Why do women adhere to so many societal pressures regarding our appearance and lifestyles? Where has this ever-growing list of expectations come from? And is it time to ignore these burdensome standards, stop striving for measured perfection and learn to be content with our lives? Here are my thoughts…
How many standards do we as women hold ourselves to? I can’t speak for other women, but I genuinely feel stretched and exhausted in my attempt to meet these societal expectations…”You must always look presentable, but not as if you’ve tried too hard; don’t be too fat, don’t be too thin; apply make-up daily, but don’t over-do it; always be polite, even to those you’re not fond of; be accommodating, maternal, and nurturing. Find a partner and maintain a family, don’t be alone, don’t be a spinster.” The list goes on and on, and I have some questions; Where did it originate? Where on Earth have all of these pressures emerged from, and perhaps more importantly why do we even bother paying them any attention? Is it time for us women to ignore them, stop striving for societal perfection, and learn to be content with our lives?
Given the long nature of the above societal measurements, this blog will focus solely on the expectation of physical beauty and the origins of its burdening.
I recently had a very in-depth conversation with one of my closest friends – a discussion that sparked my interest in writing this blog. We both expressed our extreme sadness over our ‘lost beauty’; something we left far behind us in our early twenties. No longer do we care to prim and perfect our hair and makeup daily, neither do we choose our outfits accordingly and appropriately. We have since become accustomed to the daily lives of quick morning coffees, messy hair buns, and wearing little to no makeup. ‘Selfies’ have become a thing of the past, resulting in the ridiculously negative effect of feeling disconnected from society. Ultimately, we both concluded that we were ‘too fat, too ugly, extremely unattractive’ and that all in all we ‘had let ourselves go’.
Blimey…what an emotionally draining conversation that was! Whilst we have indeed gained some weight and wrinkles, we have also gained wisdom, something which was completely absent from the conversation. We are both women who have graduated with first-class degrees, have a variety of career choices to choose from, and have accumulated a wealth of life experience along the way. So why were we both sat on my sofa discussing our appearances as opposed to our accomplishments? Why were we so fixated on basing our self-worth on the way we present ourselves to the world?
Other Women & Social Media
In reference to the above questions, the vast majority of modern feminist will no doubt argue that the bulk of these pressures have derived from the ‘patriarchy’; well, to be somewhat controversial, I actually believe the complete opposite. In fact, I have no doubt that the greater part of these burdens have been placed on women…by women.
Starting from a very young age, impressionable girls are recklessly programmed to believe that their self worth should be reflected in their physical appearance. Shortly put, girls are brainwashed into thinking that being “pretty” will result in their social acceptance. As a result, young girls begin to question their attractiveness and measure themselves against other women; mostly social media starts, including the dreaded ‘influencers’ (yuck). This overly obsessive measurement against others usually ends in a lifelong ambition to strive for aesthetic perfection, which often escalates to young girls under the age of 18 pursuing cosmetic enhancement, including lip fillers and botox.
As noted earlier – this isn’t the influence of the ‘patriarchy’, it’s quite obviously the influence of other women, resulting in a ‘domino effect’ amongst us all. We expect ourselves to look pleasing to the eye, and expect other women to adhere to the same. To go back to me and my friend, we openly admitted that when one of our social media friends (or others that we follow) posts a ‘selfie’, we automatically feel the need/dread to replicate this behaviour. This will then set a unfavourable chain reaction for the remainder of our day, leaving us to deal with intrusive thoughts such as, “I don’t look like that, I must be ugly; I must lose some weight/wear more makeup/get my hair done/buy new clothes.” effectively ruining our day. All because someone posted a selfie? It seems ridiculous, but this is our reality. It’s a disgustingly vicious circle, even more so for young impressionable girls.
So, What Can Be Done?
There have been certain attempts to end the burden of the fixed standards for physical beauty. We all remember those Dove campaigns for ‘real beauty’, the make-up free selfie movement, and others such as #losehatenotweight; but, nothing seems to be stopping or even slowing women’s obsession with their need to strive for the perfect appearance, and portray a life to the world which is neither realistic nor sustainable.
I think this is because (and it might sound rather cliché), the shift in mentality must begin at an individual level, or nothing will change. We must empower ourselves and those closest to us to shift our mindset towards our physical appearance and make a conscious effort to not speak so negatively about ourselves, or allow those closest to us to do the same. We must stop basing our self-worth by comparing and measuring our appearance against others we know, and those we don’t. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look presentable and being healthy; so long as it is in accordance with your own measurements and you are content with yourself.
Therefore, I’m making a personal decision to remove myself from the ‘Warped World of Women’. No longer will I measure my self-worth against my physical appearance, nor will I compare myself to other women. That’s not to say I won’t care for my appearance, of course I will, but it will be set against my own values and not those imposed by the outside world. I’m going to make a conscious effort to be more positive about myself and encourage those around me to do the same. I hope that those reading will also take such an approach, because after all we are only on this earth for a limited time, why worry about trivial things like selfies and botox!