The Ever Changing ‘Body Ideal’ Has Few Winners

The idea of a ‘body ideal’ is something that every person has probably encountered. It is very strict and it does not allow much compromise. Too tall, too thin, too curvy, it is hardly inclusive and welcoming of individuality.

But this fascination with a certain look that everyone wants to emulate changes constantly depending on which decade you grow up in. It is impossible to fit every standard of beauty, and the level of perfection expected is getting even more niche and difficult to obtain.

In the 1990s, the ‘waif’ look or ‘heroin chic’ took centre stage. The pale face, exhausted eyes and striking makeup appeared to be very extreme and opposite to the previous beauty ideal.  

This look was “the visual equivalent of the grunge sound, waifs, brought fashion back down to earth, in a good way” (Vogue). This is quite a shocking description of a body ideal that was completely unhealthy and unachievable for a young impressionable audience to imitate. It could be argued that in one sense ordinary girls were not placed under the expectation to be perfect in terms of glamour and makeup but new criteria had to be met. Being stick thin was the objective, an objective that still persists in the media today. 

In 2019, Instagram would suggest that we have moved completely away from this look. Being extremely skinny is probably not in fashion for a younger generation. Body types which are curvy and have a tight waistline are the epitome of beauty for many. Unfortunately, this body type is a constructed and carefully created fantasy, which many turn to surgery to achieve. 

A ‘Brazilian butt lift’ or ‘BBL’ is a procedure which enables women to achieve their desired body.  The procedure has been extremely controversial and very dangerous with a young English mother dying after the surgery. Women are travelling abroad for a cheaper version of the lift BBC News said. About one in three thousand of the surgeries are fatal according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. 

It is heartbreaking that women have died due to cosmetic alterations, especially in a time when we are told that every body is accepted and valued. The pressure still exists to maintain an image of unflinching beauty. 

Women can never fit every rule and regulation society sets, beauty brands and cosmetic surgeons are benefiting from a generation who constantly want to change aspects of their looks.  The fact that this is dangerous seems to be a secondary thought for women who are determined to change themselves. Big business is lucrative because it receives capital as a result of insecurity. 

In the 1995 documentary ‘Catwalk’, the beautiful model of the moment, Christy Turlington struts gracefully through each fashion show. All the models in the documentary are very skinny and are rewarded by the industry for this. One can only imagine the thoughts girls might have had walked out of the cinema after seeing this edited highlight reel. But we have to also remember the feelings models may have when being rejected by agencies for not fitting the sample size. Only a select few people benefit from an industry that purports to appreciate every woman.