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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Gen Z and its superficial beauty standards

The world has always witnessed shifts in beauty standards with changing times but recently there's been an obsession amongst women to look a certain way. Today the meaning of beauty has been defined as having certain characteristics and these standards have made everyone conscious of their body, skin, weight, etc therefore it affects their self-esteem.

There’s a common phrase that says beauty is in the eyes of the beholder then why this current generation is obsessed is beating itself around the bush to make live up to those standards that nobody standards.

The real question that comes to mind is that who defined these standards and why has this generation so easily fallen prey to the media-generated hullabaloo of defined beauty? Having a normalized yet extraordinary societal implication drilled into you as soon as you are out of the womb is and can be mentally and physically draining.

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Why are we becoming increasingly insecure about our appearance?

Culture to culture, physical features are emphasized and cared for in different ways, and people (particularly women) experience different pressures to appease standards and often different restrictions on self-representation depending on where in the world they find themselves.

These standards have made everyone conscious of their body, therefore, affects their self-esteem. Imagine being taught from a young age you need to change as soon as you pop out to fit what other images of you are. That could easily make your self-esteem plummet exponentially. It teaches you to hate normal things on your body like hair, stretch marks, acne, discoloration, and other natural things everyone has.

I believe social media has played an enormous part in setting up these standards. This generation is seen being glued to their mobile phones therefore one can automatically assume that their favorite activity on their mobile phones is using social media.

While many may agree that social media has connected individuals globally, it has also been used to set standards of beauty for males, females as well as the third gender. This in turn has been known to affect the self-esteem of individuals with regards to body image, body modification and how they view themselves in society.

These days we are seeing the rise of Instagram influencers who have a tendency to share almost every aspect of their personal lives and in return, our society is becoming obsessed with everything they’re doing. I guess then that they are also not less than any celebrities. One would assume if society is blindly following them then they are also part of the problem that we are currently facing.

This current obsession with living up to beauty standards has also blossomed the market of cosmetics, skincare products, daily application of high-tech lotions and potions to non-surgical procedures such as Botox, fillers, and peels, and even surgeries, the beauty industry is booming like never before.

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With more products and treatments available there is also a growing pressure around how people feel they “should” or “shouldn’t” look. So whether it’s fake eyelashes, tattooed eyebrows, manicured nails, body waxing, or lip fillers, the chances are we all know someone who has these and often we view these types of treatments as “normal”.

Nothing is ever enough

This shift in the way beauty is increasingly defining people means it is functioning as an ethical ideal in that it is the standard we use to judge ourselves and others, whether good and bad. And all of this has a significant impact on how people feel about themselves.

Recent studies have revealed how much this is affecting people particularly girls of young age. The Girls’ Attitudes survey has shown how body image worries affect many aspects of young girls’ lives – stopping them from wearing the clothes they like, having their pictures taken, taking part in sport and speaking up in class.

The survey reports that 47% of girls aged 11 to 21 say the way they look “holds them back”, while 69% of girls age seven to 11 feel like they are not good enough. It is with this in mind that the Youth Select Committee’s recent consultation focused on this topic.

Have we fallen prey to Western Media propaganda?

Over the years, the Western media has propagated almost unattainable body images as ideal for women. The unattainability of the images is evident in the omnipresence of “size 0” models and celebrities in media who often resort to extreme measures such as unhealthy diet, exercise, or even use of drugs or plastic surgery to maintain almost “sickly-thin” body shape and size. Furthermore, the images we see are often artificially enhanced by the use of excess makeup and computerized tools such as Photoshop.

Unfortunately, these images are readily consumed by women often without any awareness of the artificial nature of these images, that is, women tend to engage in upward social comparisons processes. Consequently, negative self-evaluations made through social comparisons with media dictated ideals often lead to self-deprecation, reduced self-esteem, and in extreme cases, even eating disorders. Thus, ideal body images and objectification of women as is done in the mass media puts women at risk for negative affect, body shame, body image disturbance, eating disorders, and depression and much more.

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The funny thing about these ideal standards is that they are never the same because they are constantly changing. If there was no ideal to live up to, then perhaps the concept of being pretty would not be topical or have many real-life consequences. The stark reality is that the media unavoidably perpetuate this idea, us as individuals and those around us, both knowingly and unknowingly. Social media, magazines, newspapers, and even televisions tend to push high and barely achievable standards.

What we should actually focus on?

You must look a certain way for society to at least acknowledge your “beauty” even when you have tried to mold yourself to please them. Even then there is always criticism behind it all. Women have to be slim but not too slim, thick but not too thick to where you have a tummy. It’s actually really frustrating and can eventually affect your mental health is if you cannot stop thinking about these things rather than live your life with all the attributes you were born with.

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We must remember that not fitting the beauty standard is more than okay, and it does not mean that you are less desirable than those who do. The standard is constantly changing, but this should not alter our perception of ourselves. We are more than our bodies, and our worth is not inherently tied to how we look, despite how much society tries to convince us.

The author is a research associate and sub-editor at GVS. She has previously worked with Express-News Islamabad. She can be reached at az.aeliya@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.