Fat vs. Skinny – Modern Beauty Standarts based on Historical Views?

Last session we talked about the “Venus Hottentot” and prostitutes, and about how these women were stereotyped as being fat because of their uncivilized way of life. We further discussed how 19th century society used these ‘bad’ stereotypes to control society. Women (and people in general) were led to believe that being thin means being civilized. In the discussion we talked about how this viewpoint of relating obesity to unattractiveness and an uncivilized way of life still affects our lives today. We discussed the stereotypes of black women with big butts in rap videos, the skinny runway models, and attempts to encourage curvy women in their self-confidence (Dove Ad). And this made me think…

Could it really be that 19th century Victorian society was the starting point for the slimming craze that we see everyday in modern life? Of course the stereotypes aren’t communicated the exact same way, but they still exist. Women feel unattractive if they don’t look like “photoshopped” models. I always thought that the starting point for the slimming craze was given with the rise of the mass media, and the broad propagation of these ideals. The media tell us what to wear, what to eat, what to buy, and of course how to look. Everybody who wants to sell something uses a standardized ideal of beauty for advertising.

Of course the attraction to skinny people isn’t naturally given, it is a pattern used and represented by the media. In fact attributes that made a person attractive varied from fat to thin. Society constructs attractiveness. It decides what is acceptable, and what is not. However, today it’s not so sure whether society controls these images, or rather the companies that want to sell stuff by using mass media to reach people. Maybe both of them are combined, and today’s life takes place in a “mass media/ concern- controlled society”. You find yourself surrounded by ads wherever you go: in the streets, on the radio, TV, internet, magazines… being exposed to ads that carry certain messages is part of everyone’s life. We’re used to it, so we stop thinking about the appearance of ads, and at the same time we stop questioning the validity of the messages. We simply accept what we see as part of our surrounding. So, by accepting the messages, we accept the stereotypes carried by them – and every ad does carry them. Even Dove – with their “anti-skinny” campaign – uses the thin stereotype in order to sell stuff. They just turn it around. And in fact the women in these videos aren’t fat at all, but they’re said to be chubby, as opposition to the skinny standard models. Unconsciously this creates the message that curvy women feel bad for their appearance, because they don’t look like skinny models, which again makes the skinny body a desirable body. Besides that, the women shown in the ad aren’t fat or anything close to it, so there’s a disproportioned image shown a certain group of society should relate to.

Many people are intimidated by the ideal they’re shown. Often enough one can’t reach the idealistic stereotype, because it is, as the definition says, something existing only in imagination, desirable or perfect, but not likely to become reality (Oxford Dictionary). I often compare the awareness of one’s own flaws to drawing a picture. The viewer who sees the picture after it’s finished looks at it and sees a beautiful painting. The artist, however, sees all the flaws, the process and the mistakes he made while painting it. Most people don’t realize that their looks aren’t bad at all, and that they don’t look ugly to others because those others aren’t aware of any of these flaws. Often enough they’re too concerned with hiding their own.

Currently there aren’t many people who fit the common ideal of skinny beauty, because it isn’t in the human’s nature to be extra skinny. There are different medical views that say what amount of body fat is healthy, and one could argue for different points of views, but that’s not the point. Every living being puts a lot of effort in staying alive; the given conditions are acknowledged and maintained. The human is the only being that would deliberately starve or stuff himself on conditions that aren’t linked to health or surviving at all.

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