To what extent does the beauty standard affect the mental health of young girls today?


Throughout every century in human existence there has been some form of a beauty standard, an unspoken set of rules that dictates the way we dress and the way we feel about our bodies. Normally these standards are quite hard to live up to and don’t tend to be something that represents the majority of the population. However, they prevail. Whether it's trying to be as pale as possible to look as rich as possible in the Victorian era or aggressively tanning to look as dark as possible in today’s society, there has always been and always will be a choke hold on people and their appearances. 


The modern edition of the beauty standard is probably the most malignant yet and with the rise and spread of social media there is not a corner you could turn without being reminded that you’re not good enough. Unfortunately, this problem plagues girls, young girls, especially hard, it always has. Young girls are susceptible to any small comments made about them or their appearance. When you become self-aware, our society guarantees that you must of course become self-conscious, no child goes unmarked. Any body part slightly imperfect automatically becomes an insecurity that sticks for life, it become a habit to hide it, to change it, to despise it - your own body. In the book Questions for Ada, the author Ijeoma Umebinyuo writes ‘Then day she turned fifteen/ she scrubbed herself with bleach/ while screaming for God/ whispering over and over again/ “the darker the skin, / the deeper the struggle’. The beauty standard isn’t just a vague idea, they’re set rules, that those who meet them are rewarded as such, and those who don’t “struggle”. How is it that the way you look, something so abstract and so far out of your own control, determines how you will be treated and viewed as a human being?


The beauty standard is all a form of suppression. Before it was used to separate the poor from the rich, to spot out in a crowd who was worthy, and even though society has advanced and changed this idea stays stagnant in everyone’s mind. Beauty isn’t in the eye of the beholder - it never has been - beauty is a standard and you either make the cut for or simply aren’t worthy enough for. It's scary to think that this meme has mimicked its way into all our minds, and therefore can destroy lives - “I’m not - pretty, skinny, perfect - enough”, “I’m not enough”. Our eyes are being controlled by insecurity not our own but someone else’s. Research in the US shows that at the age of thirteen 50% of girls aren’t happy in their bodies and by the age of seventeen that number skyrockets to nearly 80%. We’re failing our girls, allowing them to suffer and disappear into another number to record for a statistic, because our society feeds young girls propaganda about themselves. 


Girls learn from a young age what “boys want” and what “boys like”. They learn how to sexualise themselves to appeal to the male gaze from the very second, they’re old enough to identify gender is. Another study done in 2010 reported that out of the 180 popular children shows 87% of female characters within these shows were depicted as underweight. Then we have the audacity to question why eating disorders numbers are increasing the UK and why nearly 2 million people are affecting by them. Today’s beauty standard of course as toxic as it can find its route in Nazi Germany with the theory of eugenics, the flawed assumption that there is a perfect race - blonde hair, blue eyes - sound familiar? Somehow, we’ve allowed these foolish ideas to infiltrate our society and hold a strong president that works actively against us, despite the fact that all they do is uphold is the patriarchy and they demonise girls to turn their bodies against them, something that should be loved and fed, instead being stripped, starved and scared all to fit a mould which frankly is impossible for more than half of us.


As a young girl in society, I can attest to the harms and dangers of this faux friend. It starts with the little comments of “You sure you want more food?”, “I wouldn’t wear that”, little comments under people’s breath that are harmless, that are mistaken as friends looking out for friends. But unbeknownst to you, you're slowly being broken down into little pieces until there is so little left of your confidence that you don’t even recognise yourself and will therefore stop at no means to try and fit the mould. I remember moving from Ghana back to the UK in at the age of 13 and all these little comments that I got on my perhaps unusual appearance - a black girl … in Surrey, it can’t be - that honestly lead to my addiction and desperation to fit a standard I could never meet. I don’t have straight blonde hair; I don’t have blue eyes and a majority of people reading this won’t either. That doesn’t make us less than it simply means this world wasn’t built for us. But if the majority are outcasts, then why do we fight so hard to shape shift?


The truth is no one truly knows, everyone alive today has been born at a time where there was some type of beauty standard, lived as it has evolved and will probably die as it continues on. We can’t criticise ourselves for wanting to fit in and not wanting to be seen as other, for wanting to be wanted. However, we must all draw the line between correcting small imperfections and loosing yourself and essence completely in something that has no remorse, something that will continue to take until there’s actually nothing left of you - no pun intended. We aren’t perfect, we never can be, but we are all certainly enough and its time that the rules changed - as Marylin Monroe said “it’s society who’s ugly” -  and the rest of us realised that its more beautiful to be yourself than a soulless statue.