Bodyshaping: We are Slaves to Society’s Beauty Ideals

Bodyshaping is the practice of changing your outer appearance through a variety of practices, predominantly specific exercise, to bring your body into shape. Unlike regular exercise, these are not necessarily meant to get fit, but rather to shape your body’s appearance to adhere to society’s beauty ideals. Isn’t it scary that society with its size zero fanaticism and beauty ideals has made us specifically shape our body accordingly? And how is our way of bodyshaping different than women that got suppressed with similar practices in different cultures in the past and present?

Have you ever heard of the tradition of giving breasts as a gift? Yes, it happens! Many high school graduates in the US are now getting breast implants as graduation gifts from their parents. In spite of cars or time abroad, high school graduates are increasingly demanding breast implant surgery from their parents.

But why are they interested in going through this type of surgery that isn’t without risks either? Maybe there is a demand for a particular breast size and shape, or being more attractive to get more attention. In most cases, it seems like their own decision. But is it really the way they want to see themselves? How has this kind of bodyshaping become so popular and forced by society’s beauty ideals?

How Society’s Beauty Ideals Changed Over Time

There was a time when curvy bodies were seen as beautiful and attractive. A healthy and curvy figure was the symbol of elitism. But now the idea of beauty has changed. Size zero is the latest trend and it is acceptable to all. The words slim and beautiful are often used synonymously. Girls stop eating to maintain their figure, to become and stay slim. But is it healthy? Bodyshaping is not outright bad if the result is a healthy body, not too curvy, not too slim. But to be size zero, many girls become underweight. They are making themselves “beautiful” as well as physically weak.

Bodyshaping and beauty ideals don’t only affect women. Men are also expected to fit in a particular body shape. They spent hours and hours at the gym to achieve six packs, to grow their biceps and triceps. They do anything to be muscular. Bodyshaping the way a “man” should be, fitting into society’s strict beauty ideals. The way to become muscular is not easy. Heavy exercise, protein shakes, and other steps are necessary to achieve the dream body. Doing exercise regularly is good for your health, but the food and nutrition some take to grow muscle isn’t necessarily as healthy as you would think.

Bodyshaping: Free Will or Misguided Ambitions?

The question is, why are they interested in bodyshaping at all? Who decided the standard? How do they know that this body shape is attractive? It’s entirely dictated by society’s definition of beauty ideals.

Most those who are practicing to maintain a certain body type are doing it very willingly. They want to see themselves as more attractive. But how did we get here? When society thought a curvy or healthy figure is beautiful,  it became standard. Everyone wanted to be fat and healthy. Now, when society is portraying size zero as beautiful, it has become the new standard. This is not the way how one wants to see themselves, this is the way how society wants to see one, and we adhere to their beauty ideals by bodyshaping our way to fit their description.

The Harmful History of Bodyshaping

We all are shaping ourselves according to the expectations of society to some extent. And as the society’s idea of beauty is not constant, it varies from society to society, culture to culture, and time to time. Many societies have created their own definition of beauty. For example, women of the Padaung tribe wear brass coils (which weigh over 20 pounds) around their neck to stretch it. It is a symbol of wealth, position, and beauty. Influenced by their society, they are wearing coils to stretch their neck. Practices that may even result in death.

Sometimes bodyshaping is just a way to control women. In China, foot binding was a very common practice for a long time. Tight bindings were applied to a girl’s feet from a very young age , so that their foot would grow into a specific shape. This was called lotus feet. Girls had to go through a very painful process to modify their feet according to these standards. It was a part of fashion, as well as the symbol of a wealthy family, meaning a higher status. It was also a way of getting the attention of men. Because of the shape of their feet, girls had a peculiar way of walking.

They weren’t able to perform longer steps or walk for longer periods. This custom also was a part of controlling women’s mobility at that time. By making their foot attractive and fashionable, girls were actually losing their freedom in the process of bodyshaping to the extreme.

Is there a Real Benefit to Bodyshaping?

What we are doing as a part of fashion, or to make us beautiful and attractive, is not actually just for us. Following the trends, we are following the expectations of society and fulfilling its beauty ideals. Do we really know what our body needs? What’s really essential for our wellbeing? By becoming beautiful for others, aren’t we harming ourselves in the process more than we can ever do our body right?

About Joyantee Raina

Joyantee Raina is a Bangladeshi girl, currently doing undergrad in "Women & Gender Studies". Moral principles are important to her. She loves to travel, as well as photography, film, martial arts & cycling. She believes that the collective effort of all can change the world.

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