Is our Definition of Body Image Really our Own?

Women and men spend an average of 5 hours and 3 hours per week respectively on personal grooming, according to GfK market research, and the study has shown they do so for self-affirmation. Indeed, dressing up nicely makes us feel good and confident. However, what came second from the respondents was the deliberate attempt to leave a good impression to others.

First impression is inevitably crucial for several professional occasions, such as client meetings, school presentations (trying to make a lecturer fall for you to boost that grade), and interviews. A big portion of successful communication relies on first impression, nevertheless, spending hours just for the pleasure of others seems unnecessary.

Many of us struggle daily to live up to social expectations. We allow society to decide on our dressing, body shape, and even morph our definition of body image. In pursuit of ‘ideal’ standards, we learned to dislike negative nametags—fat, ugly, shock, and dark, and overly envy those with positive body images.

A study of 277 Macquarie University female students, found participants tended to negatively compare their appearance to peer group and celebrities. Because society ‘said’, V-shape face, longer leg, thinner waist, white skin tone, are ‘beautiful’, so we wouldn’t want to be categorized as the opposite, right?

The rise of eurocentrism, advocated by the result of colonialism and imperialism, amplified the fitting characteristics of European models to beauty standards

In the fashion and cosmetics industries, the case of idealized body image standards is obvious, dark skin tone has been perceived as less positive in body image. In contrast, European models are chosen as the centre of the spotlight. The rise of eurocentrism, advocated by the result of colonialism and imperialism, amplified the fitting characteristics of European models to beauty standards.

The obvious case is seen in the modelling industry where tokenism is shown among the models selection, the European group is often preferred and seen as majority. This concept narrowed the beauty standards to biological traits, the genes that decide white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes.

We have been taught about equality and to respect everyone the same, but not all of us conform to this. What can be the underlying psychological theory for such underrepresentation? Albeit indirectly, Social Identity Theory (by Henri Tajfel in 1979) can explain this incident.

The theory stated people usually engage in a similarly categorized group to search for the source of pride and self-esteem. Categorization is done by grouping people with similar labels, e.g. hobby, job, ethnicity, and skin tone. They then adopt the identity of the groups they belonged to and finally compare their group to others. An in-group (their own group) will strive to increase their self-image by discriminating and holding prejudiced views against the out-group (other groups).

This was seen in early cosmetics companies. Beauty products advertisement advocated exaggeratedly the beauty of white skin tone, and the product itself is more fitting to fair skin users. The cosmetics products were designed to shape the public mindset to glorify bright and white results. This undermined the idea of beauty and shattered the meaning of positive body image. Worse still, this resulted in a vicious cycle of promoting cultural bias in body image. Black people, and most non-European, in consequence being underrepresented in positive body image due to lack of wanted characteristics.

This slanted social construct builds on the pressure to those easily complied by forcefully accept this unfitting notion. This often led to serious matters, Mental Health Foundation showed that comparing with idealised body would undermine self-confidence, and in the long run, contributed to poor mental health. They overly relied on this ‘ideal’ standards, burdened their thoughts and sought to change their identity to resolve this unbalanced issue.

Contemporary society is still learning about body image practices and accepting oneself and others. Cosmetics and fashion industries are embracing a variety of wider scope of beauty, i.e. wider options of cosmetics products and less tokenism in modelling. Campaigns and social media groups are on the rise to advocate positive thinking, self-accepting, and self-appraisal, as the beauty of our body is not up to others to judge.

We should realize the ideal of body image does not require external appraisal

It’s important to realize the true meaning of beauty and not fall into endless self-judgment. We should realize the ideal of body image does not require external appraisal and confirmation but it relies on our self-assurance. Beauty, in large portion, comes from self-confidence. Or perhaps, there is just no single defining idealism in body image, it’s the sense of belonging that we adhere to standards that ourselves seek comfortable—so that we felt belong.

Teck Fong 

Featured image courtesy of @essyberry via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. Article image courtesy of @luxxe.supplements.official via Instagram. No changes were made to this image. 

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