Analysis on the effects of social conventions and beauty canons

By Jan Guardiola 


Aligned with many of the feminist movements in times of constant revision of the culture, roles and canons of traditional beauty, the "body positivity" is born, a movement synthesized in the motto "all bodies are good bodies". This new approach challenges what we have traditionally considered a good body, ergo, a beautiful body. The criticism of these canons lies in the fact that beauty models are subjective as well as unattainable, so many may feel frustration and even adopt highly harmful lifestyles to align with these social rules.

How are these canons born? Historically, if we look at all the cultures that have existed, beyond their differences, we always find some common features. These are some such as the existence of an internal organization (ubi societas, ibi ius), artistic expression, interest or search for divinity, etc. We can observe in the same way that there has always been some kind of social convention concerning beauty itself.

Over the centuries the concept of beauty has varied, depending on culture, geography, religion and even the climate of a society. Techniques such as the chánzú, literally “foot bandage”, which consisted of preventing the growth of the feet to ensure that a smaller than natural size would be maintained, were applied in China for almost a thousand years and thousands of young people were artificially stunted feet to reach the beauty standards of the time. In the same way, in different cultures artificial cranial deformation was applied to vary at will the shape of the skull of the infants with the same objective.

We can deduce then that, although the canons are not universal nor does beauty seem to be objective, we find that the creation of a pattern of beauty is inherent in living in society. We will refer to this phenomenon as "waste" of society. The questions we can ask ourselves are: Are beauty canons negative? and can they be eliminated in any way? The second answer is simpler than the first, and no, you cannot completely eradicate the canons of beauty simply because we live in society, and as we have shown previously, these canons are a constant in the existence of an organized society, a waste.

Are these canons negative? The canons of beauty are not negative in themselves, these, like any social convention, are created because we live in society and as long as they do not threaten the physical and mental health of the individual, they should not be negative. In this specific case, it has been denounced by many voices, especially in recent years that many of the beauty standards we have today are highly negative for the population. This complaint, necessary and useful, points to some culprits of the legitimacy of these canons - model passes, pornography or marketing - and advocates an inclusive policy, where all members of society beyond complexion, colour, gender or sex are represented. The objective of the “body positivity” movement is the introduction in society of the idea that everyone is beautiful and attractive, in order to eliminate many of the problems that arise from the existence of beauty canons.

Bulimia and anorexia are two of the mental illnesses that have grown the most in recent years, overexposure to the fashion industry, pornography or advertising seems to have penetrated on thousands of people minds, especially women and young people as studies show. Other psychological problems have been born in people who have not been able to withstand the social pressure exerted by these canons of beauty. This is a real problem, a serious and extremely delicate problem, and movements such as the aforementioned body positivity are committed to solutions that in my opinion are not practical or impossible.

The truth is that beauty canons will be always existent, and some people will tend to follow them and those who fail to comply with the ideal beauty tax may feel highly insecure and generate complexes that affect their psychology repeatedly. For this reason, I consider it ineffective and counterproductive to try to eliminate the canons of beauty through the strategy that "body positivity" proposes for two reasons: firstly, it is impossible to eliminate them, and this movement only gives more importance to beauty and superficiality. Perhaps we should try to accept that there are more or less attractive people, but that physical beauty is merely circumstantial and superfluous. While beauty roles will always exist, the importance and relevance they have in society does depend on us.

Second, the "body positivity" movement may sin to mask serious health problems. The affirmation that all bodies are good bodies cannot be in any case applicable for example in cases of diagnosed morbid obesity, where the health and recovery of the patient may depend on the will and determination of the patient to lose weight. Under this motto, serious health problems may be created in people who have decided to do nothing to change their body even knowing that this decision is harmful to them. That's why I think not, not all bodies are good bodies.

As we have seen, a movement that aimed to eliminate the health problems that arise from the imposition of beauty fees, is being used and abused to prevent people with real health problems from facing their disease, influenced by gaps slogans of apparent resignation and self-pity.