Feminism Friday: Beauty ideals and diversity

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Whoever ‘they’ are, I wouldn’t listen to them if I were you. After all, this ‘beholder’ might be someone with completely different ideals of beauty to you. They might be someone who thinks that feminine beauty is all about a slender hairless body that appeals to the current heterosexual male gaze. They might believe that masculine beauty – if they even call it beauty – is about toned muscles, short hair and a clean shaven face. What about women who are fat, men who are scrawny, girls who are hairy and guys who like to wax? What if gender is a battleground for you, or means something entirely different to you compared to what the vast majority of people think? If you’re physically disabled, scarred, birth-marked, or with darker/lighter skin than the media labels ‘beautiful’, does that mean you are automatically ‘ugly’?

Of course not! For a start, that would involve everyone having the same definition of what is ugly, but it also suggests that beauty/ugliness are purely superficial… and binary. Apparently you have to be one or the other and one tiny thing can tip you over the edge. If you are classically beautiful in every way but prefer to have natural body hair, does that mean you are now ugly? You only have to look at this image of a model with underarm hair – shot by home-sales lingerie company Soft Paris – to realise what rubbish that is. A viewer may not personally like the look of body hair on a woman, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful to some. I was told that this image was shot with the intention of questioning what is considered beautiful, and I’m glad that someone is doing this. Too many advertising and media images these days present a homogeneous idea of what is considered acceptable. The implication is that, if we fall outside those boundaries in any way, we are unacceptable. Thankfully, though, campaigns like All Walks and brands like M&S and Soft Paris are doing their bit to add some diversity to the fashion world, but there needs to be more. After all, real beauty comes from within.

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