Increasingly celebrities and other popular social media figures are ripping off curtains of fictitious beauty. From Alicia Keys wearing absolutely no make up to one of the most filmed moments in the history of the pop culture stratosphere (i.e. walking the red carpet), to Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty, we as an online society are finally being conditioned into a more body-positive, self-loving environment, whether it be through pointed campaigns or personal acts of choice, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
It’s acts of bravery (unfortunate though it may be to call something as simple as not wearing make up brave) and boldness like this that shed a blaring light on our unrealistic expectations of beauty, and leads us to question how they’ve come to exist in the first place. To me, it’s paradoxical that an agreed “standard” of beauty could ever be something that most individuals have to alter themselves to be able to achieve.
From girls obsessing over the angles of their eyebrows, to men ingesting external substances to boost what should be their natural body’s strength and muscle mass, we’ve engineered and encouraged a social system which perpetuates a sentiment of dissatisfaction with one’s own natural state. Implicit or explicit, it is prevalent and embedded within many of us, and can be incredibly difficult to extrapolate. We’ve fled so far from simple notions of beauty; the simple prettiness of depth and dimension’s to an individual’s face can now be (and often is) wildly enhanced through practices such as contouring and baking, with make up brands pouncing on the opportunity to produce products that specifically cater to this without considering the wider implications.
The truth that most women feel the need to wear make up, i.e. apply external products in the form of liquids, powders, gels etc. to the bare skin, eyelashes and lips of their face in order to feel confident enough to step out of the house and be seen by other humans is incredibly confusing to me. The fact that men feel as though they cannot build a connection with another individual unless they exercise regularly and devote specific sessions to various parts of their body (i.e. the infamous “legs day”, “arms day” phrases) is absurd. If we as humans all know how we truly look, without make up and before any training programs, then why is it that we feel the need to aspire towards some intangible idealistic notion of how we’re supposed to be? If we take a moment to really consider who set that expectation up (which doesn’t even have any specific criteria upon which you know you’ve been successful in meeting it, leading to mental health issues such as anorexia), we’d realize we’re the perpetrators, as well as the sufferers.
What if I told you you could feel as happy as you think you would with a flat stomach and/or killer delts just the way you are now, today, if these socialized expectations didn’t exist. And that’s the very essence of what I’m trying to promote – acceptance of our natural state, not another expectation of another body type. Interestingly, we as a society have begun to take body-positive assertions to the other extreme, and now encourage all women to aspire to a much more voluptuous figure, a stark contrast from the boyish, bone-skinny ideal figure that was widely advertise as I grew up. This still isn’t body-positive, as the underlying perpetuation still holds true of society trying to define a singular standard which women all over the world are supposed to subscribe and aspire to. For example, in Ghana advertisements often feature fuller women, as the society has been conditioned into finding healthier, fuller figures more attractive.
Some argue that having a particular figure, or wearing make up makes people happy, and I think that fundamental aspect of that is brilliant – that there’s a process by which someone can find happiness. I’m not here to take away something that makes people happy. I’m here to show people that they should be happy with their natural state, to get people to respect themselves and be self-aware enough to know the different between when they’re doing something to make themselves happy, and when they’re doing it to make others happy.
We have come incredibly far as a society via critical questioning and expression of our opinions on this matter, and I look to celebrate our successes just as much as I intend to point out the withstanding flaws. It is my own existence within this system that has led me to be aware of my own socialized practices and that expectations need to be altered, if not eradicated altogether. I implore individuals to take note of what is happening on social media today by considering the bigger questions these acts strategically create.
Photo Credits: Jennifer Burk