Since You Probably Do Not Understand My Title
In everyday life, constant messages are being sent to women throughout the United States about what the “perfect” body should look like; which suggests that if a woman is different (anything more or less) than the standard set by society, she is ugly. Not reaching the standard to allow her to be considered beautiful.
Growing up as a part of Generation Z – Gen Next, I am in a time of constantly changing social norms. Therefore, I have witnessed the transition of what is sought after or praised in the media and also, unfortunately, observe what is condemned. Society has shifted women’s view of the “perfect body” from the adoration of the thin to the veneration and praise of those who deem to represent the ultimate goals of being “slim-thick”. Unlike the past where it was simply acceptable to just be slim or skinny, society has now added another level of challenge and difficulty for women of all ages and backgrounds to achieve this standard of societal perfection. Living in a society embodied by a dualism mindset, there is never a compromise or sense of balance with these social norms, yet the now standard of beauty is an unrealistic compromise of two opposite sides.
Hip-Hop and Body Image
From the introduction of rap music and the emergence of Hip-Hop Culture, the idea of the perfect body began to change based on demographic. There was a time when being as thin as possible with a slimmer, leaner frame was the ideal, yet due to a more crossover “Hip-Hop Culture” the ideas of this mindset has seeped its way into the normality of everyday life. Consequently, society has been consumed by what I call a “Slim-Thick Mentality”. Before Hip-Hop became a national music genre that now all walks of life listen too, the derogatory lyrics about women and the objectification of their bodies were seemingly just “natural” to those who rap music was catered to – the minorities.
In the past, societal standards were set by for the white woman, yet all races were expected to adhere to them. Now do to cultural appropriation, which can be defined as: “involves members of the dominant culture (or those who identify with it) ‘borrowing’ from the cultures of minority groups” (Nittle). For this definition, it is easy to see that this is what society has done with the standard of beauty in the United States. First, there was a time where white Americans were truly the majority, but as time has progressed, minorities specifically African-Americans and Hispanics have gradually increased in the make-up of the United States. Therefore, the music of the minorities has turned into the music of America, changing the standard of beauty through the influence of the new national, rap culture.
Growing up as a black teenager and now a developing young adult in this society is dangerous, seeing the dangers that women constantly put themselves through to reach the standard of society for that day. It is nearly impossible for a female of any age to ignore the constant messages of body image throughout the media. Whether on the television screen, movie screen, social media page or in the lyrics of a song. The constant feeling of being bombarded and pushed into this “slim-thick” mold is difficult for not only me, but other women to fight, when it is constantly surrounding you. Having a standard of beauty be determined and praised by the music that is meant to objectify women based on their bodies is troubling and many women know this to be true, yet they still feel the need to conform their bodies.
What Does Race Have to Do with It?
Who would think that race and body image go hand in hand? The main societal ideologies are created by the “average” white Christian male, who create these standards for his assumed partner the “average white woman”. Now, why is this a problem? As an African-American, if there are standards of beauty set for a white woman there seems to be a misunderstanding that is a completely different race can be held to the same beauty standards as another when there are different beauty features that come with each. It is purely unfair to try and push people of different races into a mold of beauty that was not designed for them. Consequently, it lends itself to prejudice among those who do not fit into that mold which encompasses everyone who is not a part of the white race.
How Did the Media Help Society Get Here?
Before addressing the issues of this “Slim-Thick Mentality”, it is first imperative to explain how society has developed this mindset. Throughout society, the media has impressed a certain picture of what the average (white) American female was supposed to look like. The media impressed their “correct” picture of perfection in a variety of ways from music, television, or the basic applause and praise for those who above and beyond to achieve the overarching goal of embodying the perfect hourglass figure. In addition to this praise, it appears as though the media uses celebrity publicity to subliminally encourage their “followers” to desire to become more and more like their idols so that they can become just like them to the basic level of physical similarity. If one looks closely, each race/ethnicity has at least one celebrity to stand as the role model for bodily perfection in society. For example, Kim Kardashian stands in the place of the average white women, Beyoncé for the Black/African-American culture, J-Lo for the Hispanic/Latina women, and then there is no one for the Asians who society has seemed to accept as plainly unable to achieve this physical standard of perfection. In addition to race and ethnicity, society also plays on this desire to reach the societal standard to my generation through celebrities such as Kylie Jenner.
Mainstream media is the leading communicator in spreading the ideals of society. Because media is unavoidable, it is inevitable that it will have some impact on those who watch it. These celebrities have pushed women toward aspiring to have the “ideal” butt type of these major celebrities who have a vast influence on others. This displays the reality that in recent years, through the influence of celebrities the shift of “ideal” body image has been transformed. Without the media and the easy accessibility, it would not be this easy to change the ideologies of the “average” American woman.
Although Beyoncé is one seen as one of role models and idols (if you will) for the definition of “Slim-Thick”. With a small waist, yet larger hips thus a larger gluteus maximus, she goes against this idea in her song, “Pretty Hurts”. The song “Pretty Hurts” raises awareness to going against the status quo or the perfect body yet society conditions women to necessarily be “bigger” in places such as the breast or buttock area. She recites the lines: “TV says bigger is better/South beach, sugar-free/Vogue says/Thinner is better.” These lines show the contrast between the “standards” that society set. Looking at media, women get different ideals of beauty that contradict, which mean that women in America never have one permanent idea of what beauty is. Therefore, one set goal cannot be attained due to the constant shift in ideologies. The tragic part of this is that the constantly changing ideas of society cause women to become never comfortable with Typically, these songs are directed towards the minority communities such as the black/African-American and Hispanic/Latino communities who are assumed to naturally be born with these assets. But now in the year 2016, since Miley Cyrus’ infamous performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, the obsession of twerking and big butts have heightened greatly with white women. Although Miley obviously does not have a large backside, her large publicity and stardom among the white women became pivotal in the heightened desire for a larger butt among their culture. Simply for the desire to twerk like Miley.
Through the development and conditioning of media, for both women and men to have this idea of perfection in their mindset. Such songs with lyrics “Slim-thick with yo cute ass” by the popular rapper Fetty Wap (“Jimmy Choos”-Fetty Wap) implant ideas into the minds of both women and men that not only is this “Slim-thick” body the ideal in society, which conditions men to look for those attributes in women and teaches women to conform themselves to this perception of perfection. This line also raises the question of where it leaves those who are on the opposite sides of the spectrum: the slim and then the thick. It makes it so that those who are plainly “skinny” must work to add on the weight to become “slim-thick” whereas those who are categorized as “fat” are told to lose weight in some places, yet keep it in the other.
The Outward Normality of Body Change
Although this ideal of the perfect body naturally is unattainable, yet celebrities such as Nikki Minaj, Amber Rose, and Black Chyna, who have vast media publicity, have normalized butt augmentations which have increased the number of women who are investing into plastic surgery to achieve the body goals set by society. It has now become common for women to freely chose parts of their body they want to change. The normality of this is becoming simply a part of everyday life, which can be easily accessible to people from all walks of life. For example, the popular social media app, Snapchat, allows people of any age to follow whoever. Thus people like, Dr. Miami, a plastic surgeon, can freely post snaps of his surgeries from tummy tucks, breast implants, and butt augmentations. Therefore, people of any age can observe these procedures as the norm of every day, American women, who are simply trying to reach the standards of beauty, set by society.
In the music video for “Pretty Hurts”, playing a pageant girl, Beyoncé reaches the interview portion of the competition where she is asked, “What is your aspiration in life?” but her response is key to seeing how society embeds the minds of women in society. She responds with the statement, “My aspiration in life is…to be happy”. Therefore, knowing that society The changes that women make are implemented so that they can achieve a sense of happiness by reaching the standard. By this many women have had the desire to participate in some aspect of body alteration ranging from “basic” padded bras to padded underwear to increase the size…well, the perception of the size of their butts(Taylor). This demonstrates the high percentage of women who display insecurities within their bodies that lead them to take extreme measures in order to reach this unnatural standard of beauty.
There is a problem with this mindset that equates happiness to beauty, specifically a physical sense of beauty. Since this is the ideology of women in America, this explains the high amount of reasoning behind the high percentage of women who pay for some sort of body altering services, such as plastic surgery. Although there are numerous initiatives to counter act this push to change the culture, there is an overabundance of influence to change. Therefore, women using products and procedures to change themselves to meet the ideal standard of beauty is a part of the norm of society.
Being naturally skinny/ectomorph it is extremely difficult for me to gain weight, having the high metabolism that I do. Yet, society condemns me for having such a small frame and then suggest a plethora of ways to fix it. Whether it be Victoria Secret ads for their coveted Bombshell Bra, that is advertised to increase the appearance of your cleavage by TWO cup sizes or even infomercials that are selling butt lifting jeans. Even worse, I will just get the “quick fix” of plastic surgery, despite the complications and long recovery process. The problem with this quick fix is that for most women like myself, I cannot afford, that leads my options to go to back door “doctors” simply so that I can reach the standard of beauty set by society.
Why Is This an Important Problem?
If there are constantly shifting ideas of what the perfect body, no woman will ever have the opportunity to become truly “happy”. There is always a moving target that they are constantly running towards, that will never be caught. Creating insecurities at such a young age is detrimental to girls and women’s self-esteem. This whole idea of the “perfect body” is unattainable but society continues to enforce this concept on us as women, with the expectation that we accept this idea to be the truth. Nothing will change unless we collectively, as women reject this ideology that is constantly attempted to condition us with.
The title “Pretty Hurts” truly embodies the reality of women in our plight to be viewed as “beautiful”. Throughout the lyrics of the song, Beyonce references to the media that tells us what to do, how to act, but worse, what to look like. Songs like this, that bring up the awareness of the truth that the media in all its assets try and shape the way women aspire themselves to look like. But the most troubling factor is that from the moment we are born into the world, the media begins to classically condition us into becoming one way. Although the things women do to themselves like wearing spanxs and push-up bras in order to get the perfect hour-glass figure, yet it is literally quite painful. However, despite the pain, women seem to willingly allow themselves to go through that.
Consequently, it appears as though through these standards constantly objectify women by societal standards centering around the most sexual parts of their bodies. This “slim-thick” figure was created to please than men who created this ideology for their own sexual pleasure. Thus when women conform to this mold of society, they are simply become the objects that men dream and imagine them to be. However, no matter how close one becomes to the perfect standard of “slim-thick”.
The Pursuit of Flawlessness
On the same album as Beyoncé’s song “Pretty Hurts” she references the fact that society teaches girls to “shrink themselves” in order to please a man. Overall, that is all this “slim-thick mindset” has to offer, the affirmation and goal of becoming the ideal fantasy of a man. When in reality, a fantasy is fake, therefore, men do not truly accept this idea to be true yet as women we have taken this fraudulent ideology as fact. We aspire to meet an unrealistic standard despite its lack of authenticity. Through plastic surgery and other means, women actively accept the possibilities of society to change their appearance for an unrealistic standard to be the ideal for the average man.
How Do We Change This Ideology?
In order to change the norm of society, it first needs to be revealed that those who create them (the men of America) really do not expect women to meet, which should turn the face of media around in their portrayal of woman-kind. In addition, it is imperative that the media recognize the plight that it takes to women to achieve those “body-goals” pictured on television. Thus portraying women in the media with a larger variety of body types and skin tones. Therefore, the media would show that there is no average type of woman in the media which would leave room for all types of women to be viewed as the “ideal”. Consequently, this dualistic mindset could finally come to an end. This never ending search, for the means to receive the perfect hour-glass figure, and ultimately the perfect “slim-thick” body, when it is unrealistic to achieve either goal because of its implausibility.
Beauty should not be held to a standard. Because of its intangibility, beauty cannot be confined or defined. Media needs to begin displaying a broader array of women so that each individual can view not a singular aspect of society, but create a vaster array of body types so there is not one particular norm in society. Beauty is in everything and inside everyone. America should be a country of safety and not shame. This constant pressure on physical appearance only feeds into the deeper issues of cultural appropriation in America worsening race relations in society. All aspects of race relations need to be transformed so the racial wounds of America can begin to heal.