We read stories and fairy tales to children about princesses with golden hair and a crown on their heads and about a handsome prince who will save them from their harrowing fate. The girls are told one thing from childhood: they need to be pretty and fair, so that a strong, brave men will save them from their troubles.
We cultivate different approaches to the bodies of girls and boys.
From their early days, children get certain signals from their surroundings and from media that say that boys should be physically strong and agile. “Men’s” sports are based on competitiveness, muscle building, body performance.
Girls are told to groom their bodies, protect them from aging and above all, make their bodies as attractive as possible. Working out for women is mainly about losing weight or body-sculpting to make them even more attractive as objects of men’s desire, not about supporting their health and building their own strength.
The beauty ideal changes in each historical era, culture, and country. Today’s perspective of a beautiful body would not be acceptable in the baroque period, for example. What we like in Slovakia does not need to be considered beautiful elsewhere, such as in Japan.
The belief persists that women’s physical attractiveness is the most important thing for them and all girls should try to approximate the unachievable beauty myth. Girls and women are constantly exposed to huge pressure from all avenues to try and achieve the beauty standard they see in movies, TV series, commercials, or magazine covers.
Women’s bodies are constantly exposed to criticism, comments, or inappropriate notes at school, at work, or on the street. This abuse can often come from the people closest to them. Girls and women are pushed to adjust their looks and behaviour to the ideal, regardless of where they are in life. We can instead teach them that changes in their bodies through adolescence and middle to old age are absolutely a normal biological process. This certainly would improve on remarks about eating less to drop some weight or eating more to gain curves, to cover themselves in makeup, or to stop caking it on.
As it turns out, the unachievable “beauty ideal” does support someone daily: the beauty industry. And all it costs us is women’s self-confidence. Studies show between the ages of eight and fourteen, the self-confidence of girls drops by 30 percent. This disrupted perception leads women to not like themselves, and causes them to be silent, non-oppositional, and leaves their potential talents undeveloped.
Surveys say that 90 percent of all people suffering from eating disorders are girls and women. The most threatened groups are adolescent girls. Though not obvious at first glance, the gender stereotypes and the beauty myth threaten boys and men as well. Societal pressure indirectly focuses them on being strong, dominant, fearless, and invulnerable, which has a negative impact on their lives, relations, and even health.
WHEN DID WOMEN STOP THINKING THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL?
This video shows how the beauty standards about perfect women bodies changed over the course of history:
READ MORE: Naomi Wolf (1990): The Beauty Myth.