Beauty Standards are Changing Again, but Their Effect on Women Remains as Awful As Ever

By Mitali Sapra

I was raised by an almond mom.

According to a viral TikTok, almond moms are women who consider a handful of almonds to be a meal. They project their unhealthy relationship with food onto their children, creating a new generation of extreme dieters. My own almond mom taught me to focus on the negative features of my body, which made me constantly try new diets to lose weight. It was never enough. As my mom would say, I could always lose more. Realistically, I could never achieve the skinny figure I sought, but as long as I was trying, I felt validated. This is the effect the beauty industry has on us. It makes us feel like the finish line to becoming “perfect” is always close, but we’ll never reach it. They’ll always find ways to market new insecurities, which women didn’t know they needed to have.  

For the last two decades, the Kardashians have played a major role in setting beauty standards. The media moguls have done it all, from Brazilian Butt Lifts to lip fillers, botox injections to breast implants. This has led to a significant increase in plastic surgeries. Compared to other cosmetic surgeries, there has been a 51% rise in breast augmentations, buttock augmentations, buttock lifts, and stomach tucks over the last decade. The fastest growing aesthetic surgical procedure is the Brazillian Butt Lift, and patients risk a 14% mortality rate to achieve the Kardashian’s famous slim thick look. This “curvy figure” requires big thighs, a big butt, and a skinny waist. The beauty and fitness industry has capitalized on these desires by marketing its services and products accordingly. 

That is, until recently. In 2022, Kim Kardashian got rid of her BBL. The extremely risky procedure can lead to blood clots, cardiac problems, and fat embolism. There have also been rumors of Kim and Khloe Kardashian using Ozempic, a medication for diabetes, which helped Kim shed 16 pounds in time for the 2022 Met Gala. Her results increased demand for the drug, which led to a shortage of Ozempic for diabetic patients. The drug can also be extremely dangerous. Quick weight reduction results from the drug’s ability to reduce blood sugar, which can lead to drowsiness, seizures, and even death if left untreated for a long time. Commenters celebrated the Kardashians’ extreme weight loss, hailing them as skinny legends. These days, “thin is in,” and so is crash dieting. 

Khloe Kardashian is pictured before and after her drastic weight loss.

10 years ago, brown women were criticized for their thick eyebrows, big lips, and large eyes. Now white women on TikTok are desperate for these features. Many of them have been investing their time and money in lip-plumping injections, eyebrow-tinting procedures, and other products for acquiring these ethnic features. However, for the longest time, Eurocentric features, such as blue eyes and slim noses, have been the beauty norm. Women all over the world have spent hundreds of dollars on skin-lightening procedures, nose jobs, and laser eye treatments. In order to be considered “beautiful,” a woman is supposed to be naturally “white,” or of a lighter skin tone, with a combination of ethnic and Eurocentric features.

The beauty industry is always changing, but misogyny remains constant. One would hope that this perpetual policing would improve with time, but after speaking with my grandmother, I don’t think they do. My grandmother was considered extremely beautiful in her time. She even did photo shoots for a few local brands — her generation’s version of influencing. When I visited her over winter break, I asked if she ever regretted being so stringent with her diet. Her reply broke my heart. She told me no, that she still believes she needs to lose weight, and that every morning before starting her day, she weighs herself. Her toxic view of her body stayed with her throughout her life, and she passed it down to my “almond mom.” While I can only hope I am able to overcome this mindset, it haunts me how many young girls still strive to become skinny legends, chasing an unrealistic, unreachable ideal of beauty. 

To learn more about these never-ending beauty standards, check out these books published by NYU Press!

Botox Nation: Changing the Face of America
by Dana Berkowitz

One of NPR’s Best Books of 2017, Botox Nation by Dana Berkowitz provides the first in-depth social investigation into the development and rising popularity of Botox.

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia
by Sabrina Strings

Winner of the 2020 Body and Embodiment Best Publication Award, Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings offers an in-depth analysis of how the female beauty standard has been racialized for over two hundred years.

Brown Beauty: Color, Sex, and Race from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II
by Laila Haidarali

In Brown Beauty, Laila Haidrali examines how the media influenced ideas of race and beauty among African American women from the Harlem Renaissance to World War II.

Fashioning Fat: Inside Plus-Size Modeling
by Amanda M. Czerniawski

In Fashioning Fat, Czerniawwski, a sociologist turned plus-size model, takes us through a model’s day-to-day activities, first at open calls at modeling agencies and then through fashion shows and photo shoots.

Whiter: Asian American Women on Skin Color and Colorism
by Nikki Khanna

Whiter by Nikki Khanna shares heartfelt personal accounts from Asian American women on their experiences with skin color bias, from being labeled “too dark” to becoming empowered to challenge beauty standards

This Year’s Model: Fashion, Media, And the Making of Glamour
by  Elizabeth Wissinger

In This Year’s Model, Elizabeth Wissinger weaves together in-depth interviews and research at model castings, photo shoots, and runway shows to offer a glimpse into the life of the model throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

The Ways Women Age: Using and Refusing Cosmetic Intervention
by Abigail T. Brooks

The Ways Women Age by Abigail Brooks is the story of how and why some women choose to use, while others refuse, cosmetic intervention.

Mitali Sapra is a student at New York University studying Journalism and Politics. She is a Marketing Intern at NYU Press and writes for Washington Square News.

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