Early this year I did a social experiment on people’s perceptions of beauty. I took a picture of myself and posted it on Facebook. I had added some extra pounds. Covid-19 had that effect on most of us. A week later, I posted a picture I had taken a year earlier while I was a bit slender. I compared the comments I had received on both pictures:
In the first picture, most comments were: ‘You look good,' ‘Beautiful, maintain this weight’, ‘Usinone Sana’ etc.
In my second picture, the comments were mostly: ‘Wow! This is the best picture’ ‘You look prettier’ to ‘This weight looks so great on you’
I know this is just one incident but it represents what happens every day on online and offline platforms.
Can you relate?
How media influences our perception of beauty
First, one of the ways in which the media affect perceptions of beauty is through the common use of very thin and attractive models, known as the thin ideal, which emphasizes the idea that 'thin is beautiful and ideal.’ Exposure to media images of thin people with flat stomachs and perfect features makes women and girls want to be thinner. Can you imagine the effect this has on chubby girls?
Secondly, when you look at the cover of magazines, TV commercials, or even TV presenters, they are airbrushed to hide flaws. Particularly, the women and girls we see on TV look perfect in appearances with gorgeous curvy bodies.
Then there's are social media. Weh! here’s where all problems are. Is it just me or does everyone on social media look like they were created on the 1st day early in the morning? Social media is not the place to go if you want realism. The filters sell us a fantasy. The skins are as smooth as babys' bottoms. These perfect images have the power to influence young girls’ perception of what is real or ideal. Social media is allergic to reality. Largely.
Consciously or unconsciously, these images create an unrealistic and unhealthy image of ideal beauty. These unrealistic standards of beauty affect the self-esteem of women and girls, meaning that the more a girl views the media the greater chance she will have lower self-esteem. She just can’t relate to what is considered ideal.
Worst still, there’s colorism…
Colorism is discrimination against those with darker skin has also been a defining standard of what beauty is all about. In most cases, the media will sell the notion that the lighter the girl, the more beautiful she is. This can be seen in various levels of society even at the family level. While many people will not admit it, light-skinned babies are seen as more appealing in most African homes.
Colorism has made so many women and girls bleach their skin. Skin bleaching has been popularized such that the products are openly sold in pharmacies and streets. If you live in or around Nairobi and have been to downtown, it’s possible some ‘light skinned’ ladies ask whether you want ‘mafuta’ or ‘mkorogo’. That’s the code word for bleaching products.
The various media often alter images and manipulate celebrities and models to convey a certain ‘ideal’ message instead of promoting diversity, acceptance, and self-love, all of which are important in guiding our community down a more positive path.
This can, in turn, lead to self-image issues which can lead to eating disorders, low sexual confidence, drug, and substance abuse, bullying, and extensively unhealthily body surveillance.
Self-images issues may affect the quality of relationships due to insecurities and jealously. If you have self-image issues, you may question your worthiness to your partner and you may constantly worry that they will leave the relationship because of your 'imperfections.'
Today, different media platforms are beginning to promote natural beauty and diversity, but the ‘ideal' body image continues to dominate self-love and acceptance. It is important, especially for teenagers, to be comfortable within their bodies.
Each individual is unique, special and one of a kind. Everyone is beautiful just the way they are and nobody should change themselves to live up to the beauty standards that the media glorifies.
What do you consider beautiful