Is the Real Beauty Standard Anything That We're Not?

Published on 6/2/2021

I don’t know a single woman who is happy with her appearance and wouldn’t change anything. Too often, one of us will complain about something, and the rest will eagerly chip in with their own insecurities, happily presenting them to the others to prove that they also hate how they look. It’s considered abnormal to like your own appearance, immodest and vain. But you’re meant to hate how you look quietly, as mentioning it too often will make you attention-seeking.

The issue isn’t just in that we all hate something about our appearance; it’s the fact that there is no perfect, no goal. Everything we dislike contradicts what another wants. We spend each day yearning for a body that someone else desperately wishes to change. We spend our days hating our bodies until we look back and realise that we’d give anything to look like that again.

My hair, her hair

I have always had straight hair. Completely flat and straight hair, the kind that makes people assume I get up early to straighten it every day. And for as long as I can remember, I have wished that I had curly hair. Big, voluminous curls that would frame my face. I used to curl my hair for every event, something it intensely worked against, as the curls would flatten by the time I arrived. I spent nights in curlers that ached against my head, tossing and turning but believing it would be worth it. I bought dozens of products that promised to give me volume and tried many different curling irons but never achieved my dream curls.

I would be told that you always want what you don’t have, and I met many people who wished they had my gravity-obsessed straight hair. I met women who straightened their hair every single day. Did it help to know that people wanted my hair type? No, it made me think they didn’t appreciate what they had and wish I could swap.

Look in their mirror

Then it comes down to our bodies. I have a thicker build. From the ages of fifteen to about twenty, I struggled heavily with an eating disorder. I exercised daily for a minimum of an hour, I barely ate anything, and whatever I did eat was promptly brought back up. I was miserable, and I was never skinny enough for concern. I don’t remember a lot of that time as most days I was running on under eight hundred calories, but I remember thinking that it can’t be that serious if no one was checking on me if no one was trying to stop me. I look back at photos and barely recognise myself, this ghost of a person. But the issue is that I was never thin enough to worry people properly.

I have a naturally bigger build; at my healthiest, I’ll be bigger than other women. I have friends who are thinner and actively try to put on weight, a thought that I struggle to comprehend when my entire life has been focused on how to be smaller. The body part I’m most recognised for is my butt, and I have had so many women tell me they wish they had it, and so many guys compliment it. When a guy is attracted to me, he’ll always mention my butt, as if that’s the only part of me he wants. I don’t like having a larger butt; it makes me doubt everything I wear and avoided fitted trousers and skirts. Strange men on the street will come over and praise it, which makes me feel dirty and scared, which makes me never want to wear that outfit ever again. I feel like it’s a target for attention, and I wish it were smaller.

And the list could go on. My friends with larger breasts wish they could have smaller ones and wear cute little bralettes and not overthink every t-shirt they wear. We overemphasise the beauty of a tan and yet incorrectly portray white skin to be more beautiful. Women are taught that they should be toned but not too muscular. We should be thin but have curves. We should be thin but not care what we eat.

I’ve spent my life working to fit the beauty ideals, only to stop and realise that there isn’t really an ideal. It’s constantly changing, and it’s never what you have. The beauty standard is to never like your body, never to be happy, so that you keep spending money on all of these products, treatments and tools. If we actually liked ourselves and accepted how we look, the entire industry would crash, unable to keep up with this. If we actually liked ourselves, all that energy and focus could go into other things, and we could be unstoppable.

Fleur

Fleur

Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.

Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.

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