Beauty standards and trends are specific to different cultures and often change through time. Both men and women are either held to standards of beauty or follow various styles based on current fashions. Despite these widespread ideals across the gender spectrum, women are often held to more specific, strenuous, and unfair standards of beauty that come with a whole slew of negative side effects.
Chinese foot binding, the Western World’s centuries of corset wearing, and the global history of lead-based makeup are just some of the harmful beauty trends that have impacted women around the world.
Even now, despite our ability to recognize and dissect these problematic standards, society still perpetuates imbalanced and sexist beauty ideals for women.
The Feminine Beauty Ideal
The feminine beauty ideal is a scholarly term used to describe the socially constructed notion that physical attractiveness is the most important quality that a woman can possess. It is a social pressure that women are expected to achieve and maintain – no matter the cost.
Worse still are the many avenues that these standards are able to travel. Social media perpetuates beauty trends at an alarming rate, exposing younger generations to harmful standards and failing to give people a break from feeling physically inadequate.
How Influencer Culture and Social Media Impact Beauty Standards
Social media is a great tool for consumer culture. TikTok is booming with makeup tutorials and skincare recommendations, Instagram tags direct links to items of clothing and accessories, and YouTube does all of the above at length.
The digital age has also consolidated the categories of trendsetters and style icons into social media influencers.
Beauty and Lifestyle Influencers
Beauty and lifestyle influencers promote the latest trends in fashion, makeup, skincare, haircare, fitness, wellness, and just about everything else. Attractiveness plays into their image and following, which subsequently impacts their income. It pays to look a certain way.
Influencers brand themselves into digitally and socially curated versions of the elite type of person (in our culture): wealthy, attractive, and opportunistic.
There is generally nothing wrong with people finding success through social media, nor sharing their personal lives through various platforms. There are also plenty of positive influencers who are authentic, candid, and inspiring. Still, it’s important to consider the cost of social media beauty standards, both literally and societally.
Impact of Social Media on Self-Image
The danger of influencer culture and social media frenzies can be found in the standards set in place that women are told to follow in order to be considered attractive and desirable.
The healthcare institution Florida House Experience conducted a study using 1,000 men and women to test a relationship between body image and social media.
The study found that 87% of women compared their bodies to images on social and traditional media, while only 65% men did the same. The curated and altered images on social media are now expectations that many hold themselves to.
It’s difficult to keep up with the trends on social media, let alone maintain them in your personal life. Be healthy, but relatable. Be thin, but curvy. Be naturally beautiful, but use these products and undergo these procedures to get there.
Plastic Surgery and Beauty Standards
Plastic surgery has been a taboo subject for decades. However, the recent expansion and improvement of cosmetic procedures has slightly decreased the stigma.
Injectables are the latest trend in the cosmetic world. They are considered a minimally-invasive form of surgery, as they don’t require patients to under the knife.
In 2019, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported the two most popular forms of minimally-invasive surgeries as Botox and Soft Tissue Fillers. As these procedures grow more accessible, these beauty standards will continue to perpetuate.
The injectable fad promotes a trendy face for women, which is constructed to have full lips, defined bone structure, a narrow nose, clear skin, arched eyebrows and lifted eyes. While these features can also be achieved through the use of makeup, injectables offer semi-permanent results that appear more natural.
The Trendy Face
The trendy face is plastered across different platforms, by both small influencers and social media powerhouses like the Jenner and Hadid sisters.
Though there are many valid reasons for cosmetic surgery—functionally or for some kind of self fulfillment— issues arise when people either deny or fail to mention their procedures, especially on social media.
When young social media users are exposed to these trends, without the knowledge of surgery nor various procedures, they can infer that they are unattractive by today’s difficult standards. The trendy face also eliminates any signs of aging, so it makes younger women fear fine lines and wrinkles and makes older women feel less desirable.
In addition, it perpetuates a notion that women should look a certain way, without acknowledging the expensive and unfair means they would need to achieve it. The fad causes everyday people to spend significant amounts of money to get the trendy face. For reference, initial injectable fillers can cost anywhere between $500 and $1,800 in the U.S.. The cost of subsequent maintenance appointments are nothing to scoff at, either.
These standards are easier to attain and maintain for the wealthy, but can negatively impact the general public.
Racist Trends in Beauty Standards
Also rooted in many of today’s already problematic beauty standards are hegemonic and racist ideals that appropriate from other cultures.
The Fox Eye Trend
The ‘fox eye’ is a current trend for women to have lifted, lengthened, and ‘almond-shaped’ eyes inspired by those of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid. Social media is flooded with fox eye makeup tutorials, as well as hairstyling tips that suggest pulling hair into an extremely tight ponytail in order to physically lift the face.
However, many people view the fox eye trend as racist against people of Asian descent. Moreover, it is seen as a form of whitewashing, as white women with fox eyes are considered beautiful and Asian people continue to face discrimination for their natural features.
The Slim-Thick Body
Another feminine beauty ideal sweeping through social media is the ‘slim-thick’ body. Gone are the 1990s and early 2000s skinny-body craze, which was just another unhealthy and unfair beauty standard for women. Now, social media wants women to be curvaceous, but with narrow waists, flat tummies, and absolutely no cellulite.
No two bodies are ever going to look the same, so the results of this trend are predictable. More women, unhappy with their natural figures; more men, expectant of particular body types for women; and less body positivity all around as women strain themselves to achieve the look.
Whiteness and Racist Beauty Trends
Much like the fox eye, white women are the ones being praised for their slim-thick figures, regardless of the monetary, surgical, dietary, supplemental, or physical means they use to achieve it. Meanwhile, Black women, who continue to be oppressed, fetishized, and discriminated against for those same features.
Not convinced? Kylie Jenner, cosmetics mogul, socialite, and white woman, is the (constructed) embodiment of all of the above trends. She is also the second most followed woman on Instagram.
Body Positive Influencers: Challenging Beauty Standards On Social Media
On top of the procedures, cosmetics, diets, and workouts, many social media influencers still photoshop their pictures to exaggerate their features and achieve the trendiest looks. These amplified beauty standards are exhausting, but there are plenty of body positive entities on social media to keep us grounded.
Savage X Fenty
Savage X Fenty, the clothing brand of singer and business mogul Robyn Rihanna Fenty, has received endless praise for its inclusive marketing and sexual empowerment of all kinds of people. The brand’s Instagram (@savagexfenty) is full of body positive imagery for women of different races, shapes, sizes, and ages.
Musicians like Lizzo (@lizzobeeating) and Alicia Keys (@aliciakeys) use their social media platforms to promote realistic, positive self images, while models like Ashley Graham (@ashleygraham) and Iskra Lawrence (@iskra) share content about body positivity and postpartum empowerment.
Finding Positive Spaces on Social Media
There are also plenty of positive influencers on smaller scales, too. For women in particular, it is important to find positive spaces on social media that boost confidence and expand the idea of beauty. Otherwise, we can suffocate under the harsh standards that will continue to be perpetuated through our society.
Remember this: the next time you’re getting down on yourself for not looking like trendy social media influencers, you can always search famous photoshop fails for a laugh.