Beauty standards have changed throughout history. One only needs to inspect fertility statues from ancient times and depictions of girls on renaissance paintings to realize that the ideal of attractiveness morphs over time. While this is not a revolutionary thought, it is really hard to discern how beauty standards and trends might change in the foreseeable future, let alone in a time when we are visually overloaded from every direction. Faced with stylized imagery and a culture that evolves in unexpected directions faster than ever, we are left with a question – will global beauty standards change? How will they change?

Celebration of individuality

One thing is for certain – body positivity movement and promotion of tolerance in pop-culture is slowly but surely teaching younger generations to celebrate individuality. The mission statement of this “movement” is to promote open-mindedness and respect. Each body is different and therefore all people deserve to be evaluated on their own individual merits. There is a slow but deliberate push towards eradication of “general” beauty standards. On paper, this appears to be a positive movement, but in practice, the results are very dubious, at least for now.

A world torn asunder

It is important to note that, while the celebration of individuality and each person’s standard of beauty seem to be pushed into the cultural limelight as a default, we are also looking at the staggering growth of the beauty industry, not to mention the constant improvement in the realm of cosmetic surgery. When it comes to beauty standards, it seems we live in a world torn asunder, but we did not get here over night.

Throughout most of our history, beauty standards were found in what visually reflected fertility – wide hips, big and curvaceous body and blushing skin. Interestingly enough, this was pretty much the norm up until the 19th century, which means we have looked at somewhat consistent beauty standards in the western world for several millennia. However, on the precipice of the industrial revolution, there was a quick and easily detectable change in what is thought of as beautiful when it comes to women.

Suddenly, voluptuousness was replaced with slenderness. Corset became a crucial item in the wardrobe and a tool women used to “mold” their body into an imposed beauty standard. Frail, pale and subservient were the adjectives used to describe a desirable image of a woman. This change in sentiment was the consequence of the rapid civilizational development and the rise of class differences – as the new beauty standards were signs of higher social status and good upbringing.

Standards of yesterday inform tomorrow

These beauty standards from over a century ago inform the beauty standards of today and they will influence the way we see them tomorrow. As the changing tides from the 19th century echoed in the beauty standards of the late 20th century, we can expect they will be clashing with these new all-inclusive “cerebral” standards. You will often find that the same people who preach body positivity will eagerly go into surgery to do corrections.

Unfortunately, the stigma of cosmetic surgery was put into place by the excessive media coverage of botched procedures, and professionals in the field are working really hard to break this taboo. It is important to view this as a viable tool as long as it is used reasonably. Plastic surgery can help a lot of people, especially in case of inborn defects such as tuberous breasts or nose deviation. The “package” of procedures known as mummy makeover can boost confidence of new moms who feel their bodies have changed too much after the pregnancy and childbirth. Plastic surgery is an instrument that can help a lot of people, but some still hold themselves to the impossible standards and go several steps too far.

The key to the overall beauty standard that will make everyone happy is to find a balance between what’s reasonable and what’s desirable. It appears people tend to abuse modern technology to push the old standards to even more drastic sets of parameters. On the other hand, the “counterculture” of body positivity is trying to compensate by going to equally unreasonable extremes the other way. Even though it looks like we are at a breaking point, these extreme beauty standards will almost certainly balance out in a way that cannot yet be predicted. Still, one can’t deny that we live in dynamic times when it comes to aesthetic expression.

Gender bender

For so long, beauty standards were the set of values solely directed at the female population. In so many ways, being as beautiful as possible was a second job for a woman. Adhering to the pressure of looking beautiful and investing time and effort in appearance was not expected of men – until now. One of the most interesting and exciting new trends is that beauty standards have also seeped into the collective unconscious of the male population.

As men spend more time in front of mirrors, grooming themselves and picking the best outfit combos and sets of colors, we are seeing an interesting shift in how beauty is perceived – it does not equal worth anymore. Just like New Romantics in the eighties, being beautiful means using clothing and cosmetics to express how you are feeling and to celebrate your own body.

Every era of history boasts its own set of beauty standards. They are usually indicative of the overall state of culture in a particular time period as well as the symptom of historical and cultural circumstance. Therefore, as we are ushered into the time of modern technology in the realm of medicine, cutting-edge plastic surgery and a culture that changes more rapidly than ever, it will be interesting to observe how beauty standards morph and evolve.


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