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How Fashion Impacts Societal Beauty Standards


Fashion has always been a powerful force in defining and redefining societal beauty standards. From the runways of Paris to the pages of glossy magazines, fashion dictates what is considered desirable, beautiful, and trendy. 

However, it is essential to examine this impact critically and understand its nuances. Does fashion impact societal beauty standards? And are these impacts always positive? 

Let’s delve into this complex relationship, exploring the transformative and contradictory aspects of fashion’s influence.

What Are Beauty Standards and How Are They Formed?

Beauty Standards

Beauty standards are the socially constructed ideals of beauty or attractiveness. These standards are influenced by a myriad of factors, including culture, history, media, and fashion. 

Throughout history, these ideals have been fluid, often changing with the times. For example, the voluptuous figures of the Renaissance period starkly contrast with the slender silhouettes of the early 2000s.

Fashion plays a pivotal role in forming these standards by showcasing certain body types, features, and styles as the epitome of beauty. Top models, designers, and fashion influencers present a curated image of beauty that the public often strives to emulate.

How Does Fashion Influence Societal Beauty Standards?

Societal Beauty Standards

At its core, fashion reflects society. Designers, models, and influencers set trends that dictate what is considered attractive. Historically, the fashion industry has favoured certain body types, skin tones, and facial features, often excluding a significant portion of the population.

The Power of the Runway

The runway has traditionally been a space where beauty standards are created and perpetuated. Tall, slender models with Eurocentric features have long dominated fashion shows, sending a clear message about the “ideal” look. 

This narrow representation can lead to unrealistic expectations and pressures, especially among young people who see these models as the pinnacle of beauty.

The Role of Media and Advertising

Magazines, advertisements, and social media amplify these societal beauty standards. Photoshopped images of flawless models contribute to an unattainable image of perfection. 

The “Instagram look” – featuring sharp contours, plump lips, and glowing skin – has become a widespread beauty ideal, further propagated by influencers and celebrities.

How Are Cultural Influences Shaping Beauty Standards?

Korean Fashion and Beauty standards

Cultural influences are significant in defining beauty standards, and fashion is no exception.

The Influence of K-Beauty and J-Beauty

Korean and Japanese beauty trends have made a global impact, emphasizing skincare and natural beauty. The popularity of the “glass skin” look—characterised by a clear, dewy complexion—has shifted focus towards healthy skin rather than makeup-heavy aesthetics. 

This trend promotes a different kind of societal beauty standard that values care and maintenance over dramatic transformation.

Traditional Attire and Modern Fashion

There is a growing trend of incorporating traditional attire into modern fashion, celebrating cultural heritage and diversity. Designers like Stella Jean and Bibi Russell draw inspiration from their cultural backgrounds, blending traditional elements with contemporary styles. 

This fusion not only honours cultural history but also broadens the definition of beauty.

Are There Negative Impacts of Fashion on Beauty Standards?

While fashion has the power to inspire and uplift, it can also perpetuate harmful beauty standards. The pressure to conform to an idealised image often leads to negative self-esteem and body image issues. 

The prevalence of airbrushed and photoshopped images in fashion magazines and social media sets unrealistic expectations, making individuals feel inadequate. The fashion industry’s historical preference for thin, tall, and predominantly white models has marginalised those who do not fit this narrow mould. 

However, there is a growing movement within the industry to address these issues and promote diversity and inclusivity.

Can Fashion Challenge and Change Harmful Beauty Standards?

Fashion has the potential to be a powerful agent of change. Recently, there has been a significant push towards diversity and inclusivity in fashion. This shift is challenging the traditional societal beauty standards and making room for a broader representation of beauty.

Body Positivity and Size Inclusivity

By celebrating diversity and rejecting traditional beauty norms, fashion can help to reshape societal perceptions of beauty. 

For instance, the plus-size fashion movement has gained significant momentum, with brands like ASOS and Torrid offering stylish clothing for all body types. Plus-size models like Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday challenge the notion that beauty is synonymous with thinness.

Embracing Diverse Skin Tones and Features

Fashion is also becoming more inclusive of different skin tones and ethnic features. The rise of models like Adut Akech, Halima Aden, and Winnie Harlow showcases a broader spectrum of beauty. 

Beauty and cosmetic brands are now launching extensive foundation ranges, like Fenty Beauty‘s 50-shade offering, highlighting the importance of catering to diverse skin tones.

Similarly, the natural hair movement redefines societal beauty standards for Black women. For decades, straightened hair was seen as the standard of beauty, but fashion is now celebrating natural curls and textures.

Final Note: What Lies Ahead for Fashion and Beauty Standards

As society continues to evolve, so will the relationship between fashion and beauty standards. The trend towards inclusivity and diversity will likely continue, challenging outdated norms and promoting a more expansive and accepting view of beauty. 

However, the fashion industry must remain vigilant and committed to fostering positive and realistic societal beauty standards.

By celebrating diversity, leveraging technology, and promoting authenticity, fashion can be a powerful force for good. It can help individuals see beauty in themselves and others, regardless of the narrow standards traditionally dominating the industry.

Imani Jackson

Imani Jackson is a writer born, raised, and based in South London. She developed a keen eye for style through her habit of observing people’s clothes in the street every day. When she isn’t doing that, she likes to spend her time writing about the trends she sees, going out and dancing with the girls, or curating her R&B playlist for the next round of people-watching.

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