Unfollowing Beauty Standards: Body Positivity in the Modern World

Design by Malaya Johnson 

On Friday, Feb. 1, UCLA’s Body Image Task Force held an event called “Unfollowing Beauty Standards,” which introduced students to beauty throughout the globe in order to expose the illogical nature of beauty standards.

The Body Image Task Force is a committee within the Student Wellness Commission that aims to spread confidence, self-love, and body positivity throughout UCLA by raising awareness about how body image affects mental health and by providing students with programs to tackle topics like nutrition, social media, and body image.

The event marked the end of Body Image Task Force’s I Love My Body Week, which included other events such as a workshop on fighting body insecurities while exercising named “No More Gym-timidation” and an open discussion with Volunteer Outreach in India to Create and Educate (VOICE) on disabilities, injuries, and body image named “Giving Disability a VOICE.”

The event began with definitions of beauty, beauty standards, cultural appropriation, Eurocentrism, and colonization. Students were then given passports for which they could earn sticker “stamps” at regional-themed stations. At these stations, students learned about each regions’ beauty standards and how the above terms relate to body image and insecurities.

One of the most pervasive themes presented by Body Image Task Force was colonization. The Eurocentrism caused by colonization has distorted beauty standards in South Asia, Central Africa, and South Africa so much that women in these regions face pressure to lighten their skin with makeup, photoshop, and even bleaching agents.

Body Image Task Force emphasized the arbitrary nature of beauty standards by presenting conflicting ideals from each location. One example of these contradictions is the difference between various regions’ ideal body types. As a result of residual classism, Ghanaian women face pressure to maintain a full figure in order to present an appearance of wealth. Meanwhile, women in the USA and Canada strive to achieve the “perfect” body by striking an impossible balance between thin and voluptuous.

The event also highlighted the increasingly extreme beauty standards that men face today. American and Canadian men feel pressured to become muscular and athletic while remaining lean and appearing natural.

“I think the body positivity movement is about removing the extreme standards that society has for both men and women,” said Karoline Guthrie, a task force member who gave students information about beauty standards in Australia and Europe.

Alyssa Tabula, the co-director of Body Image Task Force, explained that beauty standards vary so dramatically throughout the world that there can be no fixed definition of true beauty. “UCLA is such a diverse student body,” said Tabula. “We want to let people know that beauty can come in different forms from different countries, and just because you don’t fit one specific standard doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful.”

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