In Asia, thinness was once considered to be a symbol of deprivation and malnutrition. It started to change in the late 19th century. However, radical expectations of thinness among women in the western world have become widespread in both developed and developing countries, and this developed a great frustration with body image.
Throughout North America and Western Europe, an idealized picture of a woman with a feminine form and a tight, corset waist, sloping shoulders, tapered fingers and delicate feet began to emerge. This model, known as the “steel engraving woman”, was synonymous not only with frailty, vulnerability, and subordination but also with high social status and moral values. Such ads were symbolic of the sexist cults of thinness that are still so prevalent in contemporary western culture.
During the 1940s, slim bodies were the subject of standards of beauty. The movement towards slim bodies took force when the ‘Twiggy’ supermodel debuted in the United States in 1966. Throughout virtually every cultural medium – from magazines to television and famous movies – contemporary Western women are introduced to this ideal. Due to this, many western women became dissatisfied with their bodies.
The fine ideal of beauty is the notion that physical attractiveness is one of the most important assets of women and it should be achieved and maintained by all women.
The main concern here is that this ideal has actually become a global trend where women aspire to the idealization of slimming and a desire to be slender in most countries, including India. It’s a concern for body image scholars, as there is ample evidence that body dissatisfaction is a pressure to conform to a certain definition of ‘attractiveness’ or ‘beauty’, as well as a risk factor which affects women’s health such as eating disorders, depression, low self-esteem (starting from the adolescent stage and continuing into adulthood) and poorer mental health.
The fine ideal of beauty is the notion that physical attractiveness is one of the most important assets of women and it should be achieved and maintained by all women. This ideal is rooted in heteronormative values and whoever doesn’t comply is somehow punished – which has a deep impact on women of all sexual orientations. Most children’s fairy tales represent the concept of feminine beauty and the way in which beauty is presented here is read by various social classes and racial groups. Mass media plays a vital role in the shaping of women’s self-image by offering them knowledge and perspective about what people find desirable or attractive. One way they do this is by using thin and attractive models in print and other media.
Body image is a multidimensional concept that refers to one’s understanding and attitudes of the size and shape of one’s body. This has both a perceptual dimension related to the way we perceive our body size, shape, weight, physical properties and movements as well as an evaluation aspect – relating to how we feel about the characteristics and how these feelings affect our behaviour.
Slim or slender is not the standard for being beautiful – health and fitness are far more important.
Body dissatisfaction arises when one discovers that their body in terms of size/shape is not measuring up to the ideal body type as listed by the dominant culture. In other words, body dissatisfaction is not only how we view social values but also by how we perceive ourselves. Therefore, body dissatisfaction and beauty perceptions are inextricably interrelated. The first risk factor of most unhealthy habits, including eating disorders and an unhealthy daily diet is due to body dissatisfaction. Therefore, it is important not only for theories about debunking beauty perceptions but for clinical and practical reasons to recognize the sources of bodily dissatisfaction.
When a woman lacks or does not adhere to the supposed expectations of the ideal beauty standards, she is not only left feeling exposed but is also blamed for rejecting societal pressures by embracing her body instead of turning it into an ideal shape. As a result, there is always an ongoing comparison with the ideal of attractiveness which not only hurts the self-respect of women but also keeps affecting them by limiting their personal freedom and choices.
Women are taught to believe in society’s unrealistic standards for being attractive/beautiful. Their credibility is too often decided by the interpretation of other people. Slim or slender is not the standard for being beautiful – health and fitness are far more important. Every kind and form of the body is different and has a balance of its own. True beauty is inside and there is a need to develop positive body image in all women and girls. At the end of the day, those who have a decent heart are the most lovely people in the world.
Featured image used for representational purpose only. Image source: Buzzfeed