Body Image and Social Expectations for Women

Culture

Calvin Klein’s new advertisement featuring the black transgender model Jari Jones raised heated discussions. Besides her complex identity, Jari Jones also showcases the trend towards more representation diversified body types. While this trend brings new perspectives to the realm of modeling, it also marks the exciting progress of the feminism movement.

It is human nature to desire a sense of belonging. We want to present ourselves in a way that is, or that we consider to be, socially acceptable. We modify our behaviors, the clothes we wear, even our body shape.

Although this doesn’t make much sense, our human nature is part of the reason why many people, the majority of them being women, want to lose weight. Sadly, women are traditionally expected to be smaller and weaker than men in many cultures around the world. Women supposedly should take up less space. Their body sizes, therefore, are also expected to be smaller.

Despite the rising of feminism, we still see the influences of “ideal body shape” show up in problematic ways. For example, girls’ struggles with body image are so prevalent that it has become a stereotypical problem, especially among teenagers and young adults. On the other hand, the accepted beauty standards, frequently represented by a “beautiful woman with a thin and toned body,” have shaped and dominated the world of advertisements for decades.

On the surface level, the lack of diversity of body shapes seems to be a problem that caused people’s desire to fit in. Upon closer examination, the problem embodies the oppressive nature of the social expectations for women to look a certain way. Indeed, when a woman shrinks her body to fit in with a standard, she really is suppressing her self-expression.

In the past few decades, the impact of a set of beauty standards can be seen anywhere — on ads, in movies, and in conversations — yet rarely do we hear voices to bring in more diversity of body types. The arbitrary standard almost seems insurmountable. By forcing women into the box of what it means to be beautiful, the universal beauty standard suppresses our self-expression.

Gladly, we have made huge progress in recent years. Magazines, for example, opened their doors to plus-sized models, such as Ashley Graham, Paloma Elsesser, and, of course, Jari Jones. No matter what the intention is behind bringing these models into the spotlight, the new trend in the advertisement is challenging people to rethink their definition of beauty.

Another interesting finding I had as a podcast listener is that even the health and wellness industry is shifting gears. While years ago the “only” way to be healthy was to lose weight, now there are new voices suggesting we should “listen to our body and eat until we’re full." There’s even a growing number of people supporting HAES (health at every size). The most exciting significance of all these changes is that women are probing a new world where they’re not defined by their size, their look, but rather by who they are and what they can do. We are fighting our way out of suppression.

Of course, gender equality may continue to be an ongoing discussion, but we have gone far enough to show that a woman doesn’t have to be small to be desirable. In fact, our look does not define our worth. 

Ali Qiu
1,000+ pageviews