Aesthetic violence: what it is and how it affects self-esteem and society
Jan 21, 2022
There are many ways in which violence is applied to women, one of them being the imperative to achieve unattainable standards of beauty.
Women, although men too but to a much lesser extent, are pressured to modify their appearance in order to reach a beauty that is still arbitrary, the product of silent consensus social.
Aesthetic violence translates into excessive pressure for people, especially women, to fit in with the imposed canon of beauty.even if that means putting your physical and mental health at risk. Let's look at this concept in more depth.
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What is aesthetic violence?
Aesthetic violence can be understood as social pressure to comply with a certain aesthetic prototype at all costs, even when reaching it poses some risk to the mental and physical health of the person. This violence is especially exercised against women, who are the ones who are most pressured to submit to invasive aesthetic modifications to achieve beauty standards that, in most cases, are impossible.
This is a novel concept, but it has been historically applied. There has been no time in history in which aesthetic violence has not been exercised in one way or another. There have been many imaginaries of beauty in Western history, represented in the Greco-Roman Venuses, the medieval Madonnas, the Renaissance Venuses, the voluptuous women of the baroque… Different models but, in most cases, their background was the idea that feminine beauty was to be young, white and slim.
Doctor in sociology Esther Pineda speaks precisely of this relatively recent concept in her book “Bellas para muerte: gender stereotypes and aesthetic violence against women”. In it he describes how the canons of beauty have exerted a violence that, although silent and apparently harmless, has marked the body and mind of women throughout the history of Western culture.
Being such a new conception, aesthetics is not as recognized as other forms of violence and it does not have much social visibility either. But despite their ignorance, the truth is that girls and women, already at an early age, are exposed to a certain ideal of beauty and made to believe that they must achieve it in order to succeed in life. The physical aspect in the female gender has become a fundamental pillar to achieve if you want to have vital success.
Taking care of appearance is an obligation to show how feminine and valid you are. This means that women who do not come close to certain stereotypes of beauty imposed by society they will be questioned and their worth questioned. In fact, they can become removed from certain social settings for not responding to some certain aesthetic expectations, being a very clear example of this how women with overweight.
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The discrimination of the beauty canon
Esther Pineda argues that aesthetic violence is based on four main forms of discrimination: sexism, racism, gerontophobia and fatphobia.
The canon of beauty is sexist because it is required almost exclusively from women and it is considered an inherent and defining condition of her femininity. While in women beauty increases their femininity, in the case of men it is perceived as diminishing their masculinity. On men there is not such an intense demand for beauty and, depending on which circles, that a man care is frowned upon and taken as a sign of weakness (for example, metrosexuality, shaving, wearing creams…)
Beauty stereotypes are gerontophobic because there is an absolute rejection of the idea of old age. Women with almost neonatal features, absence of defects associated with old age such as wrinkles or skin spots are preferred. Youth is overrated. The female beauty canon has made women obsessed with staying young. Youth is an essential condition to be considered beautiful.
The canon of beauty is racist because, at least in the Western case, it has been constituted from whiteness. Black, Asian, Arab, indigenous and, ultimately, non-Caucasian women with light skin have been made invisible in the beauty canon. Skin, hair, and other features that were not properly “white” have been the subject of ridicule, discrimination, exclusion, and violence.
And also It is fat-phobic because the canon of beauty systematically and explicitly rejects large bodies. Leaving aside the debate on the medical problems that obesity implies, relating it to beauty, it is a fact that People with large body sizes have faced stigma, discrimination, and belittlement from the society.
Today there are two canons of beauty. On the one hand we find the voluptuous and eroticized pin-ups and on the other we have the extremely thin models. Both canons are disseminated by all kinds of media, such as cinema, television, advertising, magazines, social networks and pornography. Even cartoons and video games bombard boys and girls with what prototypically perfect women look like.
Due to the scope of the contents where it is bombarded with the canons of feminine beauty, the non-adaptation to them is perceived socially as an enabler of violence, discrimination, rejection, contempt and indifference of women who simply are not "perfect". In addition, aesthetic violence is exercised in such a way that women are pressured to avoid fall into ugliness, understood as being fat, having a dark skin tone and showing the signs of old age.
But aesthetic violence is not only baited with women who do not meet the canons of beauty, but also with those who have been pushed to perform operations and aesthetic interventions. Also with those who suffer from disorders associated with such canons, such as anorexia resulting from wanting to become extremely thin and fear of gaining weight promoted by the media. Aesthetic violence further sexualises women, objectifies them and dismisses them as thinking beings. They are a pretty container, not a person with their intelligence, thoughts and emotions.
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Beauty endangers our health
Naturally, wanting to look good is not something exclusive to women. Everyone wants to look good and, to a lesser or greater extent, men are also subject to aesthetic pressure.. In the same way that in Western societies there are canons of beauty for women, there are also for men, this prototype of the ideal man being a muscular man, neither extremely thin nor obese.
However, the aesthetic pressure to which women have been subjected throughout Western history is much greater than that of men. In addition, the reason why we talk about aesthetic violence towards women and not so much towards men is that they have been forced to put their lives at risk to look beautiful. What must be understood in the end is that the concept of “looking good” is learned, that there is no canon of natural beauty but a series of social agreements to define who is handsome and who is not, agreements that can go against human nature.
We have an example of this in female hair removal. Despite the fact that progress has been made, today there are still many people who perceive women without hair removal as "sluts". If you are a woman, having hair on your body and, especially, your armpits, is perceived as a lack of hygiene. This perception is radically different in the case of men with body hair, seen as something normal and their hygiene never questioned.
Is the imposition of waxing as a woman a sign of aesthetic violence? Yes it is. It is asking women to do something that, in biological terms, goes against their nature. Body hair is naturally there, and shaving it seems to carry more health risks than benefits, including injuries and infections.
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How is the perfect woman?
The female beauty canon in Western societies imposes the following image of what an attractive, beautiful, perfect woman is. It must be thin, but with forms. Her skin should be soft, smooth and white. She must be tall enough to look good in clothes, but proportionate in her volumes so as not to intimidate men and she must never, ever be taller than her male partner. Of course, she must be completely depilated.
The proportion of the nose, mouth, eyes... the shape of the hips, the butt, how the hair should be... There are many imperatives that Western societies have considered appropriate to establish as indicators that a woman is beautiful.. We could expand on a huge list outlining what a perfect woman is. But perfection does not exist, it is just an illusion product of conventions.
We could go on describing and would never really finish specifying what it means to be a perfect woman in our society. There are women who, apparently, achieve it as soon as they are born, who have had the enormous luck of inheriting the golden genes that catapult them towards aesthetic perfection but that will not be perpetual. For others who are not so lucky, it will take them a lifetime to approach that canon of beauty that they have been shoehorned into their heads and that they feel they do not comply with, and therefore are not valid.
Aesthetic violence is an attack against the diversity of bodies and the right to treat oneself well. The canons of beauty and the bombardment of them by the media make us feel bad for not being like them. People are diverse in body and mind, pretending to standardize this reality is going against human nature. Bodily diversity must be normalized, understanding that each body is different and that, as long as we stay healthy, we must accept what nature has given us.
aesthetic violence try to hurt us just for the mere fact of being as we are. It must be understood that the canon of beauty is so artificial and unattainable for any mortal that no matter how much whether we have surgery, make-up or hair removal, we will never be completely up to the task, which is absurdly difficult to attain. And if we think we're up to it, that aesthetic violence is sure to pressure us into fear that "we will lose ourselves", makes us have a pathological fear of gaining weight, gaining wrinkles and white hair. It makes us afraid to go on living.
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Be like you wanna be
If we use aesthetics for pleasure, putting on make-up, waxing, operating ourselves because we and we want to, it is totally legitimate. As invasive as the practice to be more handsome is, if we have voluntarily decided to submit to it, it is fine.. Everyone can do what they want with his body. Be how you want to be, you are free of it and nobody should tell you otherwise.
But let it be real freedom. If we care a lot about how we appear because we feel that if we do not comply with a beauty canon, we are less valid or people are going to wanting less, our decisions about our aesthetic appearance are not the result of freedom, but of a slavery towards those canons of beauty. If we go to the surgeon because he disgusts us as we are, there is a problem that the scalpel will never solve.