bodies by these unrealistic standards. Another issue with beauty standards is that they are always shifting or changing. For example, in history we can see the different beauty trends spanning from the Twiggy era of thin, tall, short hair, flapper style all the way to the Kardashian era of thin waists, large chests, and hips. Even if you are one of the rare people who is fully satisfied with the way their body fits the current beauty standard, the standard will change within a matter of years. People who ascribe to beauty standards and ideals will always be unhappy due to the impossible standards put forth along with the ever-changing ideals and trends. How can you win? How can you be someone who can start to face this uphill battle?

Learn to Take Back Your Power

The Hard Truth. Your Body Image is Rarely (if Ever) About the Way Your Body Looks.

It is about the way you PERCIEVE your body, which can be largely influenced by your culture, family, and environment. Do not let beauty ideals rob you from enjoying your life. Start by recognizing the power beauty culture has on the way you view yourself. You can begin by identifying why you like certain clothing, hair styles, make up trends, and asking yourself if you truly appreciate these styles or if you are heavily influenced by social media, marketing and being bombarded by these trends.

1) Challenge the Rules: If you have created certain rules for yourself of “ I can’t wear a swimsuit until I lose x amount of pounds” Or “ I can’t take this picture until I get my nose fixed”. Allow yourself to challenge the internalized perceptions which have been largely shaped by our disordered culture. Take the vacation, wear the swimsuit, post the picture you have been avoiding because of the fears you have of judgement or internalized critic of your body.

2) Clothing: Look for clothing that is comfortable, and fits the body you have now. Don’t hold onto old clothing as any kind of measure of success or “goals”. Having comfortable clothing you feel good wearing is a vital step for you to fight against beauty ideals.

3) Look for Support: Ask for support from your loved ones. We all have been touched negatively in one way or another from these dangerous beauty trends, and allow yourself to talk more openly about how this culture has robbed from your body peace and autonomy. Be sure to surround yourself with individuals who see and value you more than a body or more than your looks. If friends or family do not feel safe, try checking out a therapist who can support you throughout this journey and offer therapeutic tools and interventions.

Deanna Smith, LCSW

This blog is not meant as therapeutic advice, rather to provide education. If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, or body image issues know that there are many educated qualified mental health therapists and dieticians who are well-versed in these complicated issues. Please seek therapeutic & nutritional support if disordered eating or body image concerns are impacting your life.

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