In any society, there was a specific attitude towards women and their beauty. Female beauty was a source of inspiration for poets, sometimes it was a reason for wars. There are many examples in history when women have used their beauty in achieving political goals. Nevertheless, the standard of female beauty was always different. In our research, we are going to investigate what reasons have predetermined the modern standard and how it is perceived by women.
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As a rule men pay more attention to physical attractiveness of women than women do to physical attractiveness of men. Mazur states that in majority of cases in evaluation of the most attractive features of the opposite sex men give “top choice to physical attributes, whereas women indicate preference for personality traits such as intelligence or sensibility”(282). As a result, women are more dependent on generalized standards of beauty and they expand much more efforts in comparison with man in order to correspond to these standards. The standards of beauty have been changing rapidly throughout the course of history.
Last time it is observed a pronounced tendency to slenderization in the standard of female beauty. The transformation of the concept of female beauty is predetermined by the fundamental changes in culture and may be observed in symbolic images that are cultivated by means of mass media. It is quite a natural process. These changes to a considerable degree have caused the formation of a new culture in the context of which the concept of female beauty has obtained a principally new meaning.
Under the influence of mass media, the standard of female beauty has become a part of a new cultural tradition and has predetermined the attitude towards women in modern society. Such internal parts of female beauty concept as inner beauty, charisma, inward habit are replacing with extrinsic properties, such as physical attractiveness and slenderness of body. The attempts of women to correspond to these changes sometimes cause health problems and depression. In order to adapt this slender ideal, cultivated by mass media, many absolutely normal and physically healthy woman keep a diet sometimes even suffering from starvation.
Cultural ideals of female beauty have been varying, and in a certain manner, they have been predetermined by the changes in clothing fashion (Mazur 283). Clothes had the important function in hiding certain parts of body which woman wanted to conceal (Mazur 283).
At the same time, dress was used to emphasize those body parts that were considered by a woman as benefits. At the beginning of the century, the existing style in fashion practically concealed the lower parts of body. In such a way, there was no opportunity to compare them and to elaborate a certain standard of their beauty. The situation has changed with emerging tendencies to more open modes of dress. Mazur states that the development of mass media and the fact that “clothing has become more revealing has given numerous opportunities to judge feminine attractiveness” (284).
It is also possible to conclude that the existing tendency for slenderization has been predetermined in a great degree by the needs of fashion market. The rise of the ready-made clothes production demanded its consumers. The aim of all the efforts of advertisers was to raise the interest to this production, setting in such a way a new standard of female beauty corresponded to the new tendencies in fashion.
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This process is described in details in Mazurs article. He introduces two types of feminine beauty: the so-called steel engraving lady and voluptuous woman (Mazur 284). He describes the steel engraving lady as a woman whose “body is short and slight, rounded and curved. Her shoulders slope; her arms are rounded; a small waists lies between a rounded bosom and a bell-shaped lower torso” (Mazur 284). This transmission from one type to another is explained by the influence of mass media and stick magazines (James 5). Mazur makes a hypothesis that this trend for the slenderization of the female standard of beauty, which continuous today, has been started by feminists in their attempts to seek sexual equality (294). He also emphasis the influence of pop culture on fashion and beauty standards.
Berberic thinks that this image of beauty introduced by mass media and the tendency for slenderization is quite harmful for womens health and self-esteem (1). The creation of such an image is predetermined by the fact that woman has been always represented in media in exploitative manner (Berberick 2). A woman was always associated with a prize to be won and this fact “created a definition of beauty that women compare themselves too” (Berberick 2).
A woman in real life is compared with the image produced by mass media. In case the ideals of beauty do not correspond to real life, this objectification causes sexism. The image of beauty created by television or modern magazines Berberic consider to be a fraud, which has nothing in common with a real life (3). This image is a product of activity of graphic artists (James 6). A womans unsuccessful attempts to correspond to this image lead to the problems with health.
Berberic distinguishes between cognitive, societal and physical effects produced by this harmful image on women (5). If a womans body is considered to be fat according to the existing norm, in its evaluation this woman perceives it as fearful information. According to the research held as an example by the author of the article all women who perceive themselves as not corresponding to the existing standard have shown an increased level of anxiety viewing the “interpreted body image” (Berberic 5).
The general reason of societal effects produced by this harmful image is the fact that a woman is now perceived as a product of consumption. Billboards, modern magazines, TV shows, advertising prospectus are overfilled with images of the idealized female body. This image are cultivated through television and internet. This idealized female image with a perfect body now serves to the commercial purposes. The mechanism of its exploitation is based on human psychology. The aim of any advertising is to make its product popular and to earn money from its selling. The perfect image of female body is used to attract consumers attention to a certain product and to stimulate desire to buy it. In such a way, this artificially created image becomes an integrated part of a product. The scheme is very simple- buy the product and gain the girl. In such a way a female body is now associated with a “reward for consumption” (Berberic 8).
This idealized image makes a great influence on the cultural surrounding and does a lot of harm to those women who are far from corresponding to this standard. On an unconscious level, an individual begins to perceive reality in accordance with images and patterns forced by environment. While watching images created by mass media women perceive them as a guidance for them to act. Being perceived by men as objects to be sold or won, they begin to behave in this way.
As Berberic states the popularization of modeling behavior by means of mass media changes society and its attitude towards women (11). Even women with high moral standards, living in a society have to adjust to its demands. A womans self-actualization in any sphere of activity is strongly influenced by her correspondence to the generalized standard of beauty. In such a way, such qualities as intellect, creativity and professionalism are receded into the background.
A desire to fulfil oneself and to be settled in life is quite natural for every human being. For women the realization of this aim is complicated with the existing standard of female beauty. Their desire to correspond to the requirements of this image with all the possible ways sometimes leads to unpredicted consequences and even health problems.
For instance, the existing tendency for slenderization in modern female beauty standard forces women to keep a diet. It is the universal truth that no diet can change the natural aptitudes of a person. Every person is a unique individual and such factors as genetic background and heredity should be also taken into consideration. Nevertheless, the existing image of beauty makes absolutely healthy women to act against their nature. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, more than ten million American women are suffering from anorexia and bulimia nervosa caused by keeping a severe diet (Berberick 4).
Apart from the problems connected with starvation, more and more women resort to services of plastic surgery. The data from Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Statistic states that among more than 13 million cosmetic procedures performed annually in America more than 12.6 million surgical operations are performed on women (Merianos et al.1). The most common services provided by cosmetic surgical clinics are: breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, liposuction, eyelid surgery and tummy tucks (Merianos et al. 1).
In American society, the cosmetic surgery uses the generally accepted standard of female beauty to achieve financial benefits from its popularization. At the same time, it is necessary to mention that sometimes such kind of an operation is required. It may be exemplified by cases of extreme and abnormal fattiness that leads to heart problems, or by cases of birth defects in appearance. But the problem is that the majority of clients of the surgery clinics are healthy women whose decision to change their appearance was predetermined by the existing beauty standard. On this basis, Pitts-Taylor (as cited in Merianos et al.2) states that there is a tendency for medicalization of female beauty. He views those cosmetic procedures that are not necessary for health as a “sociocultural occurrence of medicalization of female beauty… when non-medical problems are described as medical” (Merianos et al.2).
The group of researchers in their attempts to understand the general reasons that make women to resort to services of plastic surgery examined various types of advertising brochures proposed by different cosmetic surgery centers (Merianos et al.8). On these brochures, there were represented beautiful smiling girls with perfect bodies. The slogans of the brochures offered to get rid from excess weight and to alter life for the better in such a way.
On this example, it is obvious that the existing standard of female beauty is used by highly commercialized medical centers for their own sake. The advertising of these centers is designed for women who are not satisfied with their appearance. It is understood that any surgical intervention is a shock for a human organism. Nevertheless, this fact is not taken into consideration by beauty industry. In terms of medicalization of female beauty, a female body is viewed as an object of investment.
This is the day-to-day realities of the contemporary beauty industry with its multibillion incomes (Scherker par.3).
The successful functioning of the beauty industry and the plastic surgery as a part of it may be explained by the fact that many women “fail to find their beauty reflected in the images which bombard them” (Etcoff et al.6).
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Today many women do not associate themselves with the word beautiful. Describing their appearance, most women are apt to use such words as neutral or average (Etcoff et al. 9). Moreover the word beauty is now associated only with a physical attractiveness. The data of the research conducted by Etcoff et al. has also shown that evaluating themselves women focus their attention on body weight as a main criterion of physical attractiveness (16). This fact may serve as an additional evidence to the tendency of slenderization in the existing female beauty standard.
Every person is a social being and in our actions, we are highly affected by society. The social impact has predetermined the existing standard of beauty and it is difficult to say that this image is natural. In order to self-actualize herself in society a woman has to correspond to this artificially made standard. It must be admitted that sometimes it is rather difficult to achieve.
Berberick, Stephanie. “The Objectification of Women in Mass Media: Female Self- Image in Misogynist Culture.” The New York Sociologist. 5 (2010):1-15. Web.
Etcoff, Nancy, Susie Orbach, Jennifer Scott and Heidi D’Agostino. The Real Truth about Beauty: a Global Report. 2004.
James, Nicole. Societys Influence on the Perception of Beauty. n.d.. Web.
Mazur, Allan. “U.S. Trends in Feminine Beauty and Overadaptation.” The Journal of Sex Research. 22.3 (1986): 281-303.
Merianos, Ashley, Rebecca Vidourek, and Keith King. “Medicalization of Female Beauty: A Content Analysis of Cosmetic Procedures.” The Qualitative Report. 18.91 (2013):108-122. Web.
Scherker, Amanda, “7 Ways the Beauty Industry Convinced Women That They Werent Good Enough.” The Huffington Post. 2014. Web.