It is eleven in the morning on a Saturday. Looking for something to do, I decide to play with my dolls. As an eleven-year-old, the thought of the distinctions between my doll and I had never crossed my mind. It is now that I go through my old toys that a few questions emerge in my mind: Why are there barely any dolls with my skin tone? Why did I not see dolls that looked like me? And when I did, why were they not as important as the light-skinned ones with blonde hair? “From a young age, girls learn to aspire to Barbie’s unrealistic beauty, and boys learn to desire it.” It is a contrivance that deeply reflects poorly on humanity’s view of women. It is a reflection of my childhood that still ponders my mind with the question of why girls like me were not represented more frequently. This leads me to question what is required for something to be beautiful in the eyes of society.
“One size fits all” is not always representative of everyone. We live in a world where we are constantly rated by society’s standards. From the day we can fully comprehend the world around us, we are practically imprinted with the idea of what the world may think is beautiful. With that being said, these social norms not only change others’ perceptions of us, but affect our mental health, impel bullying, foster colorism, and can also lead to cultural conflicts.
Conforming to Social Norms
Conforming to societal standards is based on the environment that one is surrounded in. How one appears or speaks will potentially affect how you or anyone else acts. Group pressures come in all forms, such as bullying, teasing, and taunting. What this leads to is yielding to group pressures and simply appearing a certain way to fit in because it is considered normal. This makes people think that what is normal is what is fundamental.
As most people know, the iconic Mattel Barbie doll has sold in the millions. Over a span of several decades, the iconic Barbie doll has stirred a lot of controversies. A recent study in The Sunday Times states, children ages five to seven said they “wanted to look thinner [after seeing skinny dolls like Barbie] compared with those who saw dolls with a healthier body shape”. At such a young and tender age, children begin to believe they need to look like Barbie and ascribe to a standard that is not realistic. This could further lead to one of many long-term effects of low self-esteem or depression.
The Media Perpetuating Beauty Standards
Technology has grown immensely, and we have been able to create new ideas that allow us to communicate with one another efficiently. Social media is essentially a tool and a medium. It provides a platform through which the problem is expanded. The problem begins with what we put out on social media. The ideals, thoughts, and opinions that get dumped on to people through apps like Facebook and Instagram make it much easier to spread a particular idea of a certain standard of beauty. Generally speaking, most people try to fit in. The way that the media defines ‘fitting in’ is that you have to be pretty or have the right clothes and the right face. In essence, one has to look like the face of beauty that is being proposed.
In that regard, Social Media tends to amplify a problem that already exists in society. 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other “people being mean or cruel on social network sites”. This is evident because it shows us how common it is for teens to be negatively affected by society through an app.
Marketing is capitalism’s best feature. My interest begins with the curiosity of finding the mediators that control the sale of beauty products. The people who control what is put out to the world are inevitably responsible for how the world reacts. Marketing can contribute positively to the world. However, contrary to the previous statement, marketing can contribute to unhealthy and unreasonable expectations as well. When it comes to women in the media, the representation we see is not always diverse.
Pop Culture Affecting Our Mental Health
As teenagers, we start to view our peers as a source of information as well as look to them for approval. That includes dressing or appearing to look a certain way to “fit in”. It can sometimes lead up to something potentially damaging eventually. Popular culture has a huge impact on teens and is another avenue where beauty is misrepresented. Pop culture promotes a certain standard of beauty. It not only affects other’s perceptions of us but also how we see ourselves. As stated in an article from the American Psychological Association, “Numerous correlational and experimental studies have linked exposure to the thin ideal in mass media to body dissatisfaction, internalization of the thin ideal, and disordered eating among women.” The article also states, “Approximately 50% of girls and undergraduate women report being dissatisfied with their bodies…. These perceptions develop relatively early, emerging among children as young as age 7 years, and appear to exist across diverse levels of body size and race.” It’s evident from this research that beauty standards deeply affect all races and body sizes. This research manifests the idea that at such a young age, we are exposed to what the media promotes. This demonstrates a sad distortion of self-image. At age seven, you would think that body image would not matter to a child, but this research demonstrates otherwise. It’s clear that just as marketing strategies have a negative impact on young developing children, they are also further destructive to young adults and teens.
Standards of Beauty can Lead to Bullying
Bullying comes in all forms, whether it is through the internet or at school. We live in a time where people are extremely body-conscious, and that idea quickly trickles down into the minds of our youth. A great example is the overweight children who are at higher risk of being bullied. “In a recent national survey of overweight sixth-graders, 24 percent of the boys and 30 percent of the girls experienced daily teasing, bullying, or rejection because of their size”. Weight, for instance, is a sensitive topic that triggers vulnerabilities in some people. When those vulnerabilities are tethering on an individual’s self-image, it becomes easier to target people and exploit them, damaging a child’s self-esteem. It is common for women of color not to be seen as a standard for what a beautiful woman should look like. When people push to advocate for the inclusion of women who are not white, there are instances where those who disagree reject the idea. When women of color are uplifted by others, the energy is just simply not reciprocated. Everyone is beautiful, and no one, no matter what ethnicity, should not be denied or neglected because of his or her skin tone.
How Society Furthers Eurocentric Beauty Standards
The idea of beauty in the eyes of society is not often of people of darker complexions. Instances have occurred when models, even celebrities, have been retouched or photoshopped of lighter skin color before display. According to an AC Nielson report, it is “estimated that in India alone, more than $432 million worth of skin-whitening products were being consumed annually”. The effects of colorism are global. In places in Africa and Asia, there are multibillion-dollar skin-whitening industries. It all begins with the negative perception of dark skin. It is almost inconceivable to believe that people are willing to risk themselves in order to achieve what society believes is beautiful. This is not only a global issue but a concern in the United States as well. The legacy of colorism goes back to slavery and still is very present. Tests like the brown paper bag test, “where anyone darker than the bag … [would be] denied entrance” to a social event, decided whether or not you were accepted in the eyes of society. Although these tests are not in effect today, the effects are still very present. Colorism is just as proclaimed in the African-American community as it is in other racial communities. The Black community uses skin tone and facial features to discriminate against each other, and it is one of the many dilemmas that is not allowing our community to essentially grow.
How We Can Empower Future Generations
Today’s society is completely different than what it used to be in how the media portrays not only women but men as well. Rather than inflict negative ideas in the minds of youth, big corporations should use their platform as a voice of positivity towards the world. They should also promote other forms of beauty. This way, we can incorporate positive natural beauty standards so that not only women but also men feel comfortable and confident with themselves. In a world inundated by ads that make us feel less than we are, the media should make us feel as though who we are naturally is enough to society.