Every time has its own beauty ideals. From the Venus of Willendorf of the Stone Age, Venus de Milo of Ancient Greece, all the way to the Kardashians of today, every single society shapes its own beauty preferences and carves the standards and expectations many of us crave to fulfill. You don’t have full lips and a slim waist? Odds are that every single lipstick commercial will make you feel less feminine, and every Instagram account of a fitness celeb could likely make you cringe with jealousy. And you’re not alone. We’re all malleable enough to shape our self-perception based not just on our own internal values, but also on the extent to which we embody those beauty ideals our society celebrates. 

Today, however, those beauty ideals have a practically endless reach, affecting anyone with a social media account and beyond. Our billboards, commercials, TV hosts, celebrities, and social networks all reflect our incredible obsession with beauty, its exaggeration, and all of the filters we use to “fit in” better. To be fair, these trends also have a positive impact on building healthier lifestyles, encouraging physical activity, and empowering all kinds of beauty out there. So naturally, your self-esteem and your self-perception are a mirror image of what your society has to say. 

Your most immediate environment

Have you ever noticed that the way your parents and your siblings speak to you affects your self-perception? As social creatures, we’re wired to have that need to belong, to fit in, and to be liked as well as loved. When you’re constantly criticized, even if you do have numerous wonderful qualities as a person, your ability to only focus on the negatives and actively seek them out becomes a mindset that shapes your self-image. 

If, on the other hand, your parents encourage your efforts, praise you for your work even when results aren’t perfect, and they know how to support you emotionally, chances are that you’ve built a strong foundation of self-love and self-care. Society does start with the very first people with whom we interact, as they serve as the prototype of the bonds we will develop later in life – to ourselves as well as others. 

Expanding the notion of “society”

Today, kids become exposed to a much grander idea of society via the digital world, and much earlier than in the past. So, beyond friends, school mates, and colleagues, we also build online social circles that have the power to shape our way of thinking, behaving, and our self-perception. If someone embraces the social media world as a true reflection of the real one, then some of those borders become blurry, and the impact of “filters”, enhancements, and beautification of the digital world becomes a desire for the real one, as well. 

As a result, we fail to limit our own expectations and start comparing ourselves to the unrealistic, edited versions of people we see online. For instance, 51% of surveyed Americans reported feeling more self-conscious about their looks due to their use of social media. The same study showed that Facebook users feel unhappy even for comparing their real life to their own digital alter-ego – their real existence can never live up to the selected, picture-perfect moments of social media, leaving them depressed, anxious, and their self-esteem diminished. 

Beauty in the service of health and wellbeing

On the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and the role of society in building it, the fast-paced advancements in the fields of technology and medicine have enabled us to alter our bodies to incredible extents. Even more so, we’re empowered to do that for aesthetic and health reasons, and the idea of surgery in the service of beauty is no longer a taboo. If anything, it’s growing in popularity. In Australia, for example, the spend for cosmetic procedures reached $1 billion, exceeding that of the US market significantly. You want to look better and it will make you feel better? You’re more than entitled to such a decision, and experts are here to help you reach your beauty goals.

In fact, certain procedures have multiple benefits, and their goal is not merely to improve how you see yourself in that mirror. As an example, choosing rhinoplasty in Sydney and other metropolises famous for their excellent surgeons is often a result of more than aesthetic reasons, as it aims to improve the patient’s quality of life, confidence, and everyday existence. If someone has been in a car accident and has suffered an injury, such surgical procedures can restore their health and boost their self-esteem in a single go. 

Empowering diversity is on the rise

In addition to that fitness revolution we’ve mentioned and the rise of many fitness movements that have inspired many a weight-management program, our world has found more ways to embrace and celebrate diversity. While more influencers and celebrities promote a healthy lifestyle, there are also many groups that focus on self-love, embracing your inner and outer beauty as is, and celebrating authenticity over uniformity.

There are even dedicated projects that aim to balance out the otherwise negative effects of the overly-airbrushed media presentation of beauty. Think: Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, JCPenny’s Here I Am campaign, Always’ Like a Girl campaign, and many others. Prominent brands, social media movements expressed through trends and hashtags, and many other forms of “beauty rebellion” have started changing our perception of cookie-cutter beauty. 

Our society will always play a role in how we treat and perceive ourselves, whether or not we feel like we belong, like we’re accepted, or that we need to be something more and different. It’s up to us as individuals to filter the exaggerated from the realistic, the empowering from the unhealthy, and the truly beautiful from the superficially appealing. Investing in your beauty is your privilege and your right, and you should always define your beauty as what it really is – the entirety of you, and not just your mirror reflection.