The horrors of beauty standards



There has never been a single standard of beauty; the standards have changed based on what is most beneficial to the oppressive systems of the time. 

Please note that this article discusses sensitive topics and only reflects the author’s views on the subject.

Beauty standards, the patriarchy’s best friend. It’s sad, really, to see not only what beauty standards have done to our current society, but why they have become the way that they are now.  

First, we must analyze why we have beauty standards to begin with. To put it simply, the reason is capitalism. However, it is not that simple. This conversation is one of intersectionality.  It is one where we must analyze how capitalism has led to racism, misogyny, and classism.  

Take a moment to analyze how beauty standards have developed over time. There has never been a single standard of beauty; the standards have changed based on what is most beneficial to the oppressive systems of the time.  An example of how beauty standards are not linear, is how at some point it was viewed as beautiful to be of a fuller size, whereas later on being of a fuller size was looked down upon and being far thinner was praised. This first standard of beauty exemplified was being of a fuller size, this was a blatant example of classism.  People of a fuller size were of that size due to wealth, they were able to afford more food and did not have to engage in lots of physical activity.  Classism originates from capitalism: the higher class is viewed as more valuable and capable. It brings in ideas from eugenics, the concept that only people with certain traits should exist, not to be confused with Darwin’s ideas.  These eugenist ideas indicate that only the rich must continue to be, not only to be valued, but just to be in existence at all.  So, to be fat was to be rich, and to be rich was to be deserving of life.  That is how much beauty standards play into our society.

The second beauty standard was quite the opposite, with a thinner figure being more desirable. This one lasted for quite some time and is slightly more complex.  Its origins are more likely rooted in racism, and perhaps some classism.  It is racism because features of a fuller figure were often associated with non white people, especially non white women, more specifically black and hispanic women.  These women have been discriminated against for quite some time, arguably even before colonialism.  This standard of beauty has never been associated with them, in fact only the opposite has been. The association of fuller figures and non-white women has caused a great hatred for fuller figures.

For quite a while, the portrayals of black and brown women in the media have not been skinny figures, they have quite often been women of a fuller figure.  That is why fuller figures are not deemed as attractive, not only because black and brown women have not been deemed as attractive, but because they have not been deemed as people worth value, or beings at all.  Other, even more recent, standards of beauty are also attributed to racism.  It is now deemed attractive to have an hourglass figure. This is of course associated with black and hispanic women. Although it may seem as though this is an act of society’s appreciation for black and hispanic women, it is not.  This is not to say it is an act of pure hatred towards them; rather, it is to say this is an act of sexualization and fetishization of these women.  It is also important to note that these features are generally only viewed as attractive when on a white woman.  The Kardashians are a great example of this.  They have set the current beauty standards.  They adopted those very features of black and brown women, which the Kardashians do not naturally have, and popularized them.

However, it was most definitely inspired by them.  This is not a beneficial thing for those non-white women.  It merely means that society has fetishized them.  We know this because when these features are attributed to black and brown women, they are genuinely appreciated, rather they are sexualized.  Comments like “I need me a thick latina” prove this point, and there are countless others like it.  And of course, most beauty standards are just more excuses to hate women.  This is undeniable and requires no explanation.  

Now, how does this connect to capitalism?  Well, most oppressive systems are created to profit off of.  Many corporations absolutely profit off of racism, classism, and misogyny.  Take shaven women’s bodies as an example.  Razors were not created for women, they were originally created for men.  But, of course, to make a profit they must advocate for women to use them as well, producing propaganda that indicated that if a woman was not entirely clean shaven, she was undesirable.  The idea that a woman must shave everything was entirely produced by razor companies, they were just trying to sell their product.  An even more extreme example is the entire cosmetic surgery industry.  This requires little explanation, these people profit mostly off of womens’ hatred for themselves, and others hatred for them.  That is all the industry consists of, arguably, the entire cosmetic industry consists purely of that.  It’s sad.  

So, next time you contribute to the concept of beauty standards, think about what oppressive systems you are actually contributing to.  Because these things do really affect people, far more than it seems.