Like most teenagers, Lindsay goes on social media to pass time when she’s not busy with school or homework. Many of the influencers she follows use filters on photos, and some edit a lot before posting them. When looking at these refined and unrealistic photos, she feels that by comparison she’s imperfect and flawed in many ways. Her skin complexion is nothing like what she sees from her idols, and their limbs and waists are far thinner than hers. Not realizing how unrealistic these standards are, or the relationship between beauty standards and mental health, she plunges into a cycle of self-hatred, self-punishment and depression.
To look thinner, she starts extreme dieting and often goes full days without eating. This leaves her tired and unable to focus on schoolwork, and she’s become extremely irritable at home.
Sometimes the hunger becomes so great that she eventually binges on whatever junk food is in the kitchen. She’s then left with overwhelming guilt at what she’s done and makes herself vomit as a way of purging her body. Her overall health has declined, she’s become isolated from her friends and family and she often looks pale and run-down. Lindsay is just one example of the many people who suffer from eating disorders and depression while trying to meet the unrealistic beauty standards they’re exposed to.
According to statistics from the Nation Eating Disorders Association, 5.2% of females meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or a binge eating disorder. This article covers what beauty standards are and describes the negative psychological effects of beauty standards on people’s lives and mental health.
What Are Beauty Standards?
Beauty standards are the set of cultural norms that dictate what’s considered aesthetically pleasing. Historically, these standards have been largely influenced by Western ideals, but they’ve increasingly come to reflect something unreachable. For example, the idealized female body shape seen in fashion magazines is typically only achievable through Photoshopping or other digital alterations. Similarly, the “perfect” skin tone or hair texture is often achieved with the help of cosmetics or hair products.
Men, too, are often expected to have chiseled features and bodies that would require hours of dedication in the gym to achieve. In addition, people of all genders are often judged harshly for any physical imperfections, regardless of how minor they may be.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to challenge unrealistic beauty standards and promote body positivity. This includes initiatives like #CurvyandProud, which celebrates women of all shapes and sizes, and #IWokeUpLikeThis, which encourages people to embrace their natural appearance. Ultimately, by raising awareness of the harmful effects of unrealistic beauty standards, we can begin to create a more inclusive and body-positive culture.
How Does Body Image Influence Mental Health?
Body image is the way people perceive their own bodies. It can be influenced by a number of factors, including family and friends, the media and personal experiences. People with a positive body image are generally happy and confident with their appearance. They don’t compare themselves to others, and they’re not preoccupied with their weight or other physical features.
In contrast, people with a negative body image are unhappy with the way they look. They may feel they don’t measure up when they look at other people. They may also be concerned about their weight or other physical features. Negative body image can lead to a number of mental health problems, such as eating disorders, depression and anxiety. It can also lead to social isolation and low self-esteem. Positive body image, on the other hand, has been linked with better mental health, higher self-esteem and healthier relationships.
Negative body images affects people of all ages, with 31% of teenagers and 35% of adults feeling depressed or ashamed because of how they perceive their bodies. To lessen the risk of this happening to you, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and there’s no one “perfect” body type. We should all strive to have a positive body image and learn to love our bodies the way they are.
Beauty Standards and Mental Health Disorders
There’s no getting around that the world seems to favor attractive people, and the “attractiveness privilege” is an unfortunate truth. Attractive people enjoy many unearned benefits of having pleasing physical features, such as being treated better by teachers and employers. In some cultures, beauty might mean simply looking healthy and well. But in today’s increasingly materialistic and image-focused society, beauty standards are often unrealistic.
Among some of the mental health problems that unrealistic beauty standards can trigger are:
- Eating disorders
- Mood disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
- Low self-esteem
Low self-esteem can have many negative effects on a person’s life and relationship. People with low self-esteem feel unworthy and often seek out relationships that reinforce this feeling. They also lack the confidence to try new things, which can cause major blockages in their careers and professional life.
While propagating unrealistic beauty standards may seem like harmless fun, the truth of the psychological effects of beauty standards behind closed doors is a sobering one.
Beauty in a Changing World
It’s no secret that our society places a high value on physical appearance. Advertising, celebrities and social media all contribute to the message that we need to look a certain way to be considered beautiful. The barrage of images we’re bombarded with on a daily basis has a profound effect on how we see ourselves and others. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to unrealistic ideals and, as a result, many of us end up feeling inadequate.
As a result, many people feel immense pressure to conform to these unrealistic standards. Unfortunately, this can have harmful consequences, both mental and physical.
Managing Unrealistic Beauty Standards
The external world doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon with regard to propagating unrealistic beauty images. The fact that it drives profit plays a role in hindering any meaningful change. As such, it’s important that we take control of our own lives and realize how beauty standards affect mental health. Follow these tips to help you manage:
- Unfollow people who heavily edit photos.
- Practice self-acceptance.
- Do a social media detox.
- Expose yourself to positive messages.
- Seek help.
The more you can come to terms with the link between beauty standards and mental health, the more you can take steps to ensure you don’t fall into a trap of negative self-image. If you or someone you love is having mental health problems from negative self-image, don’t hesitate to seek help. Contact FHE Health by calling (844) 299-0618. Our experienced team of psychologists is standing by to take your call 24/7.