What is beautiful?
For a thousand years in China, girls of six years old ritually bound their feet and broke their toes. The ideal female form was teeny-tiny feet (around three inches long). The crippling pain caused by this mutilation meant woman walked in small, unsteady steps termed the “lotus gait”. This way of walking was considered feminine and beautiful… Only working peasants had huge, ugly feet!
The manufactured concept of a beauty ideal has persisted throughout every age and culture. In the 19th century, European woman squeezed themselves into tiny, hour-glass shaped corsets, inhibiting movement and breathing. From lead-based, poisonous make-up to cancer-inducing fake tan; from the size 16 curves of Marilyn Monroe to the heroin chic of Kate Moss; woman have always shaped, shaved and altered them to achieve a particular type of beauty.
The advancement of globalisation and technology means that our visual field is saturated by a glut of digitally enhanced, ‘perfect’ woman. The relentless, elusive demands of a beauty ideal which concentrates on a narrow range of culturally specific characteristics is devastating.
You may not opt for cosmetic surgery or inject your face with botox, but chances are you have crammed your feet into painful stilettos or endured the agony of leg wax in an attempt to conform to today’s ideal. Even if you are not overweight, you have probably been on a diet.
We abandon “real” beauty…individualised, inclusive, diverse, global beauty which doesn’t depend upon achieving a specific skin tone, hair type or body shape… and for what? So we can all become clones of Posh Spice?
Does it Matter?
Girls have always enjoyed grooming and dressing up. Hair braiding (or straightening, or curling, or styling), are traditional ways for females to bond. But contemporary images of woman have usually been re-shaped, enhanced and cleaned up, creating an unattainable, unreal body image.
Comparing ourselves to this fake ideal can cause feelings of inadequacy, low self esteem and heartbreaking body distress.
In a recent UK survey, 7 out of 10 girls admitted that they refrain from activities they would enjoy because they feel self-conscious or uncomfortable about how they look.
Only 10 women in every 100 feel ok about their body shape.
Eating Disorders and Body Image
Eating disorders are not caused by super-thin models or size zero jeans… but the development of anorexia or bulimia is almost always precipitated by a period of dieting. Most specialists now believe that dieting is a pre-requisite for the development of an eating disorder… this means that young people who diet are at risk. And because younger and younger girls feel self-conscious and unhappy with their body weight, they diet…
It is nolonger unusual for girls as young as twelve to develop anorexia nervosa.
Check out the fabulous films which explore the concept of beauty at
Dove self Esteem film Gallery:
All comments welcome!