It’s time to dismantle the beauty standards we never asked for

It's to dismantle the beauty standards we never asked for

As a big girl, one thing I’ve always struggled with is my perception of how I look. Are my thighs too big? Can my arms be smaller? Can I lose my chubby cheeks? I have asked myself these questions over and over again. Why? Beauty standards.

Most people might want to deny it, but society’s beauty metrics rule many. Some people undergo dangerous, life-changing surgeries to fit into the aesthetic that pleases society the most. However, these beauty standards do more harm than good for the consensus. With beauty standards as the main focus, we forget that human beings are dynamic creatures and are subject to change. Therefore, having one body type is relatively unrealistic, consequently making beauty standards—for lack of a better word—useless.

African American woman with a curvaceous figure and short curly hair" - Playground
Image Credit: Playground

After three weeks of seeing Nigeria in its true element through the lens of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation program, I can now say that there’s a lot of work to be done in deconstructing and reconstructing society’s idea of beauty standards.

Why do I have this sentiment? A conversation with a few women during the program about who deserves to contest for the Miss NYSC crown vs the Miss Big Bold and Beautiful crown started it all. Let me paint the picture.

Face-to-face with ridiculous beauty standards

In the close quarters of a room lit only by a single bulb, where a ceiling fan stirs the air at one end, stands a collection of slightly askew bunks — a makeshift home for 33 girls sharing space meant for fewer. As the night deepens, the room comes alive with the echo of metal buckets clattering against the floor, voices rising and falling as the girls share stories of their day, laugh, and dissect the day’s happenings with their friends and the companions of the adjacent bunks. This rundown includes critically analysing events and concepts with the women around me.

On this hot and uncomfortable night (much like every other night in camp), the topic of discussion was the Miss NYSC pageant competition. Now, I never cared about camp activities. I constantly spent my time under a tree or trying to find the direction with the most draft of wind. But I digress.

That evening, our conversation turned to our roommate’s unexpected Miss NYSC Pageant outcome. She’s stunning and, in our eyes, a clear winner—not just because she’s our friend, but because she truly shone. Yet, she shared that she did not take the crown because “a fat girl couldn’t win Miss NYSC.” I’m pretty open-minded about language, but when “fat” is used inaccurately to describe someone who isn’t, it strikes a chord with me, especially coming from my perspective as someone who proudly identifies with the term.

Digging deeper for clarity, I questioned what exactly that meant. Her response? The decision was pretty much made before the show even started—the title of Miss NYSC would go to the slimmest girl there, leaving no real opportunity for the others. It turns out their definition of the “most appealing” girl leaned heavily towards someone who fits the narrow beauty ideals pushed by the media—essentially, someone who wears a size 2 to 6. So, according to their standards, anyone size 8 to 16 didn’t stand a chance, not because of a lack of charm or talent, but simply for not fitting into the so-called perfect size bracket.

I could tell this weighed on my roommate a little, seeing as her demeanour for the night changed drastically compared to other nights, and she never spoke about it again. The situation made her feel bad for not meeting up to the given “standard.”

Witnessing my roommate’s response as we dissected the pageant’s finer details led me to one undeniable truth: body and beauty standards are complete nonsense—pardon my bluntness. I’m not naive; I know not everyone can take home the crown. However, the notion that the winner was chosen before the competition even started just because she fit into their narrow definition of beauty is ridiculous.

Image Credit: Instagram

NYSC needs to do and be better

After seeing my roommate struggle with the pageantry’s aftereffects, I noticed how NYSC continuously aided these discrepancies.

  1. The uniforms: Despite providing specifications during registration, the uniforms given were not size-friendly, and if you didn’t make adjustments to your uniform, you wouldn’t have anything to wear. Also, they were of deficient quality.
  2. Lewd and inappropriate commentary: I would often hear people (read as ‘men’) speak about fat girls in a dehumanising manner, especially during the big, bold, and beautiful competition. Usually, they would make snide comments at big girls, saying they would never date a big girl and that being with a big girl would be an attempt at damaging their reputation, thereby implying that big girls are not aesthetically pleasing.

After these experiences, I have further come to understand that society doesn’t regard the diversity of bodies, nor does it fully grasp that women are not toys to be measured based on personal preference. Still, they have feelings, thoughts, and ideas about how and who they want to be.

Beauty is a social construct.

It's to dismantle the beauty standards we never asked for

Beauty standards have evolved and shifted from ancient civilisations to modern-day societies, reflecting changing cultural values, norms, and ideals. But one thing is constant: beauty standards are made up. With apps like Pinterest and Instagram constantly shoving aesthetics down our throats, it is easy to get carried away with the idea of beauty rather than what’s real.

Media and culture significantly shape beauty standards and ideals in today’s globalised world. Mass media, advertising, and pop culture bombard us with images of beauty that often conform to narrow, Eurocentric ideals. From magazine covers to billboards to social media feeds, we are inundated with images of flawless models and celebrities who embody these standards. This constant exposure can create unrealistic expectations and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about beauty and worth.

People adhere to beauty standards in society for various reasons. However, the positive aspects of beauty standards (which I doubt even exist) don’t hold any weight compared to the negatives. Here are a few disadvantages of adhering to society’s opinion on beauty:

Low Self-Esteem

In my experience, low self-esteem directly results from trying to meet beauty standards. Striving to meet unrealistic beauty standards can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Constant comparison to unattainable ideals can erode one’s confidence and sense of self-worth.

Body Image Issues

In reality, there is no perfect body because no two bodies are the same with distinctive features and elements. Beauty standards often promote a narrow and unrealistic ideal of the “perfect” body, which can lead to body dissatisfaction and negative body image. This can contribute to the development of eating disorders, unhealthy dieting practices, and body dysmorphia.

Mental Health Impacts

The pressure to conform to beauty standards can take a toll on mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and other psychological distress. Constantly striving for perfection and fearing judgment based on appearance can exacerbate existing mental health issues.

Physical Health Risks

Some beauty standards promote extreme and harmful practices, such as excessive dieting, cosmetic surgeries, and the use of potentially dangerous beauty products. These practices can have detrimental effects on physical health and well-being.

Financial Burden

Pursuing the “perfect” appearance often comes with a significant financial cost, as individuals may feel compelled to invest in expensive beauty products, treatments, and procedures. This financial burden can be particularly challenging for those with limited resources.

Perpetuation of Inequality

Societal biases and stereotypes often shape beauty standards, leading to the marginalization of certain groups based on race, gender, age, and other factors. Adhering to these standards perpetuates systemic inequalities and reinforces existing power dynamics.

That’s just scratching the surface of the downsides. In a nutshell, beauty standards don’t do anyone any favours; in particular, they offer no advantages to women.

These beauty standards do not define us.

Beauty standards are suggestions that do one thing and one thing alone: divide women. It’s time to reject these standards and norms, appreciate diversity, and define beauty on our terms.

True beauty is not found in conforming to constructed norms but in sincerity, self-acceptance, and compassion. Let us embrace our individuality and reject the idea that everyone can define beauty. Beauty standards can be overpowering because society says so; let go of them and redefine what beauty means to you. So, tell me, what does beauty mean to you?


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