BEAUTY STANDARDS IN 2022: IS PLASTIC SURGERY RUINING INDIVIDUALITY?
As someone with wild curly red hair, pale skin, freckles, and my grandmother’s thick thighs, I’ve never exactly fit into the mold of what TV and magazines told me was pretty beauty standards. Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, straight blonde hair, healthy tans, stick-thin figures, and even thinner eyebrows were in. While there was definitely a clear sense of what was ideal, myself and other girls my age were only really presented with this beauty standard when skimming through magazines or watching The O.C.
However, the rise of the internet and social media have completely changed the game: now women everywhere are practically forced to look at whatever Hollywood has deemed attractive 24/7. Unsurprisingly, plastic surgery has become increasingly popular – Americans spent $16.7 billion on plastic surgery in 2020. The top surgical procedures? Facelifts, nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, liposuction, and breast augmentation. There were 3.4 million soft tissue filler procedures and almost a million laser skin resurfacing procedures. According to the report, which was released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 11% of women are more interested in cosmetic plastic surgery and non-surgical procedures now than prior to the pandemic.
Although America has never been the most accepting place, most people used to find a way to love the skin they were born in. Today, we visit the doctor and ask them to morph our natural appearances into what we see on E! News. But is this new standard of beauty better? I’m all for plastic surgery – if it makes you feel confident and happy, go for it. It’s your body – your choice. But it’s also worth considering that maybe looking the same isn’t the best thing. A quick Google search shows countless people on Quora asking, “Why do most women nowadays look alike?” and a Huffington Post article titled, “Instagram Influencers Are All Starting to Look the Same” pops up at the top of the page. I can’t say I disagree. What happened to embracing our individuality? Is it wrong to look like yourself? Who decides what we should – or shouldn’t – look like, anyway?
A BRIEF LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF BEAUTY STANDARDS
We can look back into ancient times through art and historical text to learn how beauty standards have morphed over the years. For example, a slender figure with narrow shoulders and a high waist was popular in ancient Egypt, around 1200 B.C. Fast forward a few hundred years to 500 B.C., and the ancient Grecians preferred a more plump, full-bodied look. The Han Dynasty, from 206 to B.C. to 220 A.D., brought back the preference for a slim waist but added big eyes and small feet to the bill. By 1400 A.D., the Italian Renaissance showcases women with rounded stomachs, full hips, and large chests.
As we get closer to present day, we can see beauty standards changing much more rapidly. In the 1920s, women were doing whatever they could to get a flat chest and boyish figure. By the 1950s, a curvy, hourglass figure with a large bosom was all the rage as Marilyn Monroe rose to fame.
Just thinking about these changes is exhausting – one minute, the world expects you to be thin and waif-like. The next, you need to have the booty of a Kardashian. How is anyone supposed to keep up? What used to be impossible is now possible, thanks to plastic surgery. Plus, it’s constantly being advertised to us via social media. Even worse, many celebrities try to pass their plastic surgery off as natural, setting an unrealistic standard for the average woman.
WHO DECIDES WHAT’S BEAUTIFUL?
Antonio Fuente del Campo, MD, the International Editor of Aesthetic Surgery Journal, points out that the Western culture’s beauty standards are just a small part of a larger story. There are different concepts of beauty among different nationalities, from Asians to Latinos and beyond. Still, developed countries are spreading their ideals of “beauty” on a global scale via mass media. As del Campo says, “Presentations at our international congresses demonstrate the interest of patients in changing their original look, not only to become beautiful by the traditional standards of their own cultures, but often to look as similar as possible to the Hollywood star prototype.” Not only are we losing our own individuality, but we’re also losing our appreciation for cultural beauty differences, as well.
In one study from Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, study participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of random people on a dating website. There were no right or wrong answers, but some people were shown the average score based on what others were saying. As a result, people began scoring people based on what they knew was ranking higher among their peers. Eventually, everyone ranked the same qualities higher than others. This would suggest that people want to go with that status quo. It’s herd mentality – there’s safety in numbers – and it’s exactly why we all want to look like the most popular celebrities.
Interestingly, the internet is also full of articles teaching you “how to look different” or how to create a “unique personal style.” In a world where we’re all using makeup, hair products, fillers, and more to meet the same beauty standards, I’d argue that we’re all simultaneously desperately searching to find our own identities.
ON EMBRACING INDIVIDUALITY IN A PLASTIC WORLD
I can’t say that I’m not guilty of trying to meet society’s standards. Having spent years damaging my hair with straightening irons and brown hair dye, I still use eyebrow tints and feel a lot more confident with a coat of mascara. It’s hard to scroll through Instagram and then feel great when I look in my own mirror. Yet, when I go out in public, I get compliments on my hair, which is back to its naturally curly, red state. People tell me that they dye their hair to look like mine. When I go on TikTok, I see people drawing on fake freckles that mimic my own natural ones. What I was once bullied for – what made me unique, is now enviable.
If we can learn anything from history, it’s this: beauty standards are always changing. If you’d told 13-year-old me that Kate Moss skinny would soon be replaced with Kardashian curves, I wouldn’t believe you. Is it worth going under the knife to meet a trend that will be out in 10 years? Maybe, maybe not. Can you blame people for doing so? Absolutely not. It’s human nature to want to fit in. It’s safe, and we all want that feeling of security. But I’d like to encourage you to try to look in the mirror and appreciate your own unique features. Those aspects of yourself that you hate might just be the next big beauty trend. At the very least, your individuality is why people will remember you. Instead of thinking that you look beautiful, like every other person on social media, they might just think you look refreshingly yourself, and that’s something plastic surgery will never give you.