The concept of beauty is one that is difficult to define and has remained a popular topic of debate for centuries. Philosophers, artists, scholars and poets, all have attempted to capture and define the quality that is beauty. The question as to what is beauty remains one with many varying answers. A common belief is that beauty is subjective, that for a person, place or thing to be considered beautiful, depends on the opinion of the person perceiving it. The Oxford dictionary defines beauty as, “a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.”1 And according to Aristotle “The chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness.”2 Regarding physical beauty, in her book “The Beauty Myth”, author and feminist Naomi Wolf wrote, “Beauty is a currency system like the gold standard.”3 Wolf’s theory of beauty being a construct used for profit and control from male dominated institutions and political agenda, is one that will feature in this body of writing.
This essay will focus primarily on the notion of physical beauty, particularly beauty in a modern society and how it has today become a fabricated concept put in place to control and manipulate the masses primarily for profit. By referencing and referring to various writers, feminists and sociologists, such as Susie Orbach, Naomi Wolf and Ted Polhemus, and having collected a variety of research via text, documentary films and articles, this essay will analyse the subject of beauty ideals in a capitalist culture and will discuss various aspects within this topic such as westernisation and the influences and effects of globalisation and mass media on body image and beauty standards.
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The first section of this essay will debate the theory of sexual selection vs globalisation as the primary causes behind modern beauty standards. The second section will discuss beauty in advertising and mass media and the strategies and tactics used to market and sell products. Prior to completion, this section will also include a discussion about male beauty. Finally, before concluding, section three will analyse the effects of these beauty ideals and will show statistics regarding mental health and eating disorders, but will also discuss what the effects on the economy would be if certain industries did not exist.
As a society we have developed a dangerous and ever-growing obsession with physical beauty, a fixation that is particularly damaging and destructive to the body image and self-esteem of women and men. Scars, excess body fat, aging and body hair, each of these “imperfections” and countless others are so often the object of scorn and condemnation by many beauty, fashion and lifestyle magazines that fill their pages with articles body shaming various celebrities for not adhering to the perfect, unattainable beauty ideals dictated by society, while simultaneously praising those who do meet these unrealistic standards.4 Images of perfect bodies flood mass media and propaganda promoting skin care, weight loss and any other expensive and unachievable ideals brainwash the majority of the global population. What may seem like harmless advertising and entertainment, can through enough exposure become detrimental in how we view ourselves and others, and can cause serious repercussions to our health as proven in the increase of eating disorders throughout the years.5 But where has this obsession come from and who is behind it?
1 Definition of beauty from the online Oxford Dictionary. Available from: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/beauty Accessed 2 Dec 2017
2 Palmarium Magazine, ‘Aristotle and Socrates on Beauty’. (n.d.) Available from: http://www.palmarium-magazine.com/w1-aristotleandsocratesonbeauty.html Accessed 2 Dec 2017
3 Wolf, N., 1990, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. p12
4 Hollier Brown, J., (2015) ’21 Body-Shaming Magazine Covers That Prove Women Just Can’t Win’, Buzzfeed, 27 March 2015. Available from: https://www.buzzfeed.com/whatjanedid/21-of-the-most-offensive-gossip-magazine-covers-15zo9?utm_term=.sevxzOzDOV#.anGbRNRkNJ Accessed 26 Oct 2017
5 Healthy Place, ‘Eating Disorders: Body Image and Advertising.’ 30 May 2017. Available from: https://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/articles/eating-disorders-body-image-and-advertising/ Accessed 28 Oct 2017