Feel Good

Opinion: Unrealistic beauty standards are back

September’s fashion month and recent celebrity culture have reverted to promoting super-skinny, aesthetically altered beauty standards. Are we taking a backwards step?

Written by Laura Kingston
Published 28.10.2022

Scrolling through TikTok at the end of September, many of us would have come across at least one video proclaiming Bella Hadid as the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’, or glamourising Kim and Khloe Kardashian’s extreme weight loss as ‘revenge bodies’.

At HLN, we aren’t into body shaming in any way. There’s no denying these women are beautiful and it’s completely up to them how much surgery they want to have or how thin they want to be.

What we do want to discuss, though, is the over-representation and idolisation of these women in the media.

Fiona Yassin, psychotherapist, founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic, told us: ‘Feeling like you are not able to keep up with, or reach the same standard as someone you admire, can have a huge impact on your self-esteem and self-worth. Sadly, we live in a society that equates physical appearance with beauty and that can be problematic, especially for children and young adults.

‘For young people already struggling with their body aesthetic, being bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards can exacerbate an existing problem. Whilst images of extreme weight loss do not cause an eating disorder, they can exacerbate existing behaviours and encourage individuals to diet extremely or maintain established patterns.

‘Social and mass media has the greatest impact on those who are the most vulnerable, particularly those whose self-esteem comes from how others perceive or respond to them and who want to fit in. Research for some time has shown that girls comparing themselves to images of celebrities on social media is related to body-image dissatisfaction and a drive for thinness.’

The strides we’ve made in recent years celebrating all body shapes and sizes feels like it’s fallen by the wayside – or is it just us?

SUPER-SKINNY IS BEING GLORIFIED AGAIN

The Y2K trend is one that’s not going away anytime soon. We find it crazy that a trend from our own lifetime has come back around so quickly, but here we are. We’re talking very low-rise jeans and cargo pants, crop tops, hairbands and teeny dresses a la Paris Hilton circa 1999.

Paris even closed the runway show for Versace at Milan Fashion Week, proving that this trend is here to stay, for another year at least.

Now, whether we choose to embrace the trend or not, the upshot of it is that all the most famous models have had to embrace the waif-like ‘heroin-chic’ look coined by ‘90s supermodels like Kate Moss. We’re subsequently bombarded with social media posts from models with impossibly thin bodies and, sadly, they set the tone for our mass beauty-standards.

On top of this, young women in their 20s who are more susceptible to following trends are now pressured into wearing incredibly tiny outfits. While we shouldn’t feel the need to hide any part of our bodies, we’re also not seeing many ‘normal’ bodies promoting the trend in the media.

THE CONTINUING POWER OF THE KARDASHIANS

Which brings us onto the Kardashians.

Whether we like it or not, the reign of the Kardashians in setting trends is still incredibly high thanks to the super-woman PR skills of the family matriarch, Kris Jenner.

They’ve been on our screens, our social media feeds and splashed across the press for 15 years now and, in some ways – for championing body diversity at least – this hasn’t been a bad thing.

Yes, you could absolutely argue that the surgically enhanced bubble-butt trends that the sisters have promoted for a decade is also a completely unattainable body standard. But at least they had some curves.

In recent months following their break-ups, both Kim and Khloe Kardashian have demonstrated extreme weight loss, supposedly down to using diabetic medication and the surgical removal of their Brazilian Butt Lift surgery, (but that’s a rumour – don’t sue us, Kris)!

Fiona said: ‘Seeing a “super skinny” body aesthetic can increase feelings of anxiety, particularly for people already struggling with their body image. If left untreated, the result could be the development of an eating disorder and associated disorders, or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). It is important to note that eating disorders are disorders rooted in trauma, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviours and are very little about the actual food on the plate.”

OTHERWORDLY BEAUTY IS JUST THAT – UNATTAINABLE TO MOST WOMEN ON EARTH

Bella Hadid is another super high-profile celebrity model who has undoubtedly smashed Fashion Month this year. And fair play to her, she obviously works incredibly hard and has managed to break out of her sister Gigi Hadid’s shadow to become recognised as ‘the’ supermodel of 2022.

She’s everywhere, with thousands of young, influential young fans. But what has she had to do to achieve this cult status? Essentially, change her entire sense of self. In a March 2022 interview with Vogue she said:

“I was the uglier sister. I was the brunette. I wasn’t as cool as Gigi, not as outgoing. That’s really what people said about me. And unfortunately, when you get told things so many times, you do just believe it.”

She’s been incredibly open with her fans about her insecurities, anxiety, depression, body-image issues and eating disorders, explaining that she had to become a good actress for the benefit of her career.

Are these really the side-effects we want to promote in young people idolising these women as role models?

WHY IT MATTERS

Now, many of you may be reading this wondering why it even matters. Hopefully many of us are comfortable in our own skin, prioritise our health and wellbeing and don’t get caught up in the constant game of following trends.

But the impact on young women, in particular, is worrying and we feel it’s important to keep the dialogue open.

Fiona’s tips:

There’s no doubt the celebrity social media landscape is changing. There are now many celebrities using their power for good by promoting body positivity through unfiltered and unstaged photographs. Using their reach and platforms, some celebrities are working to normalise real bodies, which is helping people to lower or change their expectation of beauty.

Celebrity culture is now a part of everyday life, but there are steps you can take to help maintain a healthy perspective in a way that protects your body image, or even the body image of your child.

  • Start by getting a true understanding of what you, or your young person, is seeing.
  • Know that social and media images are often manipulated and, or, edited.
  • Be aware that many celebrities have big teams behind their look, including nutritionists, personal trainers, and make-up artists, and accept it is simply not realistic to try to achieve that ideal as a normal human being.
  • Limit the time you, or your young person, spends scrolling through social media or looking at celebrity articles online. This will limit your exposure to images that can be damaging.

It’s important to promote nurturing acceptance in our young people. Our bodies are not all the same. Each person’s genetic make-up is unique, and this make-up influences our bone structure, shape and weight.

We can work together to appreciate those differences, and we can nurture and love our bodies whilst being mindful of the exceptional jobs they do. Ideal weight is not a number on a scale or a colour on a BMI grid. It can be numerous weights, shapes, looks and sizes. Well-being and a body that is loved and appreciated is empowering.

If you believe you or your young person is suffering from an eating disorder or BDD, seek help from your GP immediately. Such disorders often require the assistance of a psychiatrist and mental health team. Specialist treatments for eating disorders include Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Mentalisation-Based Therapy (MBT), Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Eating Disorders (CBT-E). With the guidance of a good therapist who has extensive experience in treating BDD, remission is possible, and long-term recovery is achievable in many cases.

Laura Kingston High Life North Magazine North East, Newcastle
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