How Popular Culture Influences Beauty Ideas among Women

Popular culture significantly affects our actions. In particular, we are inundated with information that can impact our thoughts, opinions, and attitudes. As such, the American culture today is saturated with messages, which are mass media propagated. Whereas messages in the earlier days were created to promote consumerism, today’s messages have created a society that is consumed by the messages. This change is resultant of the immense and immeasurable permeation of popular culture into our lives. Danesi defines popular culture as the totality of viewpoints, approaches, outlooks, and images within the light of a particular conventional culture. The media play an especially important role in propagating the ideal woman. Therefore, popular culture has informed the existent conceptualization of an ideal woman with a skinny body, long legs, fair skin, and perky breasts, which are associated with wealth, acceptance, and happiness. This paper argues that popular culture has affected the perception and ideas that people hold toward beauty among women by interrogating research conducted by different scholars. It concludes that popular culture has not only affected the American populace but has also influenced the change in women’s body image and perspectives in different countries.

Research by the American Psychological Association reported that the average young person in America spends at least six hours every day interacting with different forms of mass media. The report further showed that the average American is exposed to over 3000 advertisements from various sources. Some of these advertisements are sought whereas others are unwanted, but they are placed deliberately in people’s visual paths as they go to work, wait for a bus, or even shop for groceries. Popular culture has presented the picture that there are a size and appearance that a woman should have to be ideal and beautiful. The beauty ideal presented to young women and girls is that for them to be beautiful and gain acceptance, they should be thin and light-skinned. Without the mass media warning of the collateral damage that this perspective creates, women do everything in a bid to achieve this unrealistic and possibly unobtainable ideal body.


Women have been reduced to embellished sexual objects in advertisements, music videos, and clothing stores. Their bodies are objectified and sexualized, with the majority of mass media images portraying the beautiful woman not only inexplicably skinny but also flawless and placed in a position of vulnerability. The Illusionists, a documentary produced by Elena Rossini, reveals how popular culture continues to create a perception of what a beautiful woman should look like. Rossini theorizes that just like English has, to some extent, become the lingua franca of the world, so has the “white, blondified, small-nosed, and pert-breasted, long-legged” body become the standard of beauty. To create the documentary, Rossini has spent seven years visiting countries in North America, Middle East, Europe and Asia and exploring how the standards and perceptions of beauty have changed over the years. Through globalization, the ideas of beauty held by the Western countries are being propagated all over the world. In her research, Rossini discovered a cross-generation of people who are dissatisfied with their looks and an epidemic facing different women in pursuit of perfect bodies. The dissatisfaction is manifested in worrying ways spread all over the world.

A good example where the issue of women and beauty has been affected and informed by popular culture is Japan. Historically, Japan was reputed for having beauty ideas that stood distinct from those of America. In the country, curvy and circular figures, large full breasts, and big wide bodies were characteristics associated with wealth, fertility, and good wives. However, this perception has changed. Rossini established that today, over 30% of women in Japan, who are in their 20’s, are thin. Moreover, many of them are underweight. Females in Japan have come under implausible pressure to possess the ideal body type. They have embarked toward cultivating bodies of magazine models. Zhang explains that the high rate at which globalization is taking place and media are exported has shifted the perspectives that the society had toward appearance.

Further, in Lebanon, women have not been spared. Today, it is reputed for being the country with the most plastic surgeries conducted per year. As a result, one in every three women in Lebanon has had a plastic surgery procedure, which Zeilinger terms as a disturbing fact. Some have had more than one procedure in an attempt to achieve the ideal, lovable, and acceptable body type. The increased infiltration of the Western ideas of beauty has created a venerated aesthetic among Lebanese women, especially in the last 10-15 years. The same shift has been observed in the Indian and Chinese cultures. The once valued voluptuous figures of women are no longer sufficient. As a result, the number of females among the Indian communities who continue to suffer from anorexia increases daily.

Moreover, the effect of popular culture on beauty has led to the internalization of preventive and detrimental standards among women, especially young girls. Most women and girls today tend to believe that appearance and sexualized behavior are their most valued attributes that define their success. This is probably because advertising, which is a major aspect of popular culture, has a quick, accumulative, and in many cases, subconscious influence. The standards created by numerous images women are exposed to become unquestionably inescapable. Today’s consumerism messages suggest a direct relationship and correlation between a person and the product being advertised. Therefore, the worth of a person is a result of owning or using a specific product. These messages play a major role in informing a person’s image, attitudes, dreams, and identities. Thus, the media, the subcutaneous plungers that inject their influence and effect on an unsuspicious culture, have led to the massive shift of ideas concerning beauty among women.

Art depicts the female body and beauty as products of time, which should be chronicled and immortalized. However, today, women continue to learn the influential embedded societal relationship between extreme beauty standards and physical desirability as being related to achievement, worth, approval, and value. Thus, women’s thoughts and ideas are influenced by what popular culture continues to endorse as the ideal body. To demonstrate, a research study conducted in 2011 found that of all the women interviewed, 95% were not satisfied with their bodies. They admitted to having negative thoughts about their appearance, as they felt too short or too fat, had small breasts, or weighed too much. About 30% of females in the study explicitly suggested that they would be willing to trade a year of their life in a bid to have the ideal body type. Another percentage also said that to achieve the ideal body type, they would not mind sacrificing a promotion, a salary, or even time with family and friends. These findings show just how much popular culture has changed the value that once was attached to self-confidence regardless of how one looks.

Women have also made a connection between ideal body types and their happiness and success. For instance, in Lebanon, females believe that to have some types of jobs, an attractive body type is necessary. They argue that celebrities make more money because they have perfect bodies. For some Lebanese women, having the ideal body type is thus a shortcut to be successful. In fact, Rossini established that classified advertisements for employment sometimes state that women applying should be beautiful. Though beauty is relative and it means different things to people, many associate the statement with the body appearance. To them, beauty is not skin-deep. This aspect is so spread in Lebanon that some banks offer loans that are specifically dedicated to plastic surgeries. Individuals can have loans up to $5000 to have surgical procedures. Therefore, it is evident that the notion of beauty presented by the Western culture is associated with more than personal worth. Rather, it is associated with happiness, wealth, and success.

The beauty economy in China is an explicit indication of how popular culture continues to infiltrate societies. Research conducted by Zhang in China shows the impact that mass media have had on the perception of beauty among Chinese women. Zhang established that beautiful women were characterized by “a thin body, large round eyes, a face shaped like a watermelon, fairly light skin and some inner beauty.” This description fits what they see among actresses and models in magazines. Just like in other countries, teenagers in China exhibited high levels of dissatisfaction with their appearances.

In conclusion, popular culture has undeniably affected the perception of beauty among women. Today, a beautiful woman as demonstrated in numerous messages in magazines and advertisements is thin, has fair skin, long legs, and perky breasts. Popular culture has further gone to create the notion that such females are likely to succeed, be popular among friends, and have high levels of self-worth. This notion has contributed to eating disorders and created a breed of women with large levels of dissatisfaction with their bodies. The mass media continue to propagate these wrongly informed ideas concerning what a perfect or ideal woman should look like. As the hankering for illusionary beauty increasingly heightens, the aspect of beauty being skin-deep continuously elopes people.

Feb 8, 2020 in Research
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