It’s Time to Say “No!” to the Beauty Ideal
Very few things make me mad. Generally, I’m an optimist and like to stay positive. But when it comes to the way beauty is portrayed in the media, it’s hard – to the point of being impossible – for me to see any light at all.
You see, the beauty ideal sold to us by the media is a lie. They’ve created an impossible being and bludgeoned us with the notion that, if we want to be beautiful, this is how we should look.
Sadly, we all know this creation, this impossible being.
She’s a young woman, almost a girl, with a large bust, a washboard stomach, toned arms and legs, no hips, no cellulite, and a flawless complexion. She doesn’t exist, that girl. But we think she does. Wherever we look – magazines, music videos, adverts – she’s there, staring back at us, inviting us to be her.
And we try. God help us, we try. We diet. We exercise. We wash and scrub and moisturize, pickling our skin with the latest wonder cream, no matter that it is filled with ingredients we can’t pronounce and which are almost certainly doing us harm. Then we look in the mirror. And we’re still not her. Not even close. Our wrinkles haven’t disappeared. We’ve still got hips. Our breasts remain subject to the laws of gravity. Freckles and spots still cover our face like grains of sand.
It’s not fair! Why can’t we be her?
We wonder if we should exercise even harder. Wonder if we should eat still less. Maybe then………
If that girl existed, she’d be the subject of my ire. But she doesn’t, so my anger is focused instead on those who created her and who perpetuate her myth.
Let’s take a look at them, examine how they’ve hijacked the very notion of beauty, and consider the harm they do us all.
A good place to start is photoshopping. It’s a scourge, because it seems to make real what isn’t. Using this technique, the images of perfectly gorgeous, normal young women are rendered on a computer screen and twisted into something else. Under the watchful eye of a programmer who has a mandate to create something impossible, they become other than themselves. They become her, the supposed ‘ideal beauty’, but at the cost of their real identity and their true beauty.
We’ve all seen them, but let’s examine a few photos which reveal the tyranny of the photoshop.
We all know Madonna. And for a woman well past her fiftieth birthday, she’s in incredible shape. But we can’t celebrate her, not for what she is. Instead, we’re fed the image on the right. No one has skin like that. Not even a twenty year old.
Honestly? I prefer the Mariah on the left. At least she’s real.
This image is so ridiculous I don’t even know where to start. When I was five, I drew stick people with fuller figures! And yet this is the ideal we’re meant to aspire to.
Why can’t we settle for the model on the left? She looks perfectly normal to me.
Like I said, we all know about photoshopping and we’ve all seen images like these. But the very fact we’re aware of the practice is part of the problem. We think we’re immune to the tyranny of the photoshop when we’re not. The trouble is, these images are so ubiquitous, so common, that they seep into our subconscious and become part of our psyche. They not only impact on the way men perceive women, but the way we see ourselves.
Above all else, they engender feelings of inadequacy. We can’t possibly measure up to a photoshopped ideal and yet the message that this is the standard we should aspire to is hammered into us with a frequency and intensity that is frightening.
It’s no wonder that so many women don’t like to look at themselves in the mirror. And it’s no surprise that young girls, in particular, are suffering as a result of their forlorn attempts to conform to a standard of beauty they can never attain.
Frighteningly, research has shown that approximately two thirds of adolescent females have dieted at some point. Even worse, the same studies indicate that disturbed body image is a major factor in causing eating disorders, as well as being a factor in depression and low self-esteem. This, of course, should come as no surprise. We all know there’s a correlation between anorexia and body dissatisfaction. And you would think, knowing that, that those who are in a position to do something about it might reassess their notions of beauty; that they might offer in film and print a new way of looking at what it means to be beautiful.
But they don’t. They can’t. They’re mired in a system where money is king and where the fear of being different wins out over what is right.
And so models continue to get skinnier, their skin more flawless. And women and girls continue to suffer. Ranged against a narrow, corrupted beauty ideal, they don’t – they can’t – measure up.
It’s got to stop. Beauty shouldn’t be the sum of the way we look. It’s about a state of mind; a way of being. It’s about difference, not conformity.
We should look after ourselves, of course we should. We should eat well, we should exercise and we should take pride in the way we present ourselves to the world. If it’s about anything, beauty is about expressing the best of ourselves, about triumphing our own unique qualities. It’s not about having to meet a single, impossible standard. It’s not about having to match up to a creature created by a computer program.
In the end, the truly beautiful woman is the one who cherishes herself and others; who cares and laughs and cries and nurtures and who, by being herself, puts her stamp on the world.
That woman? She’s my ideal beauty. She’s the one who should grace the cover of magazines.
Let’s begin to celebrate her. Let’s start a revolution.
 Striegel-Moore, R., Franko, D. Body Image Issues among Girls and Women. In T. F. Cash & T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body Image: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice (p. 183-191). New York: Guilford Press.
Stice, E., & Whitenton, K. (2002). Risk factors for body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls: A longitudinal investigation. Developmental Psychology, 38(5), 669-678.