The perfect body and the perfect face

woman made up hair done

Let’s be realistic here – young people have a lot going on these days. They need to excel at everything they do – study hard and achieve good marks, play sport, participate in extra-mural activities, and to complete the picture – they need to spend time, effort and money on looking perfect too. There is a very high beauty standard out there – imagine what happens if you do not achieve it!

You will not be popular; you will not be liked; you will never go on dates; your nose is too big or too small; your eyes are too close together; you are too fat or too thin or too short or too tall… the list goes on.

  • Where do these beauty standards come from?
  • Why do young people pursue them so painstakingly?
  • Can anything be done to remedy the situation?

#HatchKids Discuss Girls’ Body Image

The beauty ideal or standard for the perfect body

What is the definition of beauty? Herman Bavinck, a well-known theologian, declared: “Beauty exists in the agreement between content and form, idea and appearance; in harmony, proportion, unity in differentiation, organization; in splendor, glory, radiant perfection.” [1]

David Hart, philosopher, states: “The beauty standard changes constantly. It is influenced by cultureglobal events, and especially the Media.”[2]

These are reasonable definitions – they basically reinforce the old cliché that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. The ideal beauty type may encompass different characteristics for different people.

However, the ideal beauty standard is forced upon us in many different ways.

It starts when we are young. In fairy tales, the heroes and heroines are always beautiful and well-proportioned. The nasty people, the witches and ogres etc., are all ugly, have warts on their chins and are unshapely with short legs and bent backs.

Barbie dolls are “the quintessential embodiment of beauty and perfection. Barbie has it all – from platinum blonde locks, flawless, chaste skin, a waist the size of her wrist to plastic boobs, permanently slanted feet…”[3] The Ken dolls are equally gorgeous.

The media: magazines, advertisements and television all indicate what standards of physical perfection should be. With the advent of the internet, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, the beauty ideal is even more widely available.

We listen to celebrities imparting wisdom such as: “You can never be too rich or too thin” (Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor), or “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” (Kate Moss).

This constant exposure to the “ideal beauty type” impacts hugely on teenagers. It affects their self-esteem, body image and sense of identity at a crucial stage of their physical and emotional development. It has been proven statistically that it leads to eating disorders, self-harm, drinking, smoking, depression and bullying.[4]

anorexic seeing herself fat in mirror

Take a look at these horrifying statistics:

  • Less than 11% of young girls consider themselves beautiful.
  • 25% of women between 16 and 22 years have an eating disorder.
  • 4% of children between 13 and 18 years suffer from an eating disorder: anorexia, bulimia or binge eating.
  • 95% of people with eating disorders are aged between 12 and 25 years.
  • 33% of adolescent boys and 50% of adolescent girls pursue unhealthy weight control practices.
  • 13% of teenagers who smoke do so to lose weight.
  • 60% of teenage girls compare themselves to fashion models and 47% of the girls say they actively strive to look like these models.[5] [6]
  • A new eating disorder is on the increase: orthorexia. This is when a person becomes compulsive about eating “healthily” and obsessively checks ingredient lists, cuts out whole food groups and shows extreme levels of distress when the “correct” foods are not available.[7]

One of the most horrific stories I read was that a young girl seriously considered having corrective surgery to correct her “shortness”. This would have involved breaking her shin bones, grafts, implants, extreme pain and cost, all to make her a few centimetres taller.

anorexic male teenager

fat person happy with body image taking selfie

Why are young people so obsessed with the achieving the perfect body and the perfect face?

Adverse or negative publicity does not seem to help. I have interviewed several teenage boys and girls and was fascinated by their responses. I was informed that:

  • They all know that beauty comes from within, and that a person’s worth is not to be measured by looks alone. However, this does not stop them trying to attain these beauty standards.
  • Looks matter – people with good looks are treated better than “uglier” or “fatter” people.
  • They suffer from social anxiety – you will not be popular if you are not attractive.
  • Beauty is power.
  • Social media platforms have increased transparency.
  • They know that celebrities spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve perfection through surgery, make-up and a carefully controlled lifestyle.
  • They are aware, too, that most images of these beautiful celebrities are photoshopped or manipulated.
  • To be happy, you have to be attractive.
  • Both boys and girls are obsessed with appearance, although girls speak more about it and are more open to discussion.
  • The ideal body type: weight, facial symmetry and healthy hair may all be linked to primal evolutionary ideals. What are we genetically programmed to fancy?
  • What is pleasing to our aesthetic sense is represented by a set of numbers (body proportions).

photoshopping and image manipulation

What can be done about this preoccupation or obsession with the perfect body and perfect face?

Parents, teachers, young people – everyone is aware that this is a problem that impacts negatively on the emotional and physical development of teenagers.

What can be done to minimise the impact of inaccessible beauty standards on young people?

It starts at home with parents. Parents need to instil a sense of worth within their children. They need to lead by example by being happy with their own body image. Positive reinforcement can never start at too young an age. Admire your children and praise their achievements, no matter how insignificant you may think they are. Teach your children not to be fooled by stereotypes and know that their individuality makes them unique and to be cherished.

We also know that it is in the school environment that the problem of a negative body image is exacerbated: “If kids lack that sense of self-worth to start with, bad experiences and mean people can make them feel much worse,” [Susan] Badger, [family therapist] said. “They are more vulnerable to bullying, teasing or being excluded.”[8] Children spend a large part of their days at school. It makes sense that a part of their education should focus on social issues in general, and on acceptance of self and diversity with others in particular.

Small steps are being taken to redress the situation. The media is promoting acceptance of diversity and not only one ideal of beauty. Diesel has an advertisement for jeans featuring a model in a wheelchair. Have a look at these five advertising campaigns that are “breaking the beauty mould“.

Modelling standards are changing. A group of 37 models sent “an open letter” to the fashion industry in the United States, asking the industry to set standards of models to incorporate healthier weights as well as to embrace diversity.[9] The French have introduced a law that all photoshopped or manipulated images of models must be acknowledged as such.[10]

Mattel, the company that created Barbie, has undertaken a new campaign called “Project Dawn” where a new line of Barbie dolls has been introduced: three new body types, seven different skin tones, different hairstyles and textures and even flat feet. [11]

So yes, there is awareness of the problem of propagating a beauty ideal and its impact on young people, and yes, something is starting to be done about it. However, there is still a long way to go…

In the words of one wise teenager: “People shouldn’t focus on what random people want them to be or do. It may be cliché, but just be who you want to be.”[12]

Or, as J.K. Rowling noted: “I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’.”

On a final note:
Joanna Rants 03:55
(Please be aware that this video contains explicit language which has been partially bleeped out.)

[1]  Robert P. Mills, November 2009

[2]  26 October 2015

[3]; Ally Grimaldi, 27 April 2016

[4]; Romeo Vitelli Ph.D., 18 November 2013

[5]  Madison Riehle, 14 February 2014

[6] Justin James, 8 August 2017

[7] June 2018

[8]  Madison Riehle, 14 February 2014

[9] Rachel Lubitz, 2 February 2017

[10] Gabriella Canal, 5 May 2017

[11]; Ally Grimaldi, 27 April 2016

[12]  Madison Riehle, 14 February 2014


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