3 nerdy ways to battle beauty standards when everyone around you is obsessed with their bodies
Here are my favorite (albeit nerdy) ways to battle societal beauty standards:
Let me set one thing straight: it’s not your fault if you have an unhealthy or disordered relationship with your body. Please read that sentence. One more time. Okay, now let’s get to it.
I used to think that my insecurities were my fault and, therefore, could only be solved by looking inward. I was absolutely incorrect. Body neutrality, body positivity, or whatever form of bodily acceptance you believe in is a group effort.
Even if you decide to cancel your Weight Watcher’s account and wear that body-con dress, it’s hard to overcome insecurity when everyone else is still asking how many calories are in an onion. (Yes, that’s a real question I heard recently. Asked to Alexa.)
The world profits off of our insecurities, no matter your gender. The beauty industry was worth $532 billion in 2019, meaning that every stretch mark, blemish, ingrown hair, and fat roll quite literally benefits big businesses.
And if they want to keep making more and more money, they need to find more things to make us feel ashamed of, which is exactly what has happened: we’ve started shaving our legs, using personalized skin care regimens, contouring, body building, and so on.
Before I continue, let me differentiate between beauty standards and diet culture. While beauty standards refers to all aspects of one’s physical appearance from acne to physique, diet culture focuses solely on one’s weight and subsequent appearance (fat rolls, stretch marks, and so on).
Both beauty standards and diet culture thrive on the same conflated ideology: this arbitrary archetype is what is “beautiful,” and being “beautiful” is the only way to have self-worth.
Here, I focus on beauty standards because it encapsulates diet culture as well as other physical flaws that are generally frowned upon, but I plan on delving into diet culture specifically in future articles.
Here are my favorite (albeit nerdy) ways to battle societal beauty standards:
- Take an evolutionary perspective and embrace insignificance
Carl Sagan taught us the power of zooming out and making yourself feel small, but what about making yourself feel like a mere blip in time? Take your insecurities and ask, “Why do these features exist?” Then, reframe your “undesirable” features as mere biological adaptations.
Remind yourself how incredible your body is for being able to be so flexible with our ever-changing world. And forgive it for any adaptations that may feel undesirable.
Here’s some science behind what I mean:
- Acne exists solely because humans developed to have hairless skin too quickly, according to evolutionary theorists. We produced oil in order to lubricate the hair on our bodies but now, without hair, we no longer need that lubrication. With this in mind, acne makes complete sense. It’s not a mark of ugliness: it’s a reminder that our earliest ancestors existed 6 million years ago. If you’re 25 years old, you’ve existed for merely 0.0004% of humankind’s existence on earth. A blip.
- Hair exists as one of our most intuitive adaptations: the more hair, the warmer we are. Now, we’re all used to shaving. The most tedious and prevalent of all is leg shaving, so that’s what I’ll focus on here. When’s the last time you nicked your knee while shaving, revealing that awful stream of blood that takes forever to clot? For someone as klutzy as I am, the answer is “last week.” Here’s some perspective: in the 1920s, a woman cutting herself while shaving made the news. By the 1950s, these cuts were as common as knots in your hair. It’s been 70 years with this leg-shaving ideal, totaling for a mere 0.001% of our existence. Yet another blip.
2. Infuse the pressure to conform with some grounding humor
Is Reddit considered nerdy? Probably. It’s home to my favorite reminder that most of what we see online is faker than astroturf trying to pass as grass. Check it out on r/InstagramReality. If that’s not enough to convince you, one of the moderators is named ReptilianOverlord. Now that’s someone I’d like to meet.
I’m also a fan of social media accounts focused solely on body positivity. It helps balance out a feed that may be filled with peers who feel the need to “look good” and may in turn perpetuate standards you’re trying to avoid.
A lot of the time, these accounts use humor and carefree dancing to let off steam and stomp out standards. These are some of my favorites on Instagram:
- @maryscupofteaa, a reformed swimsuit model who underwent recovery and now advocates for and educates about body positivity
- @ashleygraham, a model whose bio reads #BeautyBeyondSize
- @bodyposipanda, an author whose technicolor hair and makeup never cease to bring me joy
My main reservation with these accounts is that, even if these accounts and similar ones advocate for all sizes, shapes, and colors of bodies, many of these accounts have content that presents their skin as always flawless, their bodies as nearly hairless, and their makeup often looks perfect.
This is completely fine if that’s what they want to do, but depending on your main insecurity as the consumer of this media, these accounts may do more harm than good.
3. Outsmart your brain by meditating
There are lots of apps like Shine, Calm, and others that focus on finding happiness and peace through meditation. My recommendation to cultivate bodily acceptance is Headspace because they have a series specifically dedicated to self-esteem.
Aside from the fact that Andy Puddicombe is the love of my life, Headspace is my meditation app of choice because its sleek design and accessible guided meditations make a lot of sense to a newbie like me.
Best of all, it’s only $10/year for students. (As per usual, I must stress that I do not sponsor anyone. That would feel strange to do in an article about how much I hate capitalism.)
Here’s a short blurb from the Headspace website that explains why meditation is effective:
“In 2014, researchers asked a group of women to include a self-compassion meditation in their routine for a brief 3-week period. During that time, they discovered that participants’ body dissatisfaction decreased significantly, while they cultivated high levels of self-compassion and body appreciation.”
TL;DR: Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce body dissatisfaction and even create body appreciation. I’d recommend giving it a shot. Rewiring your brain is a powerful tool.
To wrap things up…
I’ll end with this disclaimer: any changes that you want to make to your body for your own personal health or comfort are valid. If ingrown hairs have developed into uncomfortable cysts, for example, it makes sense to try and remove them.
If you use makeup and beauty products as a form of self-expression or find it enjoyable to apply, more power to you! (I’m totally a part of this camp: I dyed my hair purple just for the hell of it, and it was so much fun.)
I’m not claiming that personal hygiene, preference, or health choices are wrong — I’m merely stating that societal standards should never be the sole reason one feels forced to change themself.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t feel guilt for having a sense of need to conform. Again, overcoming societal beauty standards is a group effort. It’s oftentimes easier to conform that to fight, and that’s valid, especially if there are other more pressing concerns taking up your energy.
My goal here is to remind you that it’s all a marketing scam to take our money and make us feel bad about ourselves — and that we absolutely deserve better than this.
With that, enjoy the rest of your day feeling like a blip in time, and remember to channel any negative feelings towards the beauty industry and institution rather than your own lovely body. I find these two reminders strangely comforting.
Originally published on Katie’s Ordinary Life.