In ancient China, women bound their feet in an elaborate and painful process since birth, breaking and re-breaking the toes so that they form perfect ‘three-inch golden lotus feet’ – a mark of beauty, grace and wealth.
In Victorian times, English women strove to achieve the ‘wasp waist’ via corsets, some of which were tightened so strongly that they would break several ribs in the process.
But no matter….. all in the name of beauty, right?
I think human beings are imbued with a natural instinct to seek out ‘beautiful things’. Since we first clothed ourselves and started civilisation, our perceptions of beauty have evolved through the ages. What is beautiful in one era, or in a particular region, might not be for another.
The bottom line is people, especially women, have gone to extreme lengths to achieve this ideal of beauty and perfection. I’m not saying men don’t, but in most societies, it is always women – because despite progressing tremendously from being a patriarchal society, we are still deeply-rooted with a caveman-like tendency – where women seek out those who are able to ‘protect’ them. Since most men are visual beings, it is only natural that women will want to look ‘the best’, to beat out competition and secure the perfect mate.
What have we learned a few hundred, a few thousand years down the road? Nothing much has changed. In my opinion, technology and connectivity has only intensified the impossible quest of achieving beauty ideals. If you were a woman in medieval England, your ‘latest fashions’ would probably mimic what the court ladies in London have on – and that was that.
In today’s world, however, we are constantly bombarded with ‘latest fashions’ and images of ‘beautiful women’, which are further manipulated by self-serving corporations so that you will continue spending money on trying to reach that ideal. The fact of the matter is that you are not meant to achieve it in the first place.Case in point? Watch the video below on Photoshopping models.
It is scary that this is the sort of stuff that young girls and adult women are being exposed to everyday, even subtly. The fashion and retail industry thrives on using these images and subliminal messaging, to encourage people to buy their products. From skincare to weight loss, everything is about being beautiful so that you may live a happier life, so that others may like you and treat you with respect, so that you may be more successful, etc.
Anorexia and bulimia cases have been documented since a few hundred years ago, but it is only intensifying today, in this modern age. And you can’t say that media and society’s pressure against its women do not play at least a small part in it.
Growing up, I have always been confused about my self-image. Somewhere along the line, I must have inherited a big-boned gene, because my parents were super tiny Asians and I was, well.. broad-shouldered and chunky.
Am I adopted ? I wasn’t an outstanding looking person either – just your average, bespectacled Plain Jane. Having to grow up among skinny classmates and friends was tough, and being told that I wasn’t thin enough was tougher. Despite being healthy at that time, I was constantly told by (well-meaning but doing it in all the wrong ways) relatives that I was gaining weight, that I shouldn’t be eating so much, etc – just because my body was slightly bigger than theirs. But hey, that’s what I was talking about earlier – about how it is partly society’s fault that we have such fucked up views about beauty these days.
As you have probably read in my previous posts, I gained a lot of weight this past year, which made it even worse because now my relatives can openly chide me about being fat (I was lingering between being average and chubby before). Of course it is hurtful to hear those things. Of course I am pressured to lose weight partly because I want them to shut up. But my main motivation now, as compared to in my teenage years, is that I want to be healthy. Looking fab is a plus. I realised that back when I was of average weight, I was pressured into believing that even though I was healthy, I was not thin. When I was thin, I was pressured into believing I did not have the right skin tone (I’m quite tanned for an Asian), and if I ever became fair from hiding from the sun everyday, I guess they would have talked about something else.
The point is, people will always, always tell you that you are not beautiful enough. The Media will always tell you that you need to be thinner, be taller, be fairer, be skinnier. The point is you should not let them pressure you into hurting yourself or going to extreme measures to conform to a standard of beauty that is impossible to attain.
That being said, the phrase ‘love yourself for who you are’ is important. BUT. It is not an excuse to let yourself go completely in the name of ‘not caring what everyone else thinks’. If you are overweight and at risk of diseases, ‘loving yourself’ should be hitting the gym and losing the extra pounds so that you can live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
By the way, I was at a clinic for my dermatitis treatment the other day, and what inspired me to pen down these thoughts was basically this poster, which had a model with an impossible waist. She looked like she was going to snap into half if the wind was a little stronger. And this was at a professional health and cosmetics clinic, so I felt that they could have given a better message. This is what women walking into the place strive to achieve by spending thousands on cosmetic treatment, and then feel bad about themselves when they can’t achieve the impossible. But until the day that society itself realises that we are not perfect and we will never be, our women will continue puking into toiletbowls, going for skin whitening, starving themselves, all in the name of beauty.