Picture-perfect beauty is not merely physical. You are your most beautiful when you feel it. Graphic by Piper Bailey.
ANNA GRITZENBACH | OPINION COLUMNIST | firstname.lastname@example.org
We live in a society where it sucks to be a woman.
We are constantly scrutinized for simply existing when we don’t meet society’s outrageous expectations for how we should behave and most importantly look.
Beauty standards are ideals that women, most commonly, are expected to exhibit in order to be considered beautiful by society.
In American culture, the ideal woman has a slender frame, long blonde hair, blue eyes and white, but bronzed, skin.
The very concept of beauty standards is exclusionary — it best caters to cisgender, most commonly white, women.
It’s expected that women meet these standards, and there are whole industries banking on these expectations: makeup, plastic surgery, dieting and other appearance-based industries. Yet women also face great criticism if they are trying too hard or too little as set by societal opinions.
With that being said, these standards come with terrible consequences like low self-esteem, mental illness, eating disorders and body dysmorphia. 78% of 17-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. This is because we force girls and women into molds that they will never be able to healthily fill, especially young teenage girls.
Sunny Romack, a senior lecturer in the English department and director of peer tutoring, talked about what they have observed in young women being a professor on a college campus.
“I know that eating disorders are very prevalent on college campuses,” Romack said. “ … I also see in young women the self-objectification … so that instead of thinking of themselves as subjects, as full human beings, young women think of themselves in the same objectified terms that the patriarchy describes them in and are dissatisfied with themselves all the time … Young women, especially because many of them have been alienated from the feminist project, don’t always have the tools to recognize just how oppressed they are by beauty standards.”
We begin to push these ideals on women the moment they are born. Society comments on little girls’ appearances and existence all the time.
Romack talked about how people frequently comment on young children’s looks, as she has noticed with her daughter, and how harmful that is for young girls to grow up experiencing.
“People comment all the time on how beautiful she is,” Romack said. “And that will be a plague on her life.”
Once you are of the mindset that women need to be beautiful in order to be worthy of attention, it’s nearly impossible to unlearn. And that’s something that women have to fight their entire lives.
It’s so hard to not be self-conscious about your presence in the world, especially your physical looks.
As a college student, I find myself at a crossroads with my appearance. In high school, I most definitely held myself to societal standards by wearing makeup and put-together outfits to school in an attempt to feel a certain kind of femininity and beauty. In college, I sometimes find myself wearing pajamas and a bare face to class. On those occasions, I don’t always think about what I look like to others because I am usually exhausted and show up to learn, not to participate in a beauty pageant.
Junior strategic communication major Ainsley Glenn talks about how she has noticed that no one really cares about other people’s appearance, especially in college.
“Nobody cares,” Glenn said. “Nobody cares as much as you think they do … what I’ve learned is we’re all struggling. Everybody’s trying to get through the day. Everyone is worried about what they look like in their own way … At the end of the day, your happiness is what matters.”
Despite consciously knowing this, I still sometimes find myself feeling unattractive on those days. Even though I remind myself that my appearance in a single class truly does not matter in the grand scheme of things, sometimes I do pick out outfits and do my makeup. And on those days, I feel a little better about myself. I hate to say that, but when I participate in the standards, I feel pretty.
I was raised as your typical little girl; I have always been very feminine: playing princesses, liking makeup and fashion, enjoying dress-up, et cetera. Society in turn treated me as a woman and held me to the standards ascribed to women.
Because of this, I believe that being dolled up and ready is one of the ways to be beautiful. This idea can become a big dilemma in college. I cherish my sleep and often do not wake up early enough in the morning to put on makeup, do my hair and pick out a cute outfit. But, I also know women who wake up at least an hour early for class to do those things, and I myself do that some days as well. There is no one right way to show up to class, but many women I know value themselves based on their day-to-day appearance.
When talking about beauty standards, it’s important to recognize that there is only one ideal image at the center of it all: white, thin, blue-eyed and blonde. But in specific groups and settings, such as athletics, additional beauty standards get applied.
Personally, growing up in the dance world, I definitely fell into the bad habit of comparing myself to peers and professional dancers, with my body being the main victim of those comparisons. I knew I would never achieve the ideal dancer body: long and lean with no curves. It’s tough not to analyze yourself in a sport and an art form heavily based on an individual’s appearance.
Junior English major Jillian Hagerty talked about how the stereotypical idea of what a dancer should look like was harmful to her.
“There’s this idea not only of what is beautiful, but how you look is so neatly tied with how well are you to succeed in the dance world,” Hagerty said. “And for a long time, I was really wrapped up in my image as a dancer … and it was really harmful to me at a young age to be exposed to that [stereotype].”
When you are an insider of a certain group, it’s impossible to not compare yourself to other people or the ideal member.
Unfortunately, we tend to equate one’s physical appearance with one’s worth as a person. This is because when one is “pretty” they are noticed and rewarded for that. From the moment a woman is conceived, they are expected to be aesthetically pleasing as if that is all we are good for. Maturing in a culture like ours means that we will associate beauty with worth because that’s all we have known.
All of the women I talked to have said that they hold themselves to the beauty standard set forth by our society. And all of them have spoken about the negativity they felt towards themselves because of that. It’s simply not possible to fully ignore the standard — it has been burned into the back of our eyelids.
When I asked Hagerty for words of wisdom to send to women out there who are maybe struggling with beauty standards:
“Live and rejoice in your own kind of beauty,” Hagerty said.
Beauty should not be limited to superficiality.
I think that beauty blooms in one’s soul. It’s the little things, the small moments that create a burst of light in your heart. It is not just a word we should use to describe women, but one we should extend to all of humanity.
Beauty is kindness.
Beauty is love.
Beauty is intelligence.
Beauty is courage.
Beauty is happiness.
There is no one right way to be beautiful, and that in itself is inherently beautiful.