“Have you noticed?”: are beauty standards toxic?

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Beauty standards remain prominent in society. Social media is awash with influencers’ carefully curated images and, upon an extensive scrolling through our feeds, most of us will make judgements on the people, and their bodies with which we are presented online. Comparisons and judgments are unavoidable; with more content comes more opportunity for appearances to be crafted and altered, and for beauty standards to be upheld. Beauty standards can vary dramatically around the world but, regardless of their specific details, these standards are largely expectations for how the ‘ideal’ person should look. 

We praise and express envy for those who achieve these seemingly ‘better’ lives, appearances… whatever it may be. A deviation from such beauty standards is considered surprising, perhaps even shocking. It is a deviation to be commented on, to be remarked on. We feel entitled to critique other people’s lives and appearances. But why do we have this entitlement to comment on the appearances of others? Why, when we are so aware of the negative effects of beauty standards, do we still perpetuate them in our society?

Perhaps this is where the entitlement to comment on others’ bodies comes from

It was thoughts like this that came into my head whilst reading about Tilly Ramsay, TV personality and nineteen-year-old daughter of chef, Gordon Ramsay, and her recent experience with such judgment. Ramsay, who is currently performing on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, came up as a subject of discussion on the radio station LBC. Presenter Steve Allen, during a discussion about the dancing programme, remarked that Ramsay was “a chubby little thing”. He invited the listener to agree with him, asking: “have you noticed?” He then speculated that it was “probably her dad’s cooking”.

Allen, with no connection to Ramsay whatsoever (other than watching her briefly on television), felt that he had the right to not only comment on Ramsay’s body, but also speculate on her individual circumstances. Gaining considerable support from her Strictly Come Dancing costars, fans and other celebrities, Ramsay remarked in a social media post that being “called out on a national radio station by a 67-year-old man is too far”. 

Yet, as Ramsay finishes her post, she understands “that being in the public eye obviously comes with its own repercussions”. Such a comment reflects a general complacency towards celebrities and the judgment they may receive on social media – because they have ‘chosen’ to be famous, they somehow ‘asked for’ such treatment. Perhaps this is where the entitlement to comment on others’ bodies comes from – we are able to detach from the reality of a celebrity as a person, so we can make judgments without fear of them ever finding out. Such an entitlement, however, is not only confined to the realm of celebrity. 

When considering how beauty standards can mould the way that we view others, I thought back to my own experience in the unique educational environment of all-girls school. A microcosm of society’s beauty standards, the same sense of entitlement to comment on other’s body that Allen demonstrated was rife within such a concentrated environment. I often overheard similar comments, made without a second thought for the emotions of others. I’ve also seen what effect extreme beauty standards can have, knowing many individuals who have suffered with mental health problems relating to their body image.

With such standards still being upheld in the media we consume without any criticism, it becomes more difficult to disregard them

In the age of the influencer, beauty standards really are upheld in the media. It is here that I believe our problem lies. The correlation between the media and such standards is perhaps emphasised best by the fact that during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020, with most spending increased periods of time online and alone, both adults and under-18s felt worse about their bodies. 

We can try our best to disregard these beauty standards and cultural ideals of what a body should look like – yet, with such standards still being upheld in the media we consume without any criticism, it becomes more difficult to disregard them. When judgments are being made in the media about people’s appearances, it is unsurprising that we carry this entitlement to comment on other people’s bodies into our lives.

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