By: LIBIN ABDI
Lately, it seems as though body image issues have popped up everywhere, from actress Mindy Kaling’s controversial Elle cover to Barbie dolls that accurately portray the average 20-something female. As the cliché denotes time and time again, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but how seriously do we take that quote? If in fact, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, who then is beholding it? In many countries around the world, women go to extremes for beautification. From skin bleaching to plastic surgery, nothing seems too dangerous for women. In that case, the beholder would then be society. So, can we blame society for our insecurities? In one word: Yes.
Just about every culture suffers from body image insecurities. Sad to say, cultures exposed to the western world view beauty similarly: lighter complexions, blonde hair, blue eyes, and a slim body. Recently in India, women have gone to extremes to transform themselves to their society’s ideal: “Gori hai sundar” or translated “White is beautiful.” According to CNN.com, for those who don’t fit this epitome of beauty, the $400 billion dollar industry of skin bleaching targets them. The products, in particular Fair&Lovely, promise women of a lighter complexion in as little as two weeks. Knowing full well that this is an empty promise, women continue to purchase these bleaching crèmes, hoping one may actually work. Some even go as far as to using vaginal crèmes that also promise skin lightening.
Skin bleaching is also prevalent in both African and African American culture. There are many reasons behind skin bleaching, but the most dominant cause traces back to slavery and the oppression of Africans by European explorers, states modernghana.com. By being called “inferior” and with racial slurs demeaning their skin color and overall race in the past, the idea that lighter skin is much more attractive penetrated into their minds. TheAlikliInitiative.com agrees, stating “Following the abolishment of slavery, lighter skinned black people comprised the “Negro elite” in American society.” Even in the music industry, certain phrases such as “yellow-bone” and “red-bone” denote light skinned woman in a way that is to say they are prettier than darker skinned women. Celebrities such as Kevin Hart and Lil Wayne have both stated that they prefer lighter skin women and Hart went as far as calling darker women rather explicit and vulgar phrases. Unfortunately, this is still present today. In fact, not only is this common in American society, but is widespread throughout the world with many colored women using bleaching crèmes. Nigeria is at the top of this list, with 77 percent of women using bleaching agents.
Although western beauty ideals dominate most of the world, certain remote areas also have unusual beauty standards. In certain parts of Africa such as the Congo, we see scarification, the excessive scarring of patterns onto the body, as beautiful and denoting higher class. In Thailand, some women go through the process of neck elongation, by having thick golden ring wrapped around the neck. Although this creates physical and health issues, women were subjected to it for a very long time. Clearly, beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.
In the U.S., the most common beauty practice we see is plastic or cosmetic surgery. Women, including celebrities, go under the knife to meet society’s standard of beauty. From breast augmentation to face lifts, women will go into surgery to fix those “faults” that they just can’t seem to shake. Nowadays, girls as young as 16 are getting operated on and according to themisrepresentaion.org “the number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youth 18 or younger has more than tripled from 1997 to 2007. Girls, especially adolescent girls, are targeted by media. At age 13, 53 percent of girls are unhappy with their body and this number increases significantly at age 17 to 78 percent. In fact, 65 percent of American women and girls have developed eating disorders.
The problem with beauty is that it instills insecurities in women everywhere. No one is ever going to feel or be physically perfect, and society is well aware of that. Rather than fixing body image issues, society instead preys upon them. They exploit our insecurities and corporations become rich because of this phenomenon. It even seems as though some societies stopped caring that these extensive standards have in fact harmed us, from depression to death, those beauty standards do come in with extreme negatives. The question is: Is it really worth it?