Beyond the Thin Ideal: Women's Perceptions of and Experiences with Beauty Standards and Beautyism
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A substantial body of research suggests that women may experience anxiety, disordered eating, self-objectification, and other problems in response to narrow or unrealistic beauty ideals that are communicated interpersonally and through media. Beauty standard research has tended to focus on the impacts of the thin ideal on college women. Less is known about how women experience and cope with beauty standards related to other features, such as facial structure, or about the impact of beauty standards on women in middle or late adulthood. The present study used schema theory and social cognitive theory to investigate how women aged 25-60 experience, interpret, adhere to, and resist beauty standards. In-depth, semi-structured interviews with 30 women were collected and analyzed from a feminist perspective using thematic analysis. Participants identified two types of beauty standards: the culturally dominant standard, which focused on physical features, and an alternative standard, which focused on psychological features. Participants felt that media and interpersonal communication played an important role in disseminating both beauty standards. They also believed that attractive women were associated with both positive and negative stereotypes, and these stereotypes may have influenced their motivation to be attractive. Weight dissatisfaction was common across the sample, but participants also criticized or praised other aspects of their appearance. In general, participants believed that society treats women differently based on their attractiveness. However, some were ambivalent about the impact of beauty-based discrimination, or beautyism, in their own lives. The findings have implications for intersectional feminist theory, objectification theory, and anti-beautyism.