Society causes distorted perception of beauty

MacKenzie McGraw, News Editor and Staff Writer

I am a product of my society. I base my idea of beauty off celebrities and fashion icons that I see grace the cover of top magazine publications and commercial advertisements. While it is evident that the images are fabricated, altered, and Photoshopped, I cannot help but subconsciously want to live up to my society’s standards of beauty; I am not alone in this desire. As I walk through the hallways on a typical school day, listening to the latest gossip buzz around me,  I hear casual, commonplace conversations that begin with: “Oh my gosh, tell me that you saw (Insert celebrity name here) in her new music video,” or “Don’t you wish you could look just like (Insert celebrity name here)?” They continue, “Why aren’t my legs that long? We need to find out how she gets that flawless, sun-kissed skin.” The need to “improve” and “enhance” our bodies is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, because of the media’s increased role in society’s perception of beauty, a negative body image is nothing but commonplace now.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “body image” as “a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others.” As society’s perception of beauty or the reactions of others have evolved, so have our views or our self-observation of our personal body image. This evolution has occurred since the beginning of time.

From curvy bodies to the smallest waistline, from short hemlines and hair to perfect proportions, society’s perception of the perfect woman has shifted over time. Once, beauty was based on God-given natural beauty, such as in the Renaissance period when women were valued for their curves or natural body shape.  Flash-forward to the Victorian Era where the definition of beauty shifted from curvaceous to a smaller waistline, attained through the use corsets and body alteration. The idea of the perfect woman changed again around the time of the Roaring 20s during the time of flapper dresses with short hemlines. Women at this time felt the desire to show their beauty through loose silhouettes and at times more boyish-figures. Society later changed the concept of beauty from embodying ideals such as independence to celebrities embodying the image of beauty. Farrah Fawcett and Kate Moss epitomized beauty in the 1970s and 1990s respectively, as media attention in Hollywood began to use mass media to spread the image of beauty. Top magazines began emphasizing the quest to achieve top models Cindy Crawford’s and Pamela Anderson’s bodies through diet and exercise which was only further emphasized through television.

Now in the 21st century, it comes as no surprise that depicted personal body image is based on society’s representation of beauty. From a young age, we are bombarded with representations that someone who is beautiful stands at 5’10 and weighs 110 pounds. Compare this figure to the statistic that the average American woman is 5’4 and weighs 145 pounds. This unattainable desire for most women is learned as the trait that allows success, opens doors, and enables one to be happy. Even after all of these years, why have women who are the majority succumbed to the pressure of striving for an unattainable goal to reach the level of women who are the minority?

No wonder our perception of beauty is distorted; our perceptions of beauty are merely products of our society.