WWHI Proposal

How can the medium of fashion communication helps redefining and pursuing beauty standard in the modern society?

Female groups, including myself are heavily influenced by the mass media. Social construction is an idea or concept that exists because people behave like it exists (Conley, 2015). Through mass media, society depicts its socially constructed standards of “beauty,” putting pressure on how women should look. Sociologist Charles Wright Mills argues that in order to understand the social life for what it really is, we need “to step outside of the ‘trap’ of rapid historical change (Conley, 2015).” According to Mills, the media reflects the values, beliefs, and practices of our society. The ideas, concepts and values are socially constructed by symbolic interactionism, which suggests that we interact with others using “words and behaviours that have symbolic meanings (Conley, 129).”

When I ask myself questions as such “What is beauty?” and “What so-called the current beauty standard is?”, while answering the questions through the perspective of society, when women were asked what beauty was to them, they gave tons of definitions of beauty. The ideal body shape, face, hair, eyes, even eyebrows indicate examples of answers to these questions which also include an extensive amount of self-doubt.  With this initiative and doubting my own vision on “beauty standard”, I started my intention of researching into this subject area. 

The old cliché says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But who is the beholder? That’s complicated when we look through the lenses of different countries and societies. In a more globalised world, culture, race, media, and power intersect to create and idea of “beauty” admired by a collective, rather than an individual. Society’s ideal of “beauty,” though, does not accurately reflect the body shape and size of the average women. Having experiences growing up in both England and Mainland China, I had a tough, confusion time in questioning my own ‘identity’. As I grew older in a primarily Caucasian community back in secondary school, I started noticing little differences like how much admiration people received in school for their vacation tans. How front-pages in magazines extolled the virtues of makeup that would make you look more contoured and bronzed. I wanted acceptance from both worlds but was stuck in between two cultures and opposing schools of thought. I struggled to define my own beauty goals, but I also wanted to fit in, to assimilate into the culture where I spent the majority of my time. I have came across the period where I tended to forget the distinction between culturally appropriated self-worth and unique personal style.

I see myself as a creative individual who works in the creative industry. I might not be so clear just yet at this stage of my life whether I would call myself a designer, a photographer, a stylist, influencer or what so ever, the only fact I could be sure of is I care so much about how the others think of me. Whether it is the way I dress, my style, my makeup, my figure, even my facial structure. I have always wanted to be the ‘Different’, ‘Unique’, ‘Best-dressed’ ‘fashionable’ one within the collective. This internal panic is still continuing,  hence why this research is crucial to both myself and to female groups with the same concerns , in terms of finding the roots to this internal insecurity and self-doubt, and furthermore to take an action on contributing towards improving this situation. At least this would be a valuable learning process to reconcile with myself.

Female forms and beauty have been mirrored and dictated by camera lenses throughout the years, and they are an effective window through which to observe how the “perfect” face, body and attitude have developed over time. Experimental approach to photography as a primary medium have recorded this development throughout history. Man Ray found the surreal in the commonplace, particularly in the female form. Throughout his career, many women took leading roles in front of his lens. Many of his pictures of women have become archetypes of a certain kind of photographer’s gaze ever since: voyeuristic without being too cruel, randy without being coarse (Martinique, 2019). Contemporary photographers such as SHSadler and Paola Kudacki captured female models with use of plastic constraint, suggest how tight beauty standards are in modern media narration (Mróz, 2016). 

The differences between Western and East Asian beauty standards have also taken a major part in my research. This section of journey I explored and plan to investigate further what these aesthetic appreciations are, what are the similarities and differences and furthermore what it means for the global market. This may include personal interests in plastic surgery, photoshop habits, retouching apps on smartphones, as well as research into beauty contest, female and male gaze.

I approached to the crowds by composing a survey that analyses the effects of beauty standards and societal norms of what “beautiful” means on people between the ages 16 and 50. Questions including: Age, Gender, Ethnicity,  What is your opinion on people pursuing beauty standards? What do you think other people your age would define as “beautiful”? Do you wear make up? Why do you personally think there are beauty standards in societies?

I have no clue just yet where this research may lead towards, however I would like to start approaching to people around me and interview more tailored questions, therefore I would be more openminded on thinking outside of the box and be more unpredictable with my final outcomes. 

Reference list

Conley, D. (2015). You may ask yourself : an introduction to thinking like a sociologist. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Coorlawala, U.A. (1996). Darshan and Abhinaya: An Alternative to the Male Gaze. Dance Research Journal, [online] 28(1), p.19. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/dance-research-journal/article/darshan-and-abhinaya-an-alternative-to-the-male-gaze/4692CE0AEEAB9DF13221277432321B5C [Accessed 8 May 2019].

Kong, D. (2016). Unmasking East Asia’s Beauty Ideals. [online] The Business of Fashion. Available at: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/global-currents/unmasking-east-asias-beauty-ideals [Accessed 8 May 2020].

Li, X. (2020). How powerful is the female gaze? The implication of using male celebrities for promoting female cosmetics in China. Global Media and China, p.205943641989916.

Martinique, E. (2019). Photographing The Woman – Man Ray at CAMERA Turin. [online] 

Widewalls. Available at: https://www.widewalls.ch/man-ray-exhibition-camera-turin/ [Accessed 10 May 2020].

Mróz, M. (2016). Rejecting Beauty Standards. [online] IGNANT. Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2016/10/13/rejecting-the-beauty-standards/ [Accessed 13 May 2020].

Thorpe, J.R. (2015). What “Ideal” Beauty Has Looked Like Every Decade. [online] Bustle. Available at: https://www.bustle.com/articles/67269-how-the-ideal-beauty-standard-for-women-has-changed-in-hollywood-by-the-decade [Accessed 29 Apr. 2020].