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The Effect of Beauty Standards on Adolescents

By Sneha Kandalgaonkar (‘21)

Photo courtesy of Wix

“Beautiful” is a word with many different meanings. While it is officially an adjective used to describe someone or something that pleases the senses or mind aesthetically, the word is commonly used to describe a person’s physical appearance.

Our perceptions of beauty can be greatly influenced by our surroundings.

Movements such as the #fatkini movement, Dear Kate’s “The Perfect Body” campaign, #ImNoAngel by Lane Bryant, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, #fatshion, and “Remove the Corset”, have all come about in the past ten years to combat beauty standards. Progress is being made to resist these specific ideals that exist around the world, however the prevalence of these standards in our media, external environment, and the expectations of the people around us are far from being gone.

Beauty standards vary between men and women. Women are expected to have a flat stomach, curves, thigh gaps, smaller noses, and fit a certain body type. Men are expected to be muscular, have abs, and have a very low body fat percentage. These standards, when promoted in the media and prevalent in teenagers’ everyday lives, can lead to severe body image issues.

In order to achieve what is perceived as “perfection”, individuals go to extremes to contort their bodies into looking a certain way. This can have a detrimental effect on teenagers and children who are impressionable and feel the need to look like these models. These individuals resort to dangerous extremes to ensure that they look like the people who are deemed “perfection”.

About 2.7% of adolescents will experience an eating disorder, and rigid beauty ideals are correlated with taking drastic measure to change one’s appearance.

Females are the primary target for criticism regarding their weight. It is estimated that 40%-50% of women are trying to lose weight at any given time. According to Womenio Magazine, weight is the third largest insecurity women have about themselves. It is common to see advertisements for weight loss pills or diets, usually for losing weight off a woman’s stomach, thighs, or arms. Women who advertise for these weight loss companies generally look like models themselves rather than average people.

Weight loss products target women by promoting that they should only lose weight off specific body parts further shows how the standard of beauty is unrealistic for women to attain.

Sophomore Lisa Nandy commented about beauty standards for girls.

She said, “[You have to be] really skinny, and have curves at the same time. You have to [have curves], but then you also have to be skinny at the same time. You [also] have to have perfect skin. You need good eyebrows, and no hair on your body in general. I feel like it’s annoying, because honestly, we all have hair, it’s just natural.”

78% of American girls are insecure about their bodies by the time they reach age 17. This is a huge contrast from when girls are 13, and only 53% of them feel insecure. As girls grow up, they become more and more exposed to what society considers beautiful and are inherently more self-conscious. It is rare to see average looking, healthy teenagers represented in the fashion industry or any kind of media in general. This can be shown through TV shows, where adult actors are usually used to play teenagers to cover up the reality that teenagers have acne and fluctuations in weight. In order to cover up these perceived imperfections, TV shows and movies neglect representing actual adolescents. Teenagers experience special pressure to look like the people that are labeled “teenagers” in the media, but are not teenagers in reality.

School Nurse Mrs. Donna Moreen shared insights on the negative effects of going through extreme measures to conform to beauty standards.

She said, “[Some kids] want to be skinny now, and they can have anxiety over this. They can sometimes develop an eating disorder over this because [they’re] not eating. Sometimes they can develop depression because they’re depressed [over the matter] . . . so I definitely think there are health issues surrounding [adhering to beauty standards].”

Beauty standards have a greater impact on everyday teenagers than many think. The rise of social media has led to teenagers being exposed to toxic standards at young age. Certain social media influencers go to great extents to try to appear a certain way to the public, resorting to photoshop or other forms of altering their appearance to appear “beautiful” - and inherently unnatural - to their following. Impressionable teenagers may be impacted by these images and feel discontent that their bodies don’t look like this altered reality. The media promotes a standard of beauty that is inherently unnatural and unachievable.

Sophomore Aashir Syed said, “I think if you see any models you kind of feel bad about yourself because you wonder, ‘why can’t I look like that?’”

Being insecure about appearance is normal and common, but it is important to recognize that almost everyone is insecure about themselves. While beauty is a word used to describe anything that pleases the mind aesthetically, it does not necessarily need to lie in the unreasonable beauty standards society enforces.

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