Words and Photographs by Jaquelin Bautista
We all dream of an equal world, hopefully. A world without disparities between rich and poor, Blacks and Whites, and women and men. There are many ways in which we can address these inequalities, from investing in education to implementing new policies; There is an abundant amount of work we must do as a society to create an equal environment for all. Across media platforms, we have begun to see an increase in the representation of people of color, body type, and disability. Representation plays a big factor in closing the gaps of inequity.
In a study done by Nicole Martins and Kristen Harrison at Indiana University, they found that out of 400 black and white girls and boys, the only group whose self-esteem was not diminished were the white young boys. Seeing yourself, or rather not seeing yourself, has great effects on one’s self-esteem, which can diminish one’s self-worth and derail their education. Today, more people are engaging in a conversation about prejudice and discrimination, offering safe spaces for people to share their experiences. Media sources like Blavity, Latina.com, and Colorline serve communities whose issues and voices are often unheard.
As we enter Women’s History Month, we cannot forget to spark conversation on the many ways that women continue to experience the detrimental effects of the patriarchy. The messages we send to women – about the way they should behave, dress, communicate, and live – are spread at a young age. Toys that target girls are often dolls, kitchen sets, and stuffed animals, permitting the establishment of conceptions of female roles in society.
The doll manufacturer “Barbie,” has dedicated an entire campaign and made it part of their brand image to encourage young girls to pursue their dreams – regardless of what they are told. By creating dolls in different careers, Barbie aims to promote girls entering fields like STEM, and to continue playing sports.
Often, Western beauty standards portrayed in advertisements, entertainment, and across social media platforms, perpetuate the development of insecurities and lack of self-esteem. The women shown represent a specific body type with certain features. Women who do not see their body types represented in the media tend to experience high rates of body dissatisfaction and body dysmorphia. “The Good Place” actress, Jameela Jamil, started the ‘I Weigh’ movement, where women demonstrate the worth they weigh from different aspects of their life.
On the same accord, the 10 billion dollar skin bleaching industry is fueled by the fear women have of being too dark; as the media so often portrays light skin women as the ideal standard. Women with curly hair may feel compelled to straighten it because Western beauty standards value straighter hair. Hair is, in fact, one of the many ways in which women’s lives are regulated. Hair has been used to measure a woman’s worth and sexuality throughout history and among various cultures. Longer hair is often a symbol of a woman’s beauty, femininity, and sexuality. Some African and Muslim cultures place value on woman’s hair and include the option to cover up. Women with longer hair appear to have greater sex appeal and are perceived as more attractive. Whereas women with short hair are not only perceived as less attractive and have lower sex appeal, but are also seen as less feminine. These ideas of a woman’s sexuality are perpetuated by the media’s representation of women’s hair. We do not tend to see women with short, curly, or even no hair on screens, magazines, or advertisements.
Further, women’s bodies continue to be policed as we monitor women’s body hair. While men are not expected to groom at the rate that women are, women spend thousands of dollars throughout their lifetime on hair removal processes. Additionally, the media displays hairless female bodies, even in razor campaigns. Women with body hair may be considered to have bad hygiene, and the language around body hair includes words like gross, dirty, and disgusting. Nonetheless, hair removal is a norm that people continually conform to – with 93 to 99 percent of women of all ages shaving, sources show. Women who do not conform to these expectations face being outcasted and deemed as deviant. Similar to a woman with short hair, women with body hair experience being perceived as less feminine.
The 532.43 billion dollar makeup industry is constantly perpetuating ideal beauty standards. Women are bombarded with images of other women with perfect skin, eyelashes, and eyebrows – allowing women to believe that this is how they should look. Suddenly, women are investing in eyelash extensions, eyebrow tinting, and feeding the cosmetic industry to fit this ideal standard of beauty. Studies have found that women spend around $3,756 a year, or a total of $225,360 throughout their entire lifetime.
The media is constantly telling women how to live their lives. Whether it’s regulating the amount of hair a woman has on her body or perpetuating unachievable beauty standards, women are constantly distracted by the idea that they are not enough. Women who don’t see themselves being represented in the media invest time and energy into achieving the ideal image of a woman. How can we expect to create an equal world, then, when women are constantly worrying about their appearance in unhealthy rather than empowering ways? Women spend money on products and hours in front of mirrors looking for ‘imperfections’ all because they are told they need to look a certain way. Men do not experience the same level of governance from the media at the rate that women do, and are exempt from the constant doubt of not being enough.
Beauty standards are a great way to keep women distracted by their image and to not invest in the same aspects of their lives as men do. For example, women are not encouraged to pursue their goals or seek higher education. Instead, we teach our little girls about nail polish, lipstick, and obedience. We teach our young girls what their place is in society, and not the power they have to be what they want.
Today, women across the country challenge beauty standards by shaving their heads as a political statement, not removing their body hair, or even not wearing makeup. Women are recognizing the hold beauty standards have had on their lives and are challenging norms, breaking boundaries, and working on their self-acceptance. This is not to say that women should throw away their makeup or chop off all of their hair. Rather, we need to question the impact the media has on why we value those things in the first place.
It is too often that a woman finds herself full of insecurities fueled by the media’s lack of inclusion of bodies and complexions. One day when we no longer expect people to be, act, and look a certain way, we will hopefully have gotten one step closer to a more equal and peaceful world.