Toxic beauty standards and how to overcome them

“Do I look okay?”, “Is my hair fine”? “Is my skin clear?”, are some of the many questions people ask themselves every day before stepping out. Caring about how you look is one thing, but making it the centre of your life is what can make beauty standards toxic.

Little girls are often made to feel unworthy. When I was 14, I cared a lot about what people thought of me. One day, I was running late to catch the school bus and an old lady stopped me abruptly. I thought it was something important. She told me to put yoghurt, lemon and gram flour on my face every day to clear my acne, and that then I would look “good”. She was a complete stranger, thinking she was doing this out of goodwill. I ended up feeling dejected and missed my bus. I still remember it 7 years later.

There are variations of such experiences that women, who don’t meet textbook definitions of a beautiful face, come across every day. 

In India and other parts of the world, the standards of beauty for women are as follows – if she’s thin, fair, tall, and has long hair, she’s deemed perfect. But what about those women who do not meet these beauty standards? 

A YouGov study in 2019 found that one in eight adults in Britain experienced suicidal thoughts due to concerns about their body image. In addition, it found that over one-third of British adults have felt anxious or depressed because of their body image.

Is it, then, okay to have standards that may not apply to thousands, if not millions of women? Should so many people feel flawed, like there’s something wrong with them?

Women who don’t fit the set standards of beauty might not themselves feel a “lack”, but unsolicited advice, right from their pre-teens and well into adulthood, is what contributes to crushingly low levels of self-esteem in growing girls. This often makes mothers who project their kids to crazy beauty regimes from a very young age, so that their daughters aren’t exposed to situations that they might have faced. It’s a sad cycle and prevalent in affluent parts of society.

Next comes capitalism! Falling prey to products that promise to magically fix all your skin, hair, and weight “problems” is the scariest aspect of it all. India’s beauty and personal care industry is valued at a whopping $24.5 billion today.

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Massive business conglomerates flourish on your insecurities. It’s hope given, and snatched away in a matter of weeks, leaving you unhappier than before. Not to mention loads of money going down the drain, with no results.

Ditch this narrative, and take the healthier way. Keep yourself hydrated, exercise, and indulge whenever you want to, live!

Now, let’s discuss how we can overcome toxic beauty standards. Let’s start by saying that it is indeed a tough task. The most fundamental aspect here is self-acceptance. This is a heavy, difficult task – but this is what liberates one.

What at the end of the day matters the most, is how you see yourself. The first step towards accepting oneself is looking every morning and night in the mirror and smiling at yourself- liking who you are. There on, it’s a cakewalk. We all have our own roads to squashing traditional standards of how to look and be like.

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Owning who you are, being comfortable with what you’ve been born with, and not wanting to change any of it takes guts. And if you have the courage to do that- I applaud you. If you don’t, that’s okay too. Just remember that there’s a system in place- that creates such unrealistic, unattainable benchmarks of beauty, makes you insecure, and benefits from it. The impeccable celebrities and models we see in pictures have tonnes of filters and makeup to make them look the way they do. More campaigns and increasing inclusivity in the world of fashion are changing the narrative, but we have a long way to go.

Our flaws, our little imperfections make us who we are. We wouldn’t have all had different faces and body types if we were all to fit the same set standard. This standard has been created.

It’s important to remember that your worth is determined by your capabilities, talents, and what you bring to the table when you speak.

Keep your heads held high and own who you are. There’s only one of you, and that’s special.