Authentically feminine: women set their own beauty standards

How women have grown to walk away from society’s standards.

Society has different standards for women than 20, 30, and even 10 years ago. Many people think we, as a society, have made leaps and bounds; but as women, we don’t always see it this way. People still feel anxious walking out the door, nervous that they will be judged for how they look or act. Some people even hide away their true personalities out of fear of judgment.

Throughout history women have suffered at the expense of sexism, being unable to work, vote, and even own property on their own. It is true that today, women don’t suffer as much; but they still do struggle. According to the Office for National Statistics, there is still a gender pay gap. Alongside this females still feel the need to fit certain beauty idealizations and often feel undervalued and overlooked within society.

Germaine Geer was a famous feminist in history, and she believed women suffered from double standards, needing to be “sexy” while in a stable relationship. Believing women should have the power to choose what they do with their bodies. Even though today women feel like they have more freedom many still feel judged heavily by males, feeling the need to fit the “male gaze”.

An image of a female stood by a window holding her arm up while looking at it.
In recent years a trend called “body hair is natural” has taken over titkok, with the hashtag having over 200 million views.

According to a study done by Allure, half of their study participants believe appearance defines them while 64% of people said someone’s appearance is the first thing they noticed about someone. Poppy Doherty has grown up always having dark hair, she said: “I have dark hair because I am olive skinned and I often feel that a lot of people are offended that I have arm hair that is more visible than usual, or hair on my face that is darker.”

Doherty felt like growing up was difficult because she felt like an outsider, and she still finds day-to-day life difficult, she said: “When someone comments on my hair or says something to point it out it makes me want to hide everything or even shave it off, which is horrible to think I’m shaving a part of me because society doesn’t accept me.”

According to a YouGov study over half of their study participants believe women should remove hair from their upper lip and over half believe armpit hair on a woman is unattractive. Suggesting that the general population is uncomfortable with hair on a female, even though body hair is completely normal, but is more accepted on males.  

Doherty said that secondary school was particularly difficult, saying she was bullied by other students. According to what to become, one in five students gets bullied every year in high school, with verbal harassment being the second most used form of bullying after technology e.g. messenger apps. Doherty said: “I bought some hair removal cream and put it all on my arms, I ended up burning my arms really badly because of the bleach. I was in so much pain, that was an all-time low for me.”

An image of a woman holding her arm up while looking out the window
Doherty has learnt to love the body she lives in.

There are so many cases where people feel unaccepted for different reasons. Doherty still sometimes feels uneasy within society, thinking people are looking at her differently but she now has a different perspective than she did when she was younger. She said, “I still struggle as we are all human and worry about things we can’t change but in a way, I’ve learned to block out the hateful comments.”

As females and humans there will always be things we can’t accept within ourselves. Doherty said her advice to people in similar situations would be: “No matter what people say, embrace yourself, they will envy your beautiful skin, your gorgeous eyebrows. Just know you are beautiful no matter what”.

It isn’t only body hair women are nervous about. Saffron Carroll has struggled with acne from a young age. According to the NHS, 95% of people between the ages of 11-30 suffer from some type of acne.

Carroll’s main worry growing up was that people would think she was unhygienic, which would lead them to believe she didn’t look after herself, this wasn’t the case in Carroll’s situation. It is a common misconception that acne is caused by what people put into their bodies but the NHS says the main cause is due to hormones in the body that cause glands to produce higher levels of oil. 

An image of a female looking into the mirror with a cotton pad on her face.
According to women are more likely to have acne than men.

Carroll said, “There have been days where I don’t even want to show my face in public because I feel so disgusting.” Every week is different for Carroll, with some weeks feeling easier to manage.

She explained that her skin has affected her in numerous ways, even missing out on things she normally enjoys like gymnastics. She said: “It makes me sad to reflect on the fact that I allowed myself to miss out on so many things because of my insecurities.” Further saying that she has drunk an “unhealthy” amount of water to try and clear her skin. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence acne can cause psychological distress to individuals suffering and mental health support is advised. 

Carroll is more accepting of her skin now than she once was, but feels like she won’t ever feel 100% confident but believes “bodies are just vessels that get us from A to B” and it’s about what people are like from within that matters.

An image of a female laying down smiling with her hair spread out with flowers.
In recent years certain celebrities have brought attention to normalizing acne, including Kendall Jenner.

Carroll would tell people in her position: ” If anybody does give you a hard time about your appearance, it says more about them than you and they’re probably insecure themselves.”

She doesn’t allow her insecurities to control her anymore, saying, “I am still deserving even though I suffer from acne.” Explaining that she allows herself to indulge in unhealthy food and no longer feels like she needs to cover her skin with makeup. Knowing she is beautiful regardless.

Rea Stuart felt similar to Doherty and Carroll, she felt like she had to hide who she was for the majority of her life. Not feeling comfortable sharing her likes, dislikes, and her appearance. Deeming it necessary to hide her true self. Until recent years when Stuart had a shift in feelings; she began dressing how she wanted and started getting tattoos and piercings.

An image of a female in the shower with nose and ear piercings.
It is thought that piercings have been around for thousands of years.

Tattoos and piercings are one of the first things people notice about a person. According to Inked History tattoos can be discriminated against, this still seems to be the case even though society is seemingly more accepting now. As of last year Virgin Atlantic flight attendants were able to visibly show their tattoos while at work, many individuals believe even though this is the step in the right direction for acceptance for those with body art, it is happening too late. Many workplaces do accept piercings, but people still worry this will alter their chances of getting a job. 

When Stuart began dressing the way she wanted to society seemed to have a different opinion of her, Stuart said: “I wouldn’t just be stared at but I would have complete strangers openly say insulting things to me, it took a toll on not just my friendships, school life and leisure time, it took a toll on my mental health as well.”  According to the Office of Women’s Health, any form of abuse can cause psychological distress.

Stuart has managed to work through a lot of the negative comments made towards her. She said: “I think it just got to the point where I gave up caring what people thought about me, not in the way where I didn’t care about anything at all but I stopped caring in the sense that I just wanted to feel free.”

She says her workplace helped her come through this, she said: “With my line of work I work with lots of different people both young and old, some parts of my job require me to be a mentor with this comes encouraging people to be the person they want to be, I found that to be able to do my job to the best of abilities I would also need to be myself.”

An image of a girl looking at the camera wearing a dress, with tattoos on her arm.
According to saved tattoo, women are more likely to have at least one tattoo than men.

Stuart believes a lot of society’s expectations come down to social media, she said: “With social media breathing down our throats with what is depicted as the society’s standards, everyone is trying their best with what they have got.”

Overall, Stuart is mainly happy at the moment but does believe she won’t ever feel comfortable within herself, she said: “Although I now wear the clothes I want and show off my tattoos and piercings I will still always be aware of what other people think of me but for now I’d like to say I’m pretty happy with my life.”

Women have to overcome personal hurdles, like judgements from other people, in order to feel accepted. Megan Forrest understands the way Doherty, Carroll, and Stuart have felt. Forrest has always believed she was different from everyone else because she doesn’t dress the same as others. She said: “It makes me feel like less than a person. Almost as if [people look at me like] a poster on the wall: they look, they judge, they leave.”

In a survey conducted by Allure in 2015, 50% of people in the UK felt as though their appearance defined them. Forrest feels as though because she dresses differently from other women a divide has been created, she said, “Neither looking or dressing the same as others makes a strict divide, intentional or not.” 

An image of a girl staring at the camera on the top of a parking lot.
Many workplaces still have a “grooming policy” regarding employees having different coloured hair.

With the rise of social media and the use of Photoshop, many individuals edit their photographs before posting them online. This makes many people feel inadequate like they can’t fit into society’s expectations.

According to a report published by Professor Rosalind Gill 90% of women use filters on social media or edit their photos before posting them. Rooting down to the fact that people want to seem different from who they are to society. Similar situations apply to how people dress, people want to fit into the crowd so try to dress similarly to everyone else. 

Forrest spent a lot of time thinking she needed to dress a certain way and it took a lot of time before Forrest began accepting herself, she said: “Ages 14-16 I was trying to find my place, and every corner brought me to the wrong one. It took a lot but I brought myself through the lockdown cycle and started to accept myself for the person I became rather than the person I’d accepted I was.”

An image of a girl looking straight forward while the camera is placed capturing her side profile. She has partly blue hair and eyeliner that flicks in different directions.
Forrest has learnt to accept that she can dress however she wants now.

Forrest believes people in similar situations will eventually feel the way she does now. She said: “You don’t need to be OK in yourself, it’s a matter of existence. Once you accept that no one cares; your life is not based on the perception of others. No matter where you’re based there will always be a community of acceptance and people who care and respect your existence.”

Naomi Wolf wrote a book about beauty myths within society and spoke in an interview about the fact women had to live up to standards men didn’t. Even though this was published in 1990, similar standards are still set out today that women feel the need to abide by; but it is clear that women are learning to love and accept themselves regardless of said expectations. 

Whether it be the way women dress, or the fact they have body art, skin conditions or have more body hair there will always be people in this world who judge them. Increasingly women are beginning to believe they’re beautiful regardless of society’s opinions, learning to ignore and block out said judgements, the way Forrest, Doherty, Carroll and Stuart have.