Accept yourself – change the toxic narrative of what beauty looks like
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
If we stroll through history, we will find that people – particularly women – have always been made to feel pressured to fit into a certain perfectionist image to be considered beautiful. Remember Queen Elizabeth I of England? All women of her court (including herself) would cover their faces with white lead and vinegar because showing blemishes weren’t allowed. Can you imagine how it looked (or smelled)?
It is reported that the said queen – who led England towards a reign of prosperity and ruled without a husband by her side – was struck with smallpox that left her face scarred. For a person celebrated for glamour and flawless complexion, the lifelong souvenir of her brush with the dreaded illness was unbearable and she switched to using what is known as ‘Venetian ceruse’ – a potential poison (Charleston, 2020).
The great queen wasn’t (and isn’t) the lone victim of being burdened into upholding an impossible self-image and beauty standard – even if she were led to these sad straits (and eventual death by suspected lead poising) through a lifelong struggle with patriarchy. What's tragic about this story is that she was one of the most powerful monarchs of her time and if she struggled with body image concerns, most of us don’t really stand a chance. If we look up the pages of history, time and again women and men had to suppress their individuality and trade it for acceptance in society. Today we will be making a case for how the only ‘acceptance’ one needs is one from the mirror and mind.
Distorted body image
Distorted or negative body image refers to having unrealistic views of how someone sees themselves. People form a perception about their body’s health, acceptability, and functionality in early childhood and continue to keep developing them after getting feedback from peers, family, coaches, etc. These images tend to make people hate their bodies and become depressed or develop other mental issues. Here are some symptoms commonly found in people who are afflicted with having distorted body images:
Obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors
Envying someone else’s body
Comparing ones’ shape and size to that of others
Despairing over ones’ own body
Depressive and anxiety symptomology
Becoming prone to suicidal thoughts
Alcohol and substance use and abuse
Reduced physical activity
Loss of sex drive
Decreased motivation to seek help
Repetitive negative thoughts
Need for constant reassurances
Some of the culprits that promote these negative thoughts are movies, magazines, television, and social media. They wreak havoc on body image by pushing a ‘thin ideal’ that’s contributing to an alarming increase in eating disorders and other mental health problems. Just take a look at some of the stats below to realize the depth of the problem:
According to Body Image Report (2020), over a third of UK adults have felt anxious or depressed because they struggle with body images. One in eight adults in the UK has been led to experience suicidal thoughts because of body image concerns. According to stats posted in 2013, approximately 91% of American women are unhappy with their bodies and only 5% of women naturally possessed the body type often portrayed in the mainstream media.
How to combat distorted body image?
The initial step is recognizing and acknowledging your own feelings and making a resolution to start learning to be more comfortable in your own skin. If you believe that therapy from professionals can help you more; you can try cognitive behavioral therapy – in which negative thoughts are recognized, analyzed, and restructured. Moreover, dance and movement therapy has been also found helpful to develop a greater appreciation of one’s body. This therapy helps people create internal experiences, as opposed to focusing only on aesthetics (Eating Disorder Hope, 2021).
If you are thinking of tackling your distorted perception of body image, here’s what you can do:
Think of all the ways your body supports your everyday life.
Keep a list of your top ten favorite things you like about yourself.
Remember that ‘true beauty’ is a state of mind and isn’t only skin deep.
Look in the mirror to see yourself as a whole person and do not focus on specific body parts.
Surround yourself with positive people.
Shut down negative thoughts with more positive ones.
Wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself.
Become a critical viewer of social and media messages.
Treat yourself to bubble baths, make time for a nap and find a peaceful place to relax.
Invest all the time you spent obsessing over self-discriminating thoughts into helping others
Spring-clean your apps in smartphone and be mindful of people you follow on these apps
Body shaming is an instrument used by people – particularly advertisers – who make their target feel insecure about his or her appearance. It is similar to distorted body image but it is more linked to external sources as opposed to internalized negativity regarding one’s body.
The whole beauty industry runs on body shaming, as brands make people obsess over how they can get the ideal façade (that keeps changing every decade). It is particularly bad for women who are pushed to purchase so many beauty products to eliminate every unsightly thing about themselves; wrinkles, cellulite, lashes, blemish, and uneven skin tone.
You will find that celebrities are subjected to the worst of body shaming culture but the good thing is that they are now being more open about it by speaking up against internet trolls for upholding them to such impossible standards. Some of these famous people who are often reported to be clapping back on trolls for body-shaming include; Lizzo, Chrissy Teagan, Celine Dion, Ashley Graham, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Ruby Rose, etc.
You will also notice that most of the time celebrities being body shammed are women and this practice needs to stop. Why? Because women’s bodies go through a lot in a lifetime, and regardless of their profession, they should be allowed to age naturally in their natural body types without constantly trying to fit into a mold. We acknowledge that men too have their share of body shaming that’s rooted in toxic masculinity concepts and it is not okay in any type or form. Having a ‘dad-bod’ should not be an insult, as human beings were created for so much more than their aesthetic value. It is harrowing when you think that Chadwick Boseman was being trolled for ‘looking sickly’ when he was battling cancer and ultimately lost his life to it.
How to overcome body shaming?
Choose your ideals with care and follow people who promote body positivity.
Your Instagram and Pinterest accounts do not dictate your perception of self-image and beauty
Learn to love and understand your body as it changes through life
Do not hide yourself and do not hesitate to call bullies out
Realize that your negative perceptions about yourself aren’t true
Share the love and encourage others to leave behind their doubts
Learn to tell the difference between fitness and ‘fiction’. Be healthy, not perfect.
Bias against color
Skin diversity is only recently being made part of the beauty standards and still, it has a long way to go. Can you recall that recent disastrous commercial by Dove where an African American woman turns into a Caucasian one after using Dove Body Lotion? (Slawson, 2020).
This type of mainstream depiction of women of color contributes to unrealistic beauty standards. That tone deaf commercial was just one of the incidents where the beauty industry fails women of color in a way that makes them feel unacceptable. That ‘idyllic blonde hair with blue eyes’ standard fits less than 2% women population of the world, so, by excluding the remaining chunk of the population for something so un-inclusive is how the beauty businesses are making money off peoples’ insecurities.
With invent of brands like Fenty, Mented, EveryHue; women of color are finally being acknowledged. This is a positive turn of events, however, it still needs to change the deep-rooted bias of people. You will find that many beauty brands that promoted skin lightening and brightening products are now being forced to renaming or rebranding their products to become more inclusive.
How to overcome the bias at a closer-to-home level?
Please understand that fair complexion has nothing to do with beauty. You need to learn to accept and love yourself as you are and once you do, the opinion of other people will not matter all that much. Accept your natural hair and skin textures. Use products that are spreading skin diversity and voice your opinions about how racial discrimination is preventing you from feeling beautiful. Talk to men and women around you about their struggles and lend a compassionate ear. Shut down anyone who is promoting white supremacy as it has no place in the new body and skin-positive environment where people are in a more relaxed and happier state of mind.
Please understand that we are responsible for leaving this world a better place than how we found it for our coming generations. Be careful to not let your biases, insecurities, and misconception seep into the minds of your children. It is a lot to take on, but it is worth the effort.
The invisibility of older women when it comes to beauty norms is also a deep-rooted plague that we need to address. The women above certain ages are cast into overly simplistic images and roles by the media, which makes people fear getting older. Here, the patriarchy is at play, as (most of the time) aging men are not considered invisible but worldly and suave.
Most brands cast well-known celebrities that have ‘aged well’ but outlaw people whose advancement in years has been ‘unkind’. These ‘well-kempt’ celebs are found promoting skincare, anti-aging products, but not the fun makeup brands that accentuate their natural style and confidence – which is part of the problem.
Actress Carrie Fisher – who was immortalized as Princess Leia in Star Wars – was subjected to a debate about how she aged over FOUR decades when she appeared in another movie of the franchise after 40 years. She tweeted later that “I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. This is so messed up.”
According to McMeekin (2020), women of age are often told to stick to neutral eyeshadow, brown eyeliner, apricot colored lipstick, and not to wear black eyeliner and shimmery eyeshadows for ‘age-appropriate’ looks. These portrayals create an overall narrative where women above age should gracefully and politely fade into the background and let life pass them by.
According to a poll held by The Washington Post, older adults experience as many as nine forms of ageism that fall into the following three buckets:
Exposure to ageist messages (like advertising),
Ageism in interpersonal relationships (what friends or family say)
Internalized ageism (negative beliefs we absorb)
Yes, you read that right, people who are older adults are guilty of ageism as well because that’s what they are led to believe. Since getting old is inevitable, why don’t we be a little kinder to it?
How to overcome ageism?
Please know that life isn’t over after 30, you simply are required to pay better attention to your physical and mental wellbeing.
Learn to identify negative and hostile stereotypes about how people of a certain age cannot use technology and are hard of hearing, have memory issues.
Don’t joke about how old someone is like it’s a bad thing
Don’t compliment people by saying how they look younger than they are
To summarize this article, we can state that there are a lot of artificial concerns about the appearance of people that worry them unnecessarily over something that cannot be helped. Most of the root causes of these issues are linked to society’s bias, and they will not be corrected until we start by looking in the mirror. The first step of living a happy and healthy life is to accept yourself and put a smaller stock on how people perceive you. After all, liking yourself in a world that’s rigged to make you dislike everything about yourself is the best act of rebellion and courage.
Charleston, L. (2020, May 10). The truth behind Queen Elizabeth’s white ‘clown face’ makeup. Medium. https://libbyjanecharleston.medium.com/the-truth-behind-queen-elizabeths-white-clown-face-makeup-c0507a178bd5
Body image report - Executive Summary. (2020, August 6). Mental Health Foundation. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary
Eating Disorder Hope. (2021, June 9). Body Image & Weight Issues: What Causes Negative Views. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/body-image
Slawson, N. (2020, July 1). Dove apologises for ad showing black woman turning into white one. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/08/dove-apologises-for-ad-showing-black-woman-turning-into-white-one
McMeekin, B. S. (2020, March 19). Ageism In The Beauty Industry: Why Are Women 40+ Being Ignored? Beautyheaven. https://www.beautyheaven.com.au/skin-care/eye-care/ageism-beauty-industry