There is a rather frightening statistic that only 4% of girls and women around the world consider themselves beautiful. If we quickly crunch the numbers in that equation, our results would lead to a total of 3.5 billion women self-conscious of their looks, out of a 3.6 billion total female population.
Furthermore, 7 out of 10 girls believe they do not measure up to a standard, or alternatively to a friend or family member in the appearance and performance department. That’s a seventy percent not only self-aware, but arguably self-critical to what could be a harmful degree.
Men have a similar issue, with 80.7% regularly engaging in “body talk” and expressing dissatisfaction with their own muscularity. In a recent study, researchers also discovered that 51% of school boys aged in the 11 to 14 bracket report low confidence in their body image. Doesn’t that make for a sad thought?
I really don’t mean to bombard you with numbers and exercise those rusty arithmetic muscles! The point of this article is to hopefully incite thought and conversation about the reality of bodies and the boundaries for beauty! I won’t force you to whip out the old Texas Instruments, but I might attempt to shed some light on the ongoing issue with self-worth and the way business controls all.
You’ve heard the media being blamed over and over again. Although their involvement in the glorification of certain body types and features is undeniable, there’s a bigger culprit hiding in plain sight. Beauty companies make profit out of making you feel bad, that’s just a highly effective way to make capital. Granting the public painful self-awareness is such corporations’ biggest, quickest way to Christmas bonuses and monthly remunerations. It’s you versus money, and to a stranger that choice isn’t too difficult. Their system’s been working for decades and you know what they say – if the machine ain’t broke… Why fix it?
The logic is very simple – you walk down the street, you clock a billboard with a model. She’s sporting a gorgeous cherry red lipstick and that makes her face look absolutely phenomenal. Do your lips look like that? No. Do you want them to? Of course! That chick looks amazing and is obviously successful enough to be considered the optimum lip image. So, the closest you could possibly resemble her is by buying the product she’s wearing and hope for the best. I’ll take this time to coin the phrase “pretty by association”, because that result is more than likely to be your outcome. The beauty company who has paid for the media to spread that image gains profit, while you leave with the idea of flawed features.
I feel the need to clarify this, because when I was a teenager roaming the internet, I had no idea how the hierarchy was structured. I thought it didn’t matter, I wasn’t interested in finding out. The damage was being done whether I knew that key piece of information or not. But my twenty-one-year-old self is here to tell you it’s vital to be aware. There’s nothing inherently wrong with anyone’s physique, there’s just an astonishingly lucrative business of giving consumers lasting insecurities. There is no hard-set societal opinion behind the sea of Photoshopped, doctored images that circulate our streets and devices. Those messages do not come from our population’s widespread appeal, but they are given to us as such. They are sold to us. For money.
Let’s give it a quick (and loose) comparison with pornography. Erotic films are not a realistic depiction of sex and the public knows this. You walk into the bedroom with a lover and neither of you expects a three-hour bang session of perfectly timed ejaculations and endless supply of sheets. Although the majority of men and women don’t seem to realise this, everyday advertisements work in the exact same way.
Nobody expects us to fit a mould, but that inflamed sense of self-criticism in the back of our mind. The modern consumer is a lot more savvy with the internal mechanism of media, enabling them to have a more realistic approach on self image. However, teens and young adults have a harder time considering the bigger picture of influences, especially so with the flood of unrealistic depiction that surrounds them. I, for example, had more than a serious case of tunnel vision, which ultimately translated into – look like this person, or stay home. Having pores and stretch marks had become a deal breaker to my happiness and social success. It’s inescapable, because it’s meant to be! This means we’re sacrificing mental health for the survival of a Capitalist structure, which is not to say there is a grand flaw in Capitalism’s design. But it does make us question the decline of morality and ethical treatment. Does that ring like misplaced priorities? It should!
However, just because someone creates a mould for their own monetary benefit, that does not mean we need to abide by it. Companies cannot physically force you to buy their products, because that would be illegal. Psychological extortion, on the other hand, is a fine line. Showcasing flawless models of people, which have been digitally altered to perfection, sells units.
A diversity of realistic bodily features does not gain exposure for that particular reason. When was the last time you saw a L’Oreal commercial with an ageing woman, who has beard fuzz or liver spots? Point to any internationally recognised clothing brand such as Tommy Hilfiger, Dolce and Gabbana or Gucci – the kind of brands who can afford to surround your environment. Do they proudly show diversity and if so, how much? Do they actively promote a variety of genetic make-up?
Even sports companies like Adidas and Nike fall in that category. Even though they celebrate an athletic physique, which is a step forward in the catalogue of body types, their athletes normally receive some sort of pampering to aid their appearance. This could be either through the use of tanning, make-up or post-production alterations. Notice how many of their “characters” carry natural features such as body hair, cellulite or veins.
This Reebok advertisement is a good example to look at. I picked it, because it manages to illustrate a good amount of points at once. Let’s start with the fact that every woman has a full face of make-up on. Take a moment to appreciate their perfect hair and lack of sweat. The purpose of the portrayed exercise session is to demonstrate that females can look gorgeous while they’re attempting to burn off extra calories. So why would we, as viewers, want to appear ugly, when we can obviously be appealing? You buy the leggings, because they make this athlete’s legs toned and firm. You’d want that! The top really accentuates her waist and makes it slimmer. Of course you’d need that! You wouldn’t want to be flabby and unsightly, God forbid you seem like there are flaws you’re working very hard to amend.
But here’s the bottom line. We’re human. We are not necessarily going to look like a fine selection of models, neither are we expected to. Just because Reebok needs to forward their business for profit, it does not mean you have to change yourself to accommodate them.
The point that I’m trying to convey is – rarely can we trust our eyes, and when an entire planet is looking at the same pictures and stereotypes, that becomes an issue. When does reality become too deluded? When will we prioritise people instead of money?
The spark of doubt in the back of your mind – the question whether you’re worthy, whether you fit in a category or match a standard – that equates to money. Your self-awareness has a price and there are thousands of companies waiting to set it. While public images may revolve around somebody else’s beauty ideal, in the reality of things nobody expects ultimate perfection. The same way you appreciate other people’s quirks and flaws, someone is appreciating yours. In our age of media and entrepreneurship, it’s easier than ever to wound others for profit. If the world is proving to be a harsh and judgemental place, the least we can do is be kind to ourselves and spread that to the next person.
None of us are perfect, but all of us are beautiful.
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