April 26, 2022

Τhe progression of female beauty standards: from goddess Aphrodite to Kim Kardashian and body positivity

Woman. One word, a thousand meanings and many more images. How hard it is to be a woman. To have been connected to beauty and femininity since ancient times. An insoluble Gordian knot that haunts you. To be well-groomed, to be well-dressed, to be well-built, to be, to be…

But where does femininity derive from and who defines female beauty? The concept of beauty, although vague and arbitrary, is at the same time, trapped within strictly entrenched borderlines. We consider ideal what is trendset in our time as ideal, a fact that may well be proven by the progression of female beauty standards throughout history.

In the early days of Ancient Greece, the paragon of beauty and robustness was identified with the harmoniously well-trained body, whilst the era’s beau ideal was goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and sexuality. Centuries later, during the Renaissance, buxom women with plump curves, pale faces and rosy cheeks were particularly appreciated. Light-colored hair and rounded faces were among the highest signs of beauty. In Victorian England, a thin waist was of great importance, and was achieved through the use of suffocatingly tight corsets. From the '30s until the '50s, during what came to be known as “the Golden Age of Hollywood” curvaceousness held true in fashion. The one to exert great influence during that time was the era’s “ultimate female” and Hollywood’s golden girl, Marilyn Monroe. In the '60s, the image of the model Twiggy dominated the decade. Bodies tremendously skinny, almost teenage-like. During the '90s, the female archetype was a thin looking, weak and neglected woman. Model Kate Moss, with her pale skin and skinny body, was this decade’s protagonist. Nowadays, lean limbs, heavy bosom, thin waist and full hips; a perfect hourglass figure of the "Kim Kardashian" type, prevails. Many are even pursuing more and more plastic surgery "corrections" in order to shape their bodies accordingly and achieve a flawless face.

Therefore, the quest of external beauty is not an exclusive feature of current affairs. It is only today that its pursuit is becoming more exigent, as it is reinforced by capitalist mentality, materialistic standards, social media and more specifically, Instagram, which is the most popular social network that generates, promotes and reproduces beauty standards.

In reality, women fall victims to each decade’s beauty standards. “I try to become and forget what I am. What am I though? I may sometimes be myself’s worst enemy”. As we unconsciously follow our herd instinct, and social beings that we are, our urge to be accepted by our social circles and better adapt to the broader community, we forget the uniqueness of our inner world. We turn into insecure beings who obsessively engage in the pursuit of perfection. Although it may sound cliché, perfect does not exist and sooner or later we ought to realize that. After all, beauty comes into existence the moment we decide to be ourselves.

We undoubtedly live in a society that categorizes people based on their appearance. This categorization instantly generates countless insecurities. We set foot in the process of comparison; “What does she have, that I don’t”. We forget about female solidarity and in the name of “reaching the peak of external beauty”, we become competitive. We strive for a beautified image of ourselves, to which we become addicted in our attempt to follow the standards set by famous actors and models of dazzling external beauty.

By association, the book "The Picture of Dorian Gray" comes to mind, through which it is proved that all people, regardless of gender, bear narcissistic characteristics and, with self-esteem, they reproduce the feeling that they deserve their ideal image of themselves. It certainly cannot be denied that society is much stricter with women. Yet the hero, whose preservation of a flawless external image, becomes his obsession is a man. In today’s era of “appearances” every one of us, in life’s smallest and greatest of moments, has turned into Dorian Gray, a phenomenon that is now universal. There are numerous cases of girls experiencing eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia and cases of boys imposing strict diets and rigorous training on themselves, so that they become desirable.

Beauty standards change from one generation to the next and trends are transient habits. In particular, over the last decade, a major change has begun to take place in the way that the female body is represented in social media and society. The movement pro positive approach towards the body; “Body positivity” movement, started making an impact around 2012, as a hashtag used to promote acceptance of the weight of bigger women, of all races, and keeps giving a voice to women and freeing them from self-restraint.

It seems that the world has begun to take notice and recognize that different bodies also deserve a place, both in the fashion industry and society, and it is time for beauty standards to be put aside. We accept and embrace ourselves and our bodies. Woman. One word, a thousand meanings, immense power!

Photography by the Photography Team of TEDxAUTH 2022

Anastasia Pavlidou

Born on a September’s morning in Kavala of the new millenium, always in the mood for road trips, chilling at the beach and with plenty of love for sleep. Restrained on the outside but enthusiastic on the inside. She is currently studying chemistry and while the artist in her is still wondering about this choice, her inner scientist is solving equations.

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Dimoka Maria Eleftheria (Mirela)

A 21-year-old translation aficionado, lost in her own chaos, plans to find herself in every part of the world. A language and nature lover who finds peace in art and adventure. Following favorite verses of romanticists and gothic writers you may find her on mountain peaks and cat neighborhoods. Her greatest passion: to learn new things and live every moment to the fullest!

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Vasileia Gioti

English Literature undergrad with more dreams than she can handle. Passionate feminist growing more cynical by the day, and defender of the Oxford comma. Lover of fantasy novels, Greek poetry, Jane Austen, and Argentine rock music– her tastes are almost as chaotic as her mind! Dreams of travelling, connecting with women from every corner of the world, and listening to their stories.

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