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Two decades have passed since Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth was first published and yet the uncanny relatability of the book will stand as the testament of the toxic beauty standards which women of today feel almost compelled to follow.
A lot has changed and a lot is yet to, or will it ever?
Wolf’s famous phrase “cultural conspiracy” has undergone a huge makeover. ‘The ideal image of beauty’ has been questioned and women have stomped past it, marching towards a new era, crushing down the parameters which set the “femininity” before. But with time, the invisible hand of conspirators have only gone bigger and broader, and billboards, magazines, social media have adapted with the time to create new parameters. Hence, in the lives of ordinary people, the “skin-whitening” cream is now called “skin-lightening”, expensive skin-surgeries have been replaced by DIY hacks and Botox injections are shipped to home (more about that later); the prismatic feed of social media influencers setting new beauty trends every day and us, the ordinary, in a never-ending quest to struggle with the toxic standards.
Beauty Standards Of Today
Ten years after the book, Wolf wrote in an editorial of The Beauty Myth “So has beauty-myth pluralism taken the day? Not by a long shot. The beauty myth, like many ideologies of femininity, mutates to meet new circumstances and checkmates women’s attempts to increase their power.”
To put it in perspective with the present time, now the multi-faceted illustrations of beauty have spread the epidemic everywhere. The imagery of “perfect” beauty is multi-dimensional yet it requires you to fit into a mould to meet your own version of “beauty”, inspired by the advertisers and multi-million brands. Women beyond a certain age of “youth”, who were not considered fit for the magazine covers before, are now dazzling with their “ageing like fine wine” aura but also endorsing anti-ageing cream. Nine-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds have fashion trends to follow, eating disorders are at all time high and your ordinary women are still told in a thousand whispers of what they can do to ‘enhance’ their beauty, courtesy to yours truly!
“Today, the notion that beauty ideals are socially constructed, manipulated by advertisers and marketed for profit motives is part of the conventional wisdom, not a fringe argument.” – Naomi Wolf, The Washington Post.
Beauty Trends and Instagram
I think I stand for everyone when I say, looking at the picturesque feed of many Instagrammers, at least once a day, we feel if our life is truly enough. In 2017, a UK survey suggested, “Instagram is rated as the worst social media platform when it comes to its impact on young people’s mental health”, BBC News reported. Selena Gomez told Vogue in an interview, “I always end up feeling like shit when I look at Instagram,” need I say more?
For the young generation, the ever-changing beauty trends of Instagram builds up a labyrinth where the struggle is to constantly be in the loop in order to be ‘trendy’ and the result is an increased rate of depression, anxiety and a competitive market fields for brands to sow the curated necessity of their products.
To make things much worse, incredibly popular Instagrammers come with trends to float in the bubble of popularity and the impact on young girls can lead to even serious medical harm.
For instance, Kylie Jenner’s DIY hack to get luscious and pouty lips without injection broke records as hundreds and thousands of teens tried to achieve it in the home. Skin specialists are of the opinion, though the challenge may give fuller lips, it can also cause serious damage to lips including damage to the face structure.
Similarly, another trend which has been warned against and yet it is widely opted by young women is skin bleaching. Some of the places use actual bleach products which can even bring skin-cancer, specialists have said. Yet, the allurement of achieving a lighter skin-tone is too hard to let go of, owing to the standards of beauty that have been endorsed.
Beauty is no more necessarily proportionate to the imagery of conventional youth yet the temptation to get botox can run so deep that there are companies which claim to ship the products to your doorstep. Botox injections should not be used without the presence of an expert at any cost as it can damage the nerves or even cause skin necrosis, blindness and serious harm to the structure of your face.
The myth of beauty, the vicious and sometimes almost impossible to achieve beauty standards cannot be just called “imposed” anymore, they have been injected so deep, we inherit and absorb it all with every passing day, with every new “trend” which comes with a positive quote of embracing your individuality. But social media is not necessarily the evil force behind injecting these beauty standards. The mammoth use of the platforms by millions of people turned it into a carrier of propaganda of the bigger “conspirators”.
Jayati Sarkar, an English M.Phil pursuer of Calcutta University stated, “I think the saying that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder no longer stands true because with an age of narcissism most of the people want to look flawless. Women strive to maintain a standard of their beauty which often is achieved at the cost of losing so many things and various side effects. It erupts more from a psychological paradigm and society’s ways of stereotyping the same.”
Anish Chakraborty, a popular Instagram creator, stated “While one has to acknowledge that there has been shift from the archetypal narrative (of beauty) and there are more stories of body positivity surfacing than there was say even five years ago – the problem that persists is that it is confined to certain pockets of the society. A proper change of attitude or elimination of toxic beauty standards can only be achieved once it reaches the grassroots. Those who belong to second or three-tier cities still have to conform to these toxic standards because the norm for them hasn’t really changed. That is what keeps the entire conversation of accepting oneself as what you are a hostage.
Also, there needs to be a conversation between the genders instead of confrontation. The need of the hour is open conversations, more outreach and last but not the least a little bit of check on who plays the role models.”
The 27-years-old video editor stated, “A person who’s advocating body positivity and beauty, can’t go peddling beauty creams the very next day. The voices need to come from society, from women in every walk of life and not from women who are from a certain path of life. Unless we can create a time when every lady who walks into a room brims with confidence about herself, as she is, as she wants to be – the situation will remain stuck in a quagmire.”
“There is no wicked witches”
But the glass is not always half empty. Fast forward to 2019, owing to the excruciating effort of the last few decades by an army of women, the message of self-acceptance has been well-spread. And with each new Instagram posts of women coming out and accepting their true selves, we keep pressing our hopes a little closer to heart, knowing to have faith in the journey, to believe “it only gets better”. Or as Wolf told The Washington Post, “To anxious young women, I want to say what I wish more older women had said to my generation: Relax, enjoy the journey and do not worry about the future. There are no wicked witches. It is all good. Really, really good.”