The Beauty Myth:
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating beauty, whether through art, surroundings or even within each other. However, societal standards often dictate what is desirable and not—particularly for women.
Many women feel they must adhere to these standards of beauty, which mainly focus on reaching physical perfection in the hopes of achieving power.
This goal of achieving power can come in many forms where it’s being taken seriously, seen in a favorable light, acquiring more dating prospects, making a living, and even gaining social status.
This “beauty myth,” as coined by Naomi Wolf, is an obsession many women fall into, involving a spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred. While it is true that attractive people have privileges, there are also some downsides to those who deem society “beautiful,” which doesn’t always lead to happiness.
Toxic Beauty Standards:
Many cultures worldwide know what the perfect feminine beauty should look like. For some cultures, pale white skin is ideal, while others prefer a golden tan.
In certain parts of the world, straight white teeth are deemed attractive, while others prefer a quirky crooked smile.
When Do Beauty Standards Become Toxic?
Having differences in preferences and ideas encourage diversity. However, there is a downside to this, particularly when society and its members feel the need to pressure young girls and women into achieving the ideal. When society pressures women into achieving what is “beautiful” to the detriment of their physical and mental health, these ideals become toxic and harmful.
Toxic beauty standards are dangerous because they drill the idea that a person must attain beauty because it is a “duty.” Instead of focusing on a person’s actions and thoughts, they become fixated on their physical appearance—often forming unfavorable opinions of those who don’t meet these standards.
In some cases, negative opinions can lead to dangerous actions, which may involve bullying, shaming, and harming a person simply for not fitting into what is deemed acceptable.
So, how do we avoid this trap of toxic beauty standards?
Toxic beauty standards are often a societal issue perpetuated by many factors. As much as one would like to say they should avoid falling for propaganda—saying one thing is different from doing something about it.
The truth is until society becomes more accepting of differences—the best that many of us can do is stand our ground and stay positive against negative influences.
Here are some ways to avoid falling into toxic beauty standards:
1. Focus on your health.
Many cultures associate health with beauty, although there are some instances where toxic beauty standards inject harmful practices to achieve an impossible ideal. One way to avoid falling into the trap of this dangerous ideology is to focus on your physical and psychological health.
Eating healthy foods, going on walks, engaging in physical activities that help you exercise your muscles, and caring for yourself are more important than doing tasks for appearance’s sake. While beauty gets you far, your health can help you live longer, so no beauty standard is worth compromising your health in the long run.
2. Create your definition of beauty.
Toxic beauty standards exist because society believes and idealizes some features over others. None of us are immune to the constant reinforcement that comes with what is ideal and not.
However, we can cope with the pressures and avoid this harmful ideology by defining what is beautiful to us instead of agreeing with what society thinks it is. By avoiding giving power to what society and others think, we become empowered and learn to embrace ourselves and other diverse forms of beauty.
3. List your values as a person that doesn’t involve your appearance.
This tip is a handy exercise that anyone can do. First, grab a piece of paper or open your notes app. Next, on a blank sheet, list the things you like about yourself that don’t involve your looks. Here are some examples:
“I like my singing voice.”
“I love my positive outlook in life.”
“I can make delicious pancakes.”
“I have a wonderful sense of humor.”
Notice how the list goes on and on. When you’re done writing the best parts of yourself that you like, you’ll soon realize that your value as a person is more than what is seen on the surface!
4. Pursue the pleasure of beauty on your terms.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and feel good—pursuing beauty is all humans’ natural inclination. This inclination only becomes toxic when one compromises their health to achieve a seemingly impossible ideal.
For this step, consider doing things that make you feel beautiful. Do not worry about what others think; enjoy them at your own pace and terms.
Here are some examples that can help a person feel beautiful:
- Going on a leisurely walk;
- Taking photos of beautiful things like nature and sunsets;
- Eating organic and refreshing foods;
- Playing with makeup;
- Getting creative;
- Engaging in childlike play;
- Taking bubble baths; and
- Using sweet-scented lotions and skincare
As you can see, wanting to do things that make you feel beautiful isn’t harmful. If you feel good, you will look good no matter what.
5. Actively change negative beliefs on appearance-based judgments.
Many of us are prone to making judgments based on our biases and perceptions despite knowing that none of us are perfect. While we can’t change how we see things, we can still try to question why we arrive at such conclusions in the first place.
So, if you find yourself making harsh judgments about a person’s appearance, consider asking yourself these questions first:
- “Why am I being negative about this person’s looks?”
- “Am I willing to express these negative judgments?”
- “Would saying these judgments help?”
- “What right do I have to judge a person’s looks? Do I have authority on that?”
Holding ourselves accountable for our judgments and feelings can help us become more nuanced and compassionate towards others. When we confront our biases, we can recognize how harmful they can be to others by learning to correct our negative perceptions.
6. Develop self-compassion.
Many people fall into the trap of toxic beauty ideals because they feel they aren’t good enough. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself, there will always come a point where this pursuit of beauty does more harm than good.
Before making any drastic decision to change your appearance, you must reflect on why you must achieve these standards. Will becoming beautiful change your life? Will it heal any past traumas or wounds? Are the risks of surgery and extreme eating restrictions worth the detriment of your health? These questions may be uncomfortable, but they help you see things in a different light.
Moreover, even if you reached society’s beauty standards, would it make you like yourself better? After all, society will always find ways to change norms in the end, so if you keep chasing them, would it really be worth it?
We know that extreme measures to reach what is ideally beautiful aren’t worth it. So, how can we accept the parts of ourselves we don’t like or change?
The answer is self-compassion, showing kindness and patience to the self when we cannot reach specific standards. Self-compassion combats self-criticism by allowing ourselves breathing room to accept the things we can’t change but still treating ourselves kindly anyway. Sometimes, when the world is against you, you only have yourself to count on—so don’t make yourself your biggest enemy.
The Bottomline: Toxic beauty standards hurt everyone regardless of age, gender, and race. While it may take a long time for society to undo its biases, we can at least fight against these unfair ideals by allowing ourselves to take charge of our lives. When we pursue beauty on our terms and no one else’s, we become less likely to fall into the harmful effects of this dangerous cycle.