How Gender Norms Influence Our Ideas of Beauty
For centuries, gender norms have policed what it means to be feminine enough to fit in. Discover how unconscious bias changes our perspective on attractiveness.
The disparity between the two sexes has always been made explicit. Men belong in the office; women belong in the kitchen. Blue is masculine and pink is feminine. Short hair is handsome and long hair is beautiful. While these stereotypes are getting fuzzier every day, old-as-time gender norms continue to constrain women from living their best lives.
We have come a long way since , yet there are still obvious and enduring impenetrable barriers that put women at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to appearance and demeanor. Although it’s socially acceptable for women to wear men's clothing, doing so reduces your "" score.
True, no one is forcing anyone to conform to feminine beauty ideals. But knowing the consequences, women take it upon themselves to “measure up.”
The influence of on how you act and dress may not be obvious, but they are ever-present. To shake up these outdated stereotypical beliefs, being aware of them and their impact on you and society is paramount.
What Are Gender Norms?
Gender norms are widespread ideas about how one should behave according to their assigned sex at birth. One example is how women should be the caregivers of society, and therefore must be motherlike, nurturing, and compliant.
Most children absorb these ideas even before they learn to walk – a process called gender socialization. Messages like "Don't wear that," "Be a good girl," and "Race cars are for boys" may sound innocent, but they reinforce gender conformity up until adulthood.
That said, being a girly girl is not a disservice to feminism. You should be able to present yourself however you like, without having to be seen as wrong, “ugly,” or incomplete.
Where Gender Norms and Beauty Standards Meet
The unwritten rules of being ladylike also dictate many , from body measurements to where hair should grow. They're unrealistic and, without a doubt, infuriating. Women everywhere, including you, face these unjust expectations in their personal and professional lives.
Women must be feminine.
It's no secret that women are under immense pressure to adhere to beauty standards. But the truth is, while following trends may earn praise, going after what you really want is far more gratifying.
Katherine Lopez, managing editor, remembers how a colleague jokingly said that she looked pogi with a . "I laughed with this colleague and didn't think much of it, but I guess this just showed that having long hair is seen as more feminine or womanly."
Many women like Kat have had similar experiences when it comes to trying out non-conforming haircuts. Unsolicited comments – often closed with "joke lang" – can make you question your own judgment. But at the end of the day, you can always style your hair to your liking, naysayers be damned.
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Women must be statuesque.
Beauty standards don’t stop at hair. They go on to control the face, the skin, and the . “I used to envy women with slimmer waists, thighs, and legs. I felt bad, but I never felt pressured to look like them because I know my body isn't really made that way," Kat adds.
The "perfect" woman should have Kim Kardashian's internet-breaking buns, Ariana Grande's slender arms, Bella Hadid's buccal-fat-free cheeks, Taylor Swift's long legs, and Megan Fox's tiny waist. Basically, you’ll need to be AI-drawn to come close to being beautiful, which, while somewhat comforting, can also chip away at your self-esteem.
Your body is doing its best, providing you the strength and energy to cruise through life. One way to appreciate it is by caring for yourself, like showering with Dove Go Fresh Cucumber & Green Tea Body Wash. It has fresh cucumber and green tea extract, which keeps your skin soft and fresh for 24 hours with regular use.
Women must be submissive and demure.
Gender norms go beyond physical appearances. While men are praised for being authoritative, assertive women are called bitches, divas, or prima donnas. The toxic feminine stereotypes force us to fall in line, , and keep our opinions to ourselves.
"I once attended a call with a client and my two bosses, all males. After the meeting, one of my bosses messaged me directly to say I should have smiled more. Not one of them was smiling on the call. Should I smile because I'm a woman and need to look warm and soft? I told him I was smiling on the inside, just like all three of them," says Debbie Ildefonso, who works in a multinational company.
Debbie is not alone in this predicament. According to a , 98% of women have been told to smile at least once at work. It's an example of a microaggression, wherein a woman's smile signifies submission.
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Women must do easy jobs.
While good looks can give you an advantage at work, it also comes with downsides. Women may be forced to stay on the sidelines in because they don’t look like they can rough it with the guys. Women can also have fewer job opportunities because they are deemed unfit for unfeminine professions like engineering and construction.
The message here is loud and clear. The female body is for decoration, not manual labor. Therefore, we should have as if we’ve never had a day of hard work. Cue the eye rolls.
Unfortunately, the glass ceiling has become thicker with unchecked bias against women held by both genders. A report from the reveals that 40% of men and women feel that men deserve business executive titles and have more rights to a job than women.
How do we eliminate this internalized sexism and lift each other up? From Debbie's perspective, it begins by realizing our true worth. “We need to understand there is only one team: you, me, and every other woman. When we support one of us, we support all of us. When we bring a woman down, we bring all of us down,” she says.
Times are changing, and for what it's worth, many gender norms seem to be fading away. While it's comfortable to stay in the same well-worn identities, exploring the many definitions of beauty can be rewarding. So, start thinking outside of pink and blue boxes and get out of your own way.