Women: Beauty Norms

4 Dec

For my last post I wanted to discuss something that is particularly dear to my heart which is how society has developed and shaped this normative standard of beauty that is virtually impossible for women to obtain and maintain. Unfortunately, like many things in our society, beauty is in fact socially constructed. And beauty changes depending on the time and place in which it exists. When looking back from a historical standpoint, in the Victorian Era, beauty was based on how wealthy you were. To be beautiful meant you were malnourished, had porcelain skin, and thin frail hands. All of these things signified what it meant to be beautiful. However, this was still only available to women who were wealthy. Poor women had to work in the hot sun every day, so they had tanned skin complexions; did manual labor so they typically had worn, calloused hands; and were not thin because in order to have the energy to work, they had to eat. So basically poor, working women during this time were not allowed to be beautiful.

During this same time sexuality was also very oppressive so women were seen as non sexual people as a whole. Women were not only denied the ability to be sexual beings, but it was also highly frowned upon to be sexual. They even went so far as to forbid the eating of certain foods (chocolate) because they supposedly promoted sexuality. Women were forced to not eat in front of men because I guess men thought women were not human or something because women were taught that it was not feminine for them to have natural bodily functions. Any smells or noises coming from “unspoken places” on women were taboo.

In this extremely oppressive era believe it or not, men were just as in control of women’s bodies then as they are now. All of these ideas about how women should eat, act, dress, and basically be, was made normative by men! And today, a hundred years later, we are still stuck in the same cycle of men controlling what women do with their own bodies. This notion that the female body is unpredictable and needs to be tamed has been sort of a precursor for the way women are represented now. In many ads, tv shows, and movies women are always shown as second to men, have to act according to male standards, and also always judged by men. This therefore leaves women figuratively speaking, not in control of their own bodies.

With men constantly controlling women’s bodies, men now have the opportunity to change and distort the way we see beauty to fit their liking. Now the female body is beyond sexualized to the n-th degree! Everywhere you go people, mainly men, feel the need to scrutinize and comment on women’s bodies as if it belonged to them (sounds like male privilege to me). And unfortunately any woman who tries to break out of those beauty norms is often called a bitch or told that she needs some dick. This is unfortunate because its setting up a horrible system for younger generations to follow. This cycle reiterates the system of patriarchy and male domination in society.

When looking at the fashion world specifically, they play a huge role in the maintenance of the reconstruction of the beauty myth. In the past women made their clothing at home so there was no tag or no size that they had to relate to. Once the fashion world was created, a number was then put on a body. This solidified the idea that women needed to be thin to be accepted. Being a smaller size was looked at as being something positive, which encourages young girls to strive to be skinny, no matter what the cost. In my women’s studies class we did a project where we made posters of what we felt the media is teaching us beauty looks like. After we put all of the posters up on the wall and compared them to what we really look like. And you know what we found, that many of us did NOT in fact look like what the media is telling us beauty really is. What is even sadder is that most of the images I found in 5 different magazines were tall, thin, athletic, young, white women with long hair, colored eyes and full lips. Virtually every woman on not only my poster, but everyone else’s poster looked the same. Talk about misrepresentation.

photo photo(4)

I want to end this semester with saying that I learned so much in my research on women and their representations in the media. What makes me sad though is that nothing has changed since the 1920s. Hopefully my generation and the ones after can pull it together so women can ultimately achieve equality among not only society, but among each other as well. Before we can expect men to respect us and see us as equals, we have to learn to respect ourselves and each other.


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