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Beauty Standards Need to Be Held Accountable for The Damage They Do to Young People.

Trigger warning: This article references eating disorders that some readers may find distressing.


Being beautiful is something that many young people are taught that they should aspire to be from a young age. Depending on where you are in the world, being beautiful can mean different things. The ideal figure and facial features have been prevalent since the dawn of time, with make-up and garments that alter people's appearances first making an appearance in 4000 BC. However, the toxicity of beauty standards has a deadly impact on young people who face societal pressure to look a certain way.


The rise of internet access in the early 2000s, allowed these toxic beauty standards to be able to spread more rapidly across the world, and infiltrate peoples lives in a constant and unstoppable way. 


Social media platforms promote ‘picture perfect’ people who look flawless and portray a lifestyle that is either unhealthy or unrealistic for the average person to achieve. Young people are constantly fed subliminal messages from media exposure and peers about how to look, and what is deemed beautiful.


Ironically, it is common knowledge that influencers edit their photos on these platforms, yet they still participate in the photoshopping of their bodies. Thus spreading unhealthy visions of what is to be ‘perfect’. This sends a very dangerous message to young people who aspire to look like the edited photos that they see on the Internet, thinking that the fake image is real and achievable. 


A report by the Dove Self Esteem Project interviewed 1000 girls aged 10-17, and found that half of them suffer from self-esteem issues due to the toxicity of the beauty advice on social media. There has been a rise in body dysmorphia among young people who are attempting to emulate these beauty standards that are unnatural and unhealthy. 


Instagram models are at the heart of this issue, along with celebrities as they promote unhealthy dieting and weight loss plans that young people follow religiously. This results in eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Evidence has shown that eating disorders have increased in girls over the last 50 years, and the rates of anorexia and bulimia have gone up by 0.48% and 1%-5%. In a study conducted investigating unhealthy eating behaviours, 44% of adolescent girls believed that they were overweight and the following 60% were trying to lose weight. 


The perpetrator of this crime against young people is social media. Social media provides a platform for these unhealthy ideas to spread. On the social media giant TikTok, Chinese women are encouraged to take part in dangerous weight comparison trends. The ‘paper thin’ challenge is just the latest in a line of dangerous body trends. Women are encouraged to hold up a piece of A4 paper to their waist and if their waist fits within the piece of paper, they are deemed beautiful.


Trends such as these are promoting eating disorders, and it is dangerous for a young person to aspire to be able to fit within a piece of paper. The psychological harm that this has on young people is immense. Girls can lose their periods, experience binge eating in later years and hospitalise themselves due to aspiring to these ideals.  


During lockdown, China came under heat for the trend of young girls going to shops to try on children's clothes. The sad part of this story is that the ramifications of these trends are deadly. According to Anad, eating disorders affect 9% of the population worldwide, and are among the deadliest of all mental illnesses with 10,200 deaths each year.


Moreover, the rapid changes in what is deemed attractive in western culture provides evidence that body types change like fashion trends. In the noughties, the ‘lolly pop girls’ were a symbol of beauty and the ideal body type. Currently, slim thick bodies are championed to be the most attractive, however, it is alarming how body types are viewed as changeable and a part of the latest fashion trends.  


Plastic surgery helps aid this drastic transformation with individuals going under the knife to enhance their bodies. The American Society of Plastic Surgery found that women who rated self-esteem, attractiveness, and life satisfaction as low were more likely to have plastic surgery. The normalisation of plastic surgery provides an outlet for women to attempt to remove their insecurities and adhere to the unrealistic beauty standards that are seen online. However plastic surgery is not the cure for this epidemic of body insecurities and eating disorders, plastic surgery is just a temporary fix. 


To combat this epidemic, social media platforms must filter the adverts, viral challenges and posts that are viewed on their platform. Moreover, there should be stricter accountability on the influencers and the content they post, as it has been proven that the content posted has an impact on adolescents' self-image.  


There has been some progress in recent years with more representation of different body types on media outlets, however, more is needed for inclusivity within the beauty industry and media.


Platforms are beginning to understand the impact that what young people see online has a detrimental impact on how they view themselves. In 2019, Instagram announced new policies to protect children from weight loss products and cosmetic procedures on the platform. Snapchat also implemented a new tool called ‘Here For You’ for people struggling with mental health issues. There is a correlation between social media and the spreading of unhealthy beauty standards, so it is refreshing to see these typhoons stepping up and taking accountability. 


Teenagers internalise what they see, and this has an impact on how they view themselves. The impossible beauty standards that are expected from young people, and the ideas pushed upon them to aspire to are toxic. 


Beauty standards are everywhere, they are subliminal, and therefore, they are hard to combat. However, we must do more as a society to combat these toxic norms and shine a light on how promoting unhealthy beauty ideals has a deadly impact on young people. 


By championing and promoting a variety of body types and personal attributes, more individuals will feel represented and included and they won't feel the need to change themselves. The beauty standards that currently exist are vain and toxic, they need to be replaced. 



Helplines for people who may be impacted by the information written above:

Eating Disorder Hope International.

Helplines for the United Kingdom.

Anad website and helpline.


Edited by Wenyi Gao 


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