Sir Thomas Overbury’s famous remark, “beauty is skin deep,” has for decades been the hallmark of self-esteem campaigns. In a society where the standard of beauty has become increasingly unrealistic, such generous attempts to establish positive body ideals are seen as a necessity. In fact, such reinforcement was the epitome of my teen years, with plenty of enthusiastic teachers and counselors eager to promote the importance of inner beauty and the dangers of an unhealthy body obsession.
These sessions had little impact on my perception of beauty, to say the least. The truth is, my beauty ambassadors were taking their inner beauty advice a bit too literally, showing virtually no concern for their outer appearance—evident by the abundance of tie-dye t-shirts, rear-enlarging “mom jeans” and my favourite, the infamous socks-with-sandal mishmash. It didn’t help that many of these women sported crew cuts and make-up that belonged to the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
This criticism is by no means my attempt to mock, but rather to show where these women went wrong, and that was simply their lack of appeal. What 15-year-old was going to listen to a frumpy old lady compared to a glamorous celebrity? Furthermore, there was no escaping the barrage of perfect people advertised in the surrounding media. It made no sense to receive information on improving self-esteem if our biggest influence—media—wasn’t going in the same direction. At the time, it seemed the future belonged to the thinly clad models of the runway shows, the sexy video vixens, the well-dressed socialites found in every magazine, the perfect celebrities we idealized and any other illusions the media considered beautiful.
Although not much time has passed since my teen years, today, there is some evidence that progress is being made to create healthier standards of beauty within mainstream media. In recent years, certain industry leaders in the fashion world have introduced healthier weight requirements for models, refusing to cast malnourished individuals in an attempt to promote positive body image. The widely acclaimed Dove campaign encourages women to feel comfortable in their own skin regardless of age, shape or colour. Hollywood too has made subtle changes by praising curvier actresses such as Gabourey Sidibe and creating television and movies that provide leading roles for heavier celebrities, such as the television series Huge.
There are also some movements, which may not necessarily promote a healthier body image but nonetheless advocate against the false ideal of beauty we have familiarized ourselves with through Hollywood. The highly criticized “fat acceptance” movement, better known as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), is making headlines by empowering larger people to feel beautiful.
The emergence of these positive influences within mainstream media is a far cry from the classroom lectures I grew up with. Kids are now being exposed to an environment where beauty has a multi-dimensional face. Greater participation from the media, specifically markets reaching kids—television—that are helping to cultivate a healthier generation of adults. Although traditional ideals of beauty still persist, it seems that the movement towards “real beauty” will only get larger, creating a future of people equipped to change the entertainment industry and to be confident with who they are regardless of what others may say.