A look at the different beauty standards through history

Anthropology: Social Media’s Impact on Beauty Standards and How They Affect Women

For years now, people have preached about beauty standards. How beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. There have been thousands of movements and songs about this very topic. Now this same topic is following us into digital age. When asked what really defines beauty, people give us a whole list of things or a simple sentence. When, in actual fact, who really knows? No one should be classified as ugly. In my previous post I spoke about albinism and ended it with how beautiful these people are. Everyone is beautiful in their own way and no, that is not something people should say because it is a nice way of saying you’re ugly. The only ugly thing people can have is an ugly heart. Unfortunately, social media are raising the standards of beauty and lowering the self-esteem of our generation.

A Few Beauty Standards of the past

Although women’s time past was not as bad. Due to the lack of the internet, they still had certain standards they had to live up to.

Italian Renaissance

During the Italian Renaissance. A high forehead, blonde hair, pale skin and long neck were all characteristics that were ideal for women to have.Women would go as far as plucking their hairline to achieve their high hairline. Clothing and hairstyles weren’t only a way to express oneself, but to showcase one’s status. If a women wore her hair down, she would be single.  When a woman tied up her hair, she was taken. Women’s roles in life and beauty were heavily surrounded by men and how to keep or attract them.

Victorian Era

In Victorian England, having a pale face was desired because it signified that you never worked in the sun. It was a symbol of extreme wealth and privilege. Women would go as far as to poison themselves using arsenic and ammonia in their beauty routine to achieve the desired look. Corsets were also a huge trend during this time period and, unlike modern-day corsets, these would extend a few inches past a woman’s waist. Wearing corsets was not an exclusive fashion trend during Victorian England at the time; countries such as France and Italy were also participating in this beauty trend. The practice of women needing to have an hourglass figure did not end here.  As we see it in today’s society.

African Beauty Standards

In Africa, beauty standards for women varied depending on the country and tribe. Stretched earlobes, face markings and lip plating are just a few beauty traditions that were common before western influences. Some tribes still practice these traditions. However, most have left them behind or modified them to be more modern. The Black is Beautiful movement that started in the 1960s was a direct stance against the concept of Western beauty standards and a space for Black people to express themselves and embrace their blackness. Natural features of a black woman such as, “full lips, dark skin and curvy bodies” were celebrated and something that they could take pride in.

Modern day beauty standards

Females before and after filters
Credit to Imogen Watson

As a society, we have gotten better at recognizing toxic beauty standards. Women are taking up space they were told for so long that they don’t deserve to occupy. In the process, we are redefining what an “ideal” woman looks like. Now, makeup is used to one’s desire and not out of necessity for acceptance. There isn’t a self-imposed expectation for women as much as there was. Social media can then hurt your body image by constantly exposing yourself to the ideal body type. Which then leads to constant comparison of yourself to unrealistic standards. Additionally, photoshop and filters are readily available to users, playing into the unrealistic body image.

Social Media’s affect

Today, social media is one of the most important factors contributing to the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of an individual. With the media constantly portraying ideal beauty and body image comparisons. The decisions of men’s and women’s beauty choices are globally affected. Body image concerns are common in women and men globally, but social media have now increased these concerns through advertising, videos and the use of social media.

The 2000s allowed us to see an array of women owning their bodies and their sexuality. Despite the array of body types though, flat stomachs and being “fit” were still in style. Women of today all have different body types but were, and still are, seen as beautiful women. Now, social media is used as an influential marketing tool. It carries equal significance in our culture, and we don’t hold them to that same level of scrutiny. The burden of the pressure to fit into one template of a woman( thin, hairless from the eyebrows down, gravity-defying boobs) was once only carried by celebrities. Until we became the documentarians of our own lives via social media and widespread adopted filters and Facetune. The playing field has evened and we are all expected to be selfie-ready, all the time.

Mercifully, there are women using social media to redefine standardised beauty ideals. If homogenised sculpted faces, Bambi eyes or baking have been bombarding your newsfeed for too long.Classic trolling isn’t going away, and anything outside of beauty’s careful parameters will likely be targeted. Take a deep dive into any of the following hashtags, and you’ll still find a steady stream of comments vilifying her who dares to ask to be accepted exactly as she is.

Social Media Movements Based on Beauty Standards

Black is Beautiful

As you read above, black is beautiful movement started in 1960.  It aims to dispel the racist notion that black people’s natural features such as skin color, facial features and hair are inherently ugly. Those involved in the Black is Beautiful movement wanted black women and men to feel empowered both inside and out. They listened to the teachings of Marcus Garvey. Garvey, whose ideas were kept alive by Cook, was an early-20th Century political activist who advocated black liberation through economic self-reliance. The original eight models who were chosen to be the first Grandassa Models were also followers of his ideology.

Unibrow Movement

The model Sophia who started the unibrow Movement
Credit: Image.ie

Model Sophia Hadjipanteli has a unibrow that got her on the runway at Roland Mouret for SS19. She dyes it black and sometimes adds blue mascara to it to make it even more marvellous. She quit plucking her eyebrows when she realised she really liked how her monobrow looked. Hardly radical, I know, but a quick look at her Instagram will show you there are many vocal trolls. Who do seem to find a patch of hair the width of a centimetre on a woman’s face quite radical. Her social media campaign #UnibrowMovement is changing that conversation. Inspiring women to think of the unibrow as less an affliction of the unfortunately hirsute, and will make you throw away your tweezers.

Skin Positivity

Models showing their scars from acne or vitiligo in a positive way
Source: Image.ie

Acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema and scars affect you psychologically as well as physically. They are a struggle you wear on your face every day, and many studies show the relationship between skin disorders and depression. #SkinPositivity is the antidote to Instagram’s perfectionism. A space to bare all, make-up-and-filter-free, started by beauty blogger Em Ford, an influencer. Following her YouTube video entitled “You Look Disgusting” where she discussed the comments she receives about her acne. The movement is redefining expectations about skin. With some heavy hitters in on the cause, including Saoirse Ronan, who let her own acne scars shine through in Lady Bird. In order to put the big screen spotlight on different skin types. Model Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, has also spoken out about the skin condition and is considered a trailblazer in the #SkinPositivity community. Where vitiligo has spawned its own campaigns, including #vitiligopride and #itscalledvitiligo.

Saggy Boobs Matter

Chidera Eggerue, author of What a Time to be Alone, took her braless blog mainstream and her hashtag #saggyboobsmatter viral. When she questioned a societal fixation with perfectly symmetrical boobs. Breasts have not had a place in the conversation in the numerous destigmatising body positive campaigns, but visit Chidera’s social media revolution and you’ll see the extent of the positivity she’s caused around the world. According to Chidera, women frequently reach out to her to let her know that she inspired them to cancel their breast augmentation surgeries. Burn your push-up bras.

Curls Like Us

Singer Rochelle Humes with her natural curls
Credit to Image.ie

Singer Rochelle Humes, above, spent her whole life straightening her hair until, at the end of last year, her own daughter professed sadness at not having straight hair like princesses. Rochelle ditched the straighteners and started the hashtag #CurlsLikeUs, showcasing her own natural hair’s journey through her Instagram. The hashtag is now on 18k tags. “Initially, I just wanted to get tips myself from other people and share things I found helpful using #CurlsLikeUs and then it just became a lot bigger than I thought,” she says. #CurlsLikeUs is now a website with tutorials, interviews with naturally curly haired influencers and routines for making the most of your curls, not to mention a curly collective of women finally embracing their hair’s natural texture.

EFF Your Beauty Standards

Author, Tess Holliday embracing all her natural curvy features
Credit to Holly O Neil

When author and model Tess Holliday, above centre, found an online forum discussing how she was too fat for the clothes she wore, she posted modelling shots of herself in bikinis and crop tops on Instagram with the message “I want you to join me in wearing daring fashions and stop hiding your body because society tells you to.

Break out those horizontal stripes and hashtag #effyourbeautystandards.” That message now spans across 3 million Instagram posts and counting, including support from model Ashley Graham, right, who shared a series of unretouched photographs of her in a swimsuit in response. The big, fat lies of feigned concern about the “promotion of obesity” have no place here.


When actress Jameela Jamil came across an Instagram picture that stated the weight of each of the Kardashians and Jenners, she set up the @i_weigh Instagram account to help women see their value at more than kilograms. She calls out patriarchal advertising like appetite-suppressing lollipops and wants to encourage women to see their worth as more than the sum of a number on the scales. The account has 181k followers and rising, and men are becoming increasingly more involved in the campaign, adding a worthy voice to highlighting the body expectations they also share.

Trends and Outcomes on Social Media

A dove campaign showcasing real beauty
Credit to Diana from MindyourMind.ca

Social media comprise social networking sites, image sharing sites, video hosting sites, community blogs, bookmarking sites and gaming sites. Fellow comparisons of self-image and appearances in teenagers have resulted due to social networking sites (SNSs) such as Instagram and Facebook. Teenage girls engage in online self-presentation by posting selfies and sharing the outfit of the day pictures to differentiate themselves with their peers. Individuals are constantly seeking feedback on SNSs through likes, followers and comments to uphold a perfect and stable image of themselves. Teenage girls are vulnerable to the upward comparison as it means that they need to improve their beauty standards. Therefore, leaving them dissatisfied with their physical bodies. Having doubts about their self-worth and also driving them to self-harmful behavior.

Selfies are no harm per se. But an obsession with physical features reveals a lack of holistic perception. Of self-generated subconsciously, following an “outside” standard of beauty. Not defined by the “inner self” of the receiver. There are multiple factors that affect the beauty standards in the world today. This involves women and men and third gender individuals trying new trends to be socially accepted. The purchasing decisions of millennials are influenced majorly by social media. 72% of millennials procure beauty products based on Instagram posts and other social networks. Makeup consists of the application of cosmetic products. To beautify or change the way one looks, either artistically or to conceal flaws.

Cultural Significance in Anthropology

An illustration of women from different backgrounds
Credit to SheDefined

With technology advancing by the minute and newer apps surfacing online, social media have an immediate effect on beauty. It’s an uncomfortable and shocking change for many when their words and opinions no longer affect one’s choice of what beauty is. However, it’s a necessary change if we are to move, at all, away from past beauty standards. If we are to truly grow as a society towards something better, beauty standards and the question of “what is beautiful?” need to be left in the past. Every day, women and men are redefining this concept. Embracing this natural appearance and making it socially acceptable. From raising your hairline to embracing your natural hair and features. We have definitely come a long way. May we never move back, only forward into a better future.

2 thoughts on “Anthropology: Social Media’s Impact on Beauty Standards and How They Affect Women

  1. Die Auswirkungen der sozialen Medien auf die Schönheitsnormen und wie sie sich auf Frauen auswirken, ist ein faszinierendes Thema, das im Rahmen der Anthropologie untersucht werden sollte.

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