Earlier this year, beauty blogger Em Ford, who suffers from acne, began posting images of her bare face online. In a YouTube video, Ford documents how she received nearly identical negative comments in response to both her bare and make-upped face.. Comments included, “Imagine waking up next to her in the morning,” “this is false advertising,” and, the comment which inspired the video’s title, “You look disgusting.”
Although all genders face double standards of many kinds, Ford’s case brings to light the specific struggle that women face with double standards in beauty. No matter what a woman does with her appearance, she will be criticized; Ford was labeled disgusting whether she put makeup on or embraced her natural beauty.
There are many examples of this double standard in popular culture. Earlier this year, television personality Katie Hopkins used Twitter to slam Kelly Clarkson’s curvier figure, suggesting that she should work to lose weight. Meanwhile, Meghan Trainor’s song, “All About That Bass” has been criticized for implicating that thinner women are not beautiful, and are unattractive to potential male partners.
When curvy is unappealing, but skinny is no better an alternative, women of all shapes and sizes are consequently finding something wrong with their bodies — and by extension, with themselves. This lack of self-confidence can easily escalate into an obsession with perfection, manifested through body dysmorphic, or anxiety disorders, not to mention that the pressures do not stop at merely being physically attractive.
What’s more, if a woman is too pretty, she is considered shallow or unprofessional; if she is not pretty enough, she is seen as lazy or unpleasant to be around. In either case, the blame is placed on the woman’s shoulders, and appearance becomes such an important part of a woman’s identity that it is almost inseparable from the woman herself.
In fact, for women in the professional work force , appearance becomes a vital part of their careers, sometimes even overshadowing their qualifications. For instance, American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has experienced her fair share of unjust scrutiny: criticism of her appearance often goes hand in hand with her policies, despite the fact that she is a politician and not a supermodel.
An advertising campaign by Terre des Femmes sheds light on how double standards for women can even manifest in violent ways. Specifically, the organization criticized how society measures a woman’s sexual availability by the length of her skirt or the height of her heel.
Often, being too modest is no better than being too provocative. In both cases, blame is placed on survivors for what they were wearing when the assault happened, as opposed to actually seeking sanctions for the aggressor — is a common phenomenon. This is particularly relevant given recent discussions of sexual violence at the University of Toronto.
In light of this, students in general — who are often the strongest advocates for social change — must strive towards the elimination of unrealistic beauty standards, so as to ensure that women are valued for far more than what they look like. Doing so is one step towards eliminating greater problems of gender inequality and violence.
It is not the responsibility of individual women to try and meet the endless beauty expectations they are faced with. Given the overwhelming lack of consensus on what beauty truly is, it is absolutely impossible to please everyone; it is the pressure to please itself that must be eliminated.
As students, then, we must encourage women to embrace their own unique features, without measuring their self-worth based on unattainable standards of perfection. More importantly, is to look beyond the surface, and relieve women of contradictory standards of beauty. We need to respect female students for their intellectual ideas, for the work they put into their educations and careers, and simply because they are human beings — regardless of whether they look the way we want them to.
Teodora Pasca is a second—year student at Innis College studying criminology and Ethics, Society & Law.