woman with highlight on her cheek

Portrayals of Beauty

Ancient Egypt’s slender and narrow-waisted figure. Han Dynasty's pale skin and small eyes. Italian Renaissance’s rounded stomachs and full hips. Throughout history, the abstract concept of beauty has changed - and, paradoxically, been set as a physical idea, translated into standards and specific sets of features. 

Postmodern beauty is no exception: subject to measurements, attractiveness became something to aspire to. Across cultures, increasingly codified and commercialized appearances, paragons of beauty according to the norm, stamped magazine covers and minds, fomented by the ever-growing fashion and beauty industry and their size 0 rule. 

Yet, the definition of beauty in the last decade began to expand by refusing to conform and be defined. Through social media, individuals had their voices - and thus, their bodies - amplified. Although other standards arose as the power of determining beauty was transferred to the people, movements that promoted body and skin positivity were also catalyzed, breaking through conventions and bringing forth demands for inclusiveness.

  1. 1. Talking Body: Positivity

    To the Capricho journalist and body positivity advocate Izabel Gimenez, representation is essential in any aspect of our lives. “It shows us things are possible. When I see a woman in a position of power, it inspires me; when she’s plus size, I identify even more. Seeing someone that looks like you in spots you were told you could never belong is encouraging. It gave me strength.”

    “That’s why it’s important that fat people are portrayed in magazines, movies, and places we don’t normally occupy, that aren’t normally fit for us.” Insecurities, she states, bloom precisely due to the fact that representation is lacking. “When we go to a store and all the models and mannequins are thin, you can’t look around and think that there are outfits for you there.” 

    Beyond aesthetic, other pressures can also be present and impactful concerning self-image, as she remembers: “once, I talked to a girl that wanted to be a nutritionist. However, she felt bad because she was fat. But why can’t plus size women occupy places like that?”

    “This topic slowly became a part of my day to day life”, Izabel states, on how she came across the Free Body (“Corpo Livre”) movement. From the very first contact, it made her “look at other girls more empathetically, carefully, and respectfully.” In spite of that, the same mindset was still a “taboo” when it came down to herself: “I had a lot of difficulty looking towards myself. Last year, though, my ‘official’ process of self-acceptance began. Talking about it more, coming in contact with other girls [at Capricho], made me start understanding myself as a fat woman.”

    “From the moment you realize you’re not alone, that your body is not a problem, that you’re not the only one to go through these issues, you see yourself as a part of a group. And that is essential to treat yourself with care”, she concludes.

  2. 2. Under The Skin: Freedom

    “Why do I have to have the perfect skin? Why does my body have to be thin? Why do I have to fit into such standards?”, ponders Kéren Paiva, owner of the homonym skin positivity account, in a livestream on Her Campus Cásper Líbero Instagram. “Why is acne perceived as something wrong, something uncommon, and the perfect skin, the one that doesn’t exist, is considered normal?”

    “Learning to question [those standards] is very important”, she emphasizes. Having the inflammatory disease since she was eleven years old, Kéren admits that, growing up, she missed people talking about skin positivity. “I didn’t have access to information about acne. When that happens, we start believing in a lot of things people say, falling into many lies told.”

    However, the scarce coverage and general ignorance on the topic motivated her further. Though Kéren’s Instagram page now amasses over twenty-three thousand followers, she still recalls the significance of her first post about free skin. “Its impact was huge. A lot of people saw themselves in it. Because it’s a deprived subject, it leads to such identification. It’s something few talk about, and when they do, it’s major.”

    On the skin positivity movement, she adds: “Besides embracing, accepting, listening and spreading knowledge, it’s tied to freedom. We have to understand that we’re not less because we have acne-prone skin and that we don’t need to hide.” 

    Self-love, at last, according to the influencer, despite a slow process, is entirely achievable. “Knowing you can be free, not wear makeup if you don’t want to - it’s okay if you can’t do it right now. There are steps, and the most important thing is remembering that we can grow, evolve, and, while being patient with ourselves, comprehend that that’s possible.” 

  3. 3. To Beauty And Beyond

    Alongside body and skin positivity, other fronts also compose the movement of defiance towards standards. From Deise Nunes, the first black woman crowned Miss Brazil in 1986, to Halima Aden, the first model to wear a hijab and burkini for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, and Valentina Sampaio, the first openly transgender model to sign with Victoria’s Secret, representation is slowly making its way into an industry that, at first, shut out anything aside from what was deemed, according to their own terms, beautiful.

Beauty, transcending body type, skin condition, age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation and religious belief, is only now flourishing, with representation and visibility - living up to its true, fluctuating and undefined meaning. 

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The article above was edited by Laura Ferrazzano.

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