The media has been notorious in recent years for pressuring people to have a singular, narrow view on beauty. In salon’s, beauty trolley’s are now overflowing to the point which now encourages customers to feel similar expenditures are necessary in their own beauty kits. However, the backlash has begun, as society wakes up to the damage that such narrow and pressured expectations can cause.
Fifty years ago, notions of beauty certainly existed but the pressures seen today amongst very young girls (and increasingly, boys too) didn’t exist to remotely the same degree. Beauty has traditionally been associated with biological factors of youth, health and fertility, even on a sub-conscious level. In the past, greater emphasis was put on beauty and character and an expression of personality, which were characteristics and traits seen to bestow beautiful qualities beyond pure physical appearance.
Since the explosion of advertising in the 1950s, the pressure of consumerism from the 1980s onwards and the huge influx of reality television, the internet and social media in the ‘noughties’ and beyond, the pressures of the media, advertising and beauty and fashion industries are coming down to bear ever harder on vulnerable young people, to their detriment.
The rise in cosmetic surgery is a perfect example. Once, it was an industry devoted to reconstruction needed for birth defects or the results of accidents. Now, the burgeoning industry exists to promote purely cosmetic procedures in pursuit of a media-dominated, hugely narrow image of perfection. This image appears to be largely based on the couture world of high fashion, where women are expected to be rail thin, impossibly tall and very young, or the imagery portrayed in ‘lads mag’ culture with vacuous blonds with large breasts and lipo-suctioned thighs.
Scarring, for example, was once the mark of chicken pox, teenage acne, burns and accidents, often something that people learned to live with, or covered up with judicious make-up. Today, the media encourages us to view these ‘blights’ as imperfections that must be razed, lasered, cut and burnt away to appease their view of perfection.
The result of this barrage of unobtainable, narrow beauty is evident from lack of confidence in young people, rising debt levels as customers endlessly buy-in to the latest ‘wonder product’ claim and rising levels of dissatisfaction. More serious symptoms of our societal malaise include anorexia, bulimia and other disorders with cases of girls at primary school with evidence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, where sufferers perceive themselves to look far different from the reality.
So, how can we tackle these problems before they grow ever more severe? Society needs to react and to show its displeasure to an industry obsessed with youth, extreme thinness and largely white skinned models. The power of consumers must never be underestimated. Groups can join to make their feelings known by the same media that passes on these powerful marketing messages.
As consumers, individuals and wider members of society we can work to adopt our own wider view of what constitutes beauty and demand that the industry becomes inclusive and representational of the vastly diverse beauty around us. We can boycott unethical campaigns; demand that teenagers are no longer used to advertise anti-ageing products and request ‘normal’ sized models and mixed race models who resemble us.