The Commodification of Western Beauty
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but how true is that? Societal standards have dictated what it means to be beautiful since the ancient Greeks, valuing symmetry and proportion. Although the Greeks originated that specific definition of beauty, what it actually looks like in practice has changed with each decade.
The twenty-first century Western feminine beauty ideals often create a singular image in our minds. This is mainly a subconscious process; as these ideals have been impressed on everyone since they could walk. Young girls, especially, fall victim to the scrutiny of others. They are expected to achieve the current dangerously unattainable standards of feminine beauty. The media is largely to blame for this. It portrays these standards in so many forms of media that many young girls and women accept it as their own and internalize disappointment with their bodies.
Author of “The Beauty Myth,” Naomi Wolf, questions the standards of beauty and illuminates the harmful practices of the diet industry and plastic surgery. Since the emergence of the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, women have gained more legal rights and social recognition. However, Wolf writes that “the more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us” (1990). Women experience a perceived level of freedom without recognizing how the concept of beauty continually functions to denigrate them.
The process of commodifying Western beauty through advertisements and the media,specifically social media, has had and will continue to have a negative impact on women’s self-esteem. Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, “69% said that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape, 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight” (Park Nicollet Rose Center, 2014). The ideal for feminine beauty is socially constructed into creating a flawless, faultless, and impossibly-proportioned woman.
Women are exposed to repeated and relentless social comparisons via physical appearance, which internalizes that physical attractiveness is vital for a woman and that all women must do anything to acquire and maintain this attractiveness (Greenfield, 2018). Physical attractiveness, as determined by hegemonic powers, dictates how a woman is perceived. Women are overwhelmed by the litany of advertisements and propaganda they see every day. Dieting tips and tricks, Instagram influencers pushing products for perfect skin and hair, and so much more subliminally show women who and what they are supposed to look like.
The goal of beauty advertising is often to convince the consumer that her level of attractiveness is not the ideal beauty portrayed in advertising (Greenfield, 2018). Beauty products have communicated negative perspectives about physical traits and a negative self-concept. The subsequent insecurities have made women more susceptible to emotional manipulation by beauty products commercials; it is a manipulative tool used by advertisers to create a constant demand for beauty products to make them more “beautiful”.
If the female body is something that requires work to produce beauty, then an industry will in turn commodify the experience of women to serve this purpose (Black and Sharma, 2001). In order to deconstruct these deeply-rooted ideals of femininity being tied to standards of beauty, women as a collective need to reject the false promises of “choice” and “freedom” to be beautiful. In truth, this idea of beauty has been constructed to trick women into consuming products that commodify the feminine experience.