Dangers of unrealistic beauty standards and how they damage teens' self-esteem
By Sylvie Ball
Photo by Sylvie Ball
Comparing yourself to others can be one of the worst feelings for self-image. ”I remember when To The Bone came out and I compared myself to Lily Collins because she was acting as somebody who had the same eating disorder as I did so I compared myself to her and clearly we were not the same,” senior Allison Bozyk said.
“He liked thigh gaps, he hated cankles, he liked tan lines, long necks, slender shoulders, he liked full lips, small noses, he hated girls who sat like boys, talked like boys, and acted like boys, but there’s nothing on planet Earth that he hated more than body hair.”
This quote is from the tv show Euphoria when Rue talked about one of the characters, Nate Jacob’s list of things he liked and didn’t like about girls.
Many girls have seen this show and heard these exact words. When an attractive person is telling you what they think is attractive and what they don’t, it’s hard not to listen and take it into consideration. Hearing things like this may make girls want to change how they appear or act, not for themselves but hoping others find them attractive. Most of the standards make people want to change things that are not changeable or do not need to be changed in the first place.
I first got social media in middle school to better connect with friends. Soon after, I started scrolling through countless images of flawless people, I found myself comparing the way I looked to everybody else. Whether it was my body, face, or my hair, I could always find something about myself to pick apart, something that was less than beautiful or someone I could never measure up to. Something as complex as beauty shouldn’t have a set of rules or qualifications, but for some reason, we keep making it that way. Jessica Defino defines beauty standards as: “The individual qualifications women are expected to meet in order to embody the ‘feminine beauty ideal’ and thus, succeed personally and professionally,” in her article, “How White Supremacy and Capitalism Influence Beauty Standards” published by Vogue on October 19, 2020.
Why would we need to be beautiful to succeed personally or professionally? Because if women are not constantly trying to meet these lofty sets of social media-inspired expectations, they are seen as something less. For example, when women get told that “they look like they are giving up on themselves or life,” when they don’t always look flawless. Just because I’m wearing sweatpants and didn’t do my hair doesn’t mean that I’m giving up on myself. It just means that that’s how I look that day.
The standard is all around us, whether we know it or not, depicted in tv shows and social media. Influencers, such as the Kardashians, promote unhealthy products to get the “ideal” look: fit teas, waist trainers, face sculpting products, and weight loss supplements. With people getting social media at a young or early age, the promotion of such products can be detrimental to the way they view themselves and beauty as a whole. It can make them feel inadequate or pressured to change.
But the standard can reach us no matter our age. When I was little, I would get ads for makeover games from children’s game websites, telling me the objective was to make them more beautiful or to “fix them.” The things I was supposed to be fixing to make the girls more attractive were normal things, things that we're human, like acne, body hair, under-eye bags, and stretch marks. I played with Barbie dolls that had waists not even as big as my ring finger and didn’t look like me whatsoever. The dolls had blonde hair, blue eyes, pale skin, flat stomachs, small arms and legs, and perfect makeup. They can only have those things because they’re not real. Real bodies are “imperfect;” they have many things that the company excluded from their doll’s appearance. That’s because “beauty” sells. Whenever we think of Barbie we think of her perfect appearance and not her plethora of career accomplishments. Another thing that many people know and love is Disney princess movies, in particular: Cinderella. In this movie, the main character Ella is portrayed as a housemaid who wore raggedy clothing and was only ever paid attention to when she was being ordered around. Though once she changed her hair and got a sparkly new dress and shoes, the esteemed prince fell in love with her. They say in the movie that he would have loved her no matter what, but that still doesn’t change the fact that she had to change how she looked to be noticed.
The problem is some of these things are marketed towards children and are ingrained into their brains at such a young age, that looking one way is bad but looking another is good. Once young kids start hearing things like this, it stays with them forever whether they are aware of it or not. As I got older, I started to notice it even more, especially as I started to consume more media.
Another example is seeing pictures with photoshop or filters that would make you look like a totally different person all over social media. With these tools available, people are able to change everything about their appearance. Things like a sharper jaw, bigger or brighter eyes, a smaller nose, bigger lips, a thinner waist, etc. Though social media is just the newest way for the beauty standard to make its way around, it is one of the most effective because its outreach is so wide.
Photo by Sylvie Ball
Senior Marcus Rouquet demonstrates what lengths people will go to change themselves so that they can be found attractive. We see photoshopping all over social media, in magazines, and in advertisements for clothing and other products. Sometimes photoshopping can be cool and creative, but with cases like this November 4 photo, they can be deceiving and make people chase after something that isn’t real.
Social media isn't the only thing that makes people want to change themselves, the standard can even reach people without any social media.
Senior Allison Bozyk is a strong supporter of body neutrality and stands firmly against beauty standards. Even though she is consciously trying to fight against the standard, it still takes a toll on her mental and physical health.
“I know I'm really against the standards, but I always try to abide by them for inclusion purposes and social conformity. It's very hypocritical since I’m so against them but I still try to follow them because I want to be liked and included,” Bozyk said.
This just shows how much importance we as a society place on the way we look and if it’s good enough or not. Your outward appearance shouldn’t be the determining factor for how well-liked you are, in fact, it really shouldn’t be a factor at all. The fact that people are feeling pressured to look a certain way so that they can fit in and be well-liked is disappointing. We need to stop looking at our bodies like they are something that should be pleasing to everyone and look at them for what they really are.
“My body does things for me, it takes me to class, it helps me think and achieve. I think it’s more about thinking about your body as less like an object and more like a tool that is helping you be alive,” Bozyk said.
Bozyk has experiences of her own pertaining to body image and low self-esteem. She started to struggle with eating habits but didn’t get treatment for her eating disorder until she was around 11-12 years old.
“I was hospitalized for a few months, and I wanted to get out of it, the hole I'd dug for myself,” Bozyk said. Bozyk was in the ICU and her potassium levels were at a life-threatening level, yet she was still thinking to herself, “I’m not sick enough.”
Eating disorders are a very competitive thing. It's all about who’s the sickest and if you don’t feel like you’re sick enough like Bozyk did, it can be hard to reach out. She wanted to have a “perfect” body, a body that could measure up to society's standards but truly there is no such thing. She wanted that so bad that she went to the extremes of depriving her body of food, something she needs to live.
“I think that my eating disorder plays into this idea of “I want a perfect body” and this false idea that you can change your weight/body to fit your/society's standards for the perfect body, which is never enough anyway,” Bozyk said.
And that’s the thing about the standards, they are trying to put beauty in a box and make it one thing when in reality it’s immeasurable.
“I feel like with those beauty standards, if you’re tall you have to be shorter, if you’re shorter you have to be taller or if you have straight hair you have to have curly hair and if you have curly hair you have to have straight hair. But that’s the thing that the media and society have developed; The idea that you are never perfect,” Bozyk said.
Society will always want perfection, but we will never be able to give it to them. And nobody should feel like they have to. It’s okay to not like how you look, and it’s human to compare yourself to others, but you don’t need to place all of your worth on your appearance alone.