Women have been held to impossible, shifting beauty standards for centuries. It's difficult to understand unless you are a woman—though men are subjected to a less heavy-handed version with hyper-masculinity. These narrow standards are social and cultural constructs (if you think of someone who is "beautiful" they probably have certain characteristics prized in your culture). Just to get it out of the way, yes, there's evolutionary purpose in the symmetry of traditional beauty, but if we're evolved enough to figure this out, we're evolved enough to look past it. Sometimes I think we're getting there, but then I read the comments on YouTube. In reality, the gap between the average woman and the (Photoshopped) ideal continues to widen—so it's like women are all Thelma and Louise-ing it into the yawning gap together, at least.
Knowing all of this doesn't make it any easier to endure. Even on a good day, Beyonce's Pretty Hurts will leave me sobbing on the floor. The media is to blame for much of the perpetuation, reinforced by the beauty, fashion, and toy industries, and our own learned behaviors. So ethical beauty to me means not only healthy and non-toxic products, but encouraging counter narratives to the traditional definition of beauty. (Note: I've taken the phrase "body positive" and applied it to beauty, that is, showing different kinds of beauty outside of what is conventional.) The internet can help—it's a virtual catalog of diversity (just don't read the YouTube comments). And it's important to see different kinds of beauty because seeing only one version is how we got here.
Below are beauty positive messages created by artists and writers and activists, not Dove Beauty or Mattel (who finally got the memo in 2016). Perfect beauty is boring and I choose reality, diversity, and humanity instead.
South African photographer Justin Dingwall worked with lawyer Thando Hopa and model Sanele Xaba on Albus, a photo series exploring the role albinism plays in societies today. Dingwall plays with the religious and secular iconography projected onto people with albinism, subverting the notion of beauty within his work.
Photographer Carey Fruth challenges American beauty standards with her fantastical photo series with 14 differently shaped women.
Ayqa Khan says that she purposefully draws body hair in her illustrations to challenge the social construct that women should not have body hair. The first generation Pakistani American draws on both South Asian and American cultures in her work (she lives in New York) to represent those she views as missing from the conversation. Read an interview with Khan here.
Brock Elbank has a series of photographs that celebrate heavily freckled humans. The portraits feature people of of a diverse range of skin colors and ages and highlight their freckles in a most earnest way.
I first came across Hannah Magazine on Kickstarter and thought it was a beautiful idea, beautifully executed. A veteran of the publishing industry, Qimmah Saafir started Hannah Magazine after not seeing enough women of color reflected in magazines—she wants to celebrate black women instead of waiting for praise from the traditional outlets. Read more about Saafir in an interview on Fader.
There are so many of us who are breaking records, busting through ceilings, changing the dynamics within all these different industries, really doing great and amazing things, but we’re constantly waiting for someone else to celebrate us.
Self-proclaimed bearded lady and body confidence and anti-bullying activist, Harnaam Kaur, was not always so confident. She was relentlessly teased about her hirsute face (caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome) to the point of almost committing suicide. After being baptized Sikh, a religion that forbids cutting body hair, she embraced her body as it is. Kaur is now more visible and famous than she ever would have been by conforming, so joke's on the bullies.
I have decided to live my life happily, and this picture captures perfectly how i feel about the woman that i am today. We all go through tough times, and forever we get told that life is like a roller coaster with many ups and downs. We may feel like the heavy burdens of the world have settled themselves down on our shoulders. Always remember that yes, hard times will arrive, but they will also let themselves go. Everything on this earth has a time limit; our friendships, our relationships, happiness and sadness, how we feel about ourselves, even the food we eat, and most of all our emotions. There is a beginning and and end for everything. You may hear that darkness has to be present for the real stars to shine. Be that spark in the darkness around you, be that beacon of light that guides you to greatness. I promise you that you will be just fine x Love your life, love your body, love your soul, spirit, aura and personality because they are the only ones that you have. 💙💚💛💜 📷- perou for my Alternative Beaty issue in @marieclaireuk magazine 💄- fabio gomez 👕👚- Grace smitham #harnaamkaur #beardedlady #beardedwoman #effyourbeautystandards #androgyny #marieclaire #alternativebeauty #bodyconfidence #bodyconfidenceactivist #antibullyingactivist #thedame #thebeardeddame #beardqueen #androgynyqueen #feminist #diversemodels
Born with an extremely rare condition, Lizzie Velasquez was bullied in school and online but perseveres with humor and positivity. In drawing on her experiences she asks the question, "How do you define yourself?"
Em Ford, aka My Pale Skin, began sharing images of herself both with and without makeup in her tutorials on social media. In July 2015, she created a video called 'You Look Disgusting' detailing some of the comments she'd received about her appearance. Even though she is skillful with makeup and covering her imperfections, she's chosen to draw attention to the unrealistic standards we hold ourselves to and prove it's what is underneath that makes us real.
Raw Beauty Talks promotes the mental and physical health of girls and young women by increasing their self-confidence and cultivating positive body image through education in schools, public events, and through media. Check out the site for more resources.
WE IMAGINE A GENERATION WHO ARE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE THEIR GREATNESS NO MATTER WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE.
Style Like U's What's Underneath series is one of my favorites. Mother-daughter team Elisa and Lily have a passion to spread self-acceptance through style—people of all ages, body types, races, and genders strip down and open up in docu-style video portraits that redefine our culture’s notion of beauty. Their crowdfunded film is in production for release in Spring of 2017, so catch up on all of the videos here.
Unfair and Lovely is a photo series created by Pax Jones, a Black student at the University of Texas, which features her classmates, South Asian sisters Mirusha and Yanusha Yogarajah. The series is meant to fight back against global colorism and the media that perpetuates it. Jones hopes the campaign, which takes its name from a skin whitening cream called Fair & Lovely, will be a safe and inclusive space for all women of color.
Better images don't do us any good if we have internalized negative self-talk—something that is fairly normal for women—because it limits us as individuals. Women Against Negative Talk or WANT will provide you with pragmatic, positive tools and resources to shift your harmful talk patterns and perspectives into more constructive, positive ones.
WANT recognizes the effects of negative self-talk, internal and external, on the mind, on the body, in the workplace, in the world.
Bonus: Beauty Notes on Pinterest
I think it's important to keep unconventional beauty bubbling to the surface, so I like to keep everything I come across in this Pinterest board for safekeeping. Peruse, follow, repin.
You can download the top image as a free desktop wallpaper I made!
I'm certain (and happy) that there are likely many more beauty positive messages out there. Have I missed your favorite beauty positive project? Tell me in the comments.