The “Appearance Ideal” is what society tells us the “perfect woman” looks like. Think perfect skin, toned, large-chested, ultra-slender. (Notice, some of these features are pretty incompatible…)
To achieve the appearance ideal, people go to extreme lengths to get the “supermodel” look, including unhealthy weight control behaviors. The goal with the appearance ideal is to become thin in a way that is neither realistic nor healthy. The goal with the healthy ideal is wellness, feeling good physically and mentally, and longevity.
The “perfect woman” has looked different throughout history. Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Renaissance women, Kim Kardashian all look different and were all the “perfect women” of their time.
Also, the appearance ideal can be different for different cultures and ethnic groups. Some cultures hold curves to be the ideal, some hold ultra-thinness to be the ideal. If you are wondering what the appearance ideal is for a culture at a certain point in time, look at its media. You will see very similar women plastered across every magazine, the main characters on popular shows and movies, advertising diet and fitness products on social media.
Often, the models on magazines and Instagram have been airbrushed to look tanner, Photoshopped to look blemish-free, and FaceTuned to look even slim. How does that feel, knowing that even a model is not able to fully attain the appearance ideal without being touched up? Even a model is not “beautiful enough”?
So, why do people even want to achieve the appearance ideal anyway? Because society tells women that we will be accepted, loved, happy, and successful if we look like this. Will being thinner really make this happen? Do celebrities and models—who often come closest to the appearance ideal—have perfect lives? No, they don’t.
There are a lot of costs associated with when people try to achieve the appearance ideal. It’s physically and mentally exhausting, unhealthy weight management techniques cost us our health and money if we’re buying products that promise weight loss, may be increased mental health care costs. It costs us our self-worth and self-esteem.
Who benefits from the appearance ideal? Certainly not us. It costs us far more than it benefits us. The diet industry, fitness businesses, mass media, and fashion industry are the ones benefitting from the appearance idea. Let’s reject the appearance ideal: for our daughters, our sons, our friends and family, OURSELVES!
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Adapted from The Body Project. The conceptual basis for the Body Project is that if girls and young women voluntarily argue against the societal appearance-ideal, this will result in a reduced subscription to this ideal and to consequent decreases in eating disorder risk factors and eating disordered behaviors. Learn more right here.
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