Almost every image you see is altered in some way so that the person in it appears more attractive.
Meanwhile the images you see of your own body are not altered. So, right off the bat, you are consistently in a position where you are made to feel as if you are falling behind. This affects everyone everywhere on the beauty spectrum. Even the models who take the beautiful photos you see in advertisements don’t look like themselves. Take a look at how much this model’s appearance is modified throughout this photoshoot:
This is because the more you feel like you’re not good enough, the more money can be made off of you.
Think about how often feeling afraid causes you to spend money.
We’re afraid we’re not attractive enough so we buy magazines, makeup, clothes we don’t need, and expensive skincare so that we might be happy with how we look. We’re afraid we’re not healthy enough compared to our peers so we purchase workout classes, athleisure, gym memberships, Peloton bikes, apple watches, and special diet food. If we’re in love, are we “in love” enough? Will he buy a big enough ring? Will she spend enough on the right kind of clothing? Will their house be big enough? Their child in the right kinds of sports or programs? The “enough” questions never end because the most powerful people in the world make the most money when you feel like your perfect future is perpetually just within reach if you would only buy what they are selling.
This is not a setting in which it’s easy to feel satisfied with what you already have.
This means we aren’t exposed to “real” bodies.
In other generations, people came of age discovering what other people’s bodies look like (and therefore what they should expect their body to look like) through seeing their family members, change rooms at school, and going to the beach. Now, people are primarily exposed to what other people’s bodies look like through the internet, especially porn. Instead of comparing your body to your sibling or your parent’s body, you are now comparing it to professionals who are paid to maintain their body as an aesthetic ideal. It’s very disorienting because most of us don’t even realize this shift has happened.
If we didn’t have a culture that ran on making others feel less than so that they’ll buy stuff we might have adapted to this change in a healthy way instead of preying on it.
Sizes don’t actually mean anything.
Just like the number on the scale, it’s easy to feel very attached to a specific number as your ideal “size”. Unfortunately, these numbers are completely arbitrary and have no static meaning whatsoever. There is no universal size chart. Not only do clothing sizes vary greatly between brands, the same size at the same brand can be inches apart in width due to the process of mass producing clothing and how piles of fabric are cut. When trying clothes on, we feel like we are defective if our normal size doesn’t fit. Our expectation is that clothings sizes are precise and it is our bodies that are incorrect if something doesn’t fit.
We’re being gaslit by influencers.
Unfortunately giving the appearance of going through recovery and becoming a healthier, less image-obsessed person is easier than actually doing the work. There are tons of “recovery” or “body positive” influencers who talk about their eating or body problems in the past tense while actively engaging in disordered behaviors. Some even use recovery language to sell their own diet programs or target weight loss ads at those in recovery. Everyone pretends that they *now* have a great relationship with food and their body. It’s very disorienting as a consumer whose lived experiences seem so much harder and uglier than what we see on the screen. We think: “Why don’t we experience life’s problems in an entirely cute package? What’s wrong with us?”
Even when we thrive, it always looks easier and more glamorous when someone else does it. If everyone felt safe and secure that they would have the community and resources they needed in life, this entire aesthetic built on appearing “more” than others would vanish overnight. There would be no one’s fear left to play on.
Even those at the top can’t accept their bodies as is.
No one is “winning” the game. The Kardashian/Jenner family are considered beautiful by millions of people and their empires are built off of contour makeup, body slimmers and laxative tea. If they are considered a beauty ideal and even they aren’t happy with their bodies, it’s clear that this is an unwinnable task for anyone. Being thin or being beautiful doesn’t bring with it an absence of anxiety about being thin enough or beautiful enough. Often the people at the “top” have to worry about these things the most because they’ve constructed lives where they don’t have the ability to “opt out” of beauty standards the way you’d be able to if your money wasn’t tied to your appearance. No one has put more time and money into looking beautiful than Khloe Kardashian and she’s experienced being cheated on both before and after this became her priority because beauty isn’t a requirement or a deciding factor in whether you can find a partner who treats you with respect. The reverse is also true: we know people who don’t wear makeup who are happily married. We know fat people find love all the time. Every single human being (beautiful or otherwise) feels pangs of loneliness on a regular basis. We can see that the promise that being more beautiful will eliminate our other problems just doesn’t deliver.