Your views on beauty and body image

As part of a special M&G Friday edition on body politics this week, we wanted to start a conversation with you around body image and beauty standards, and this is what you said:

Q: What impact do you think beauty advertising and celebrity coverage has on your thoughts on body image?
The majority of you agreed that beauty advertising and celebrity coverage does perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards. Advertising has a big impact on the concept of beauty.

  • Samantha Mabuza (24) from Nelspruit says beauty advertising and celebrity coverage “has a somewhat negative impact, because you look at yourself and think: why can’t my legs look like that, or why can’t my hair and my face be as flawless as theirs?”.
  • Tirelo (35) from Pretoria says the media and celebrity coverage affected what she viewed as “conventional beauty. I have and still find myself comparing women in real life to those I see on TV and in publications”, she says. “It’s only in the last five to 10 years that I have actively tried to defy the standards that the media has presented to me and thought and felt for myself.”

The general sentiment is that the people who are used to sell the idea of beauty and to front advertising campaigns have become the benchmark for beauty.

“As much as I completely love myself, I think and feel beautiful all the time, I do compare myself with what I see in the media in terms of how beauty, and especially black female beauty, is portrayed in the media,” says Shahieda (30) from Cape Town.

In the CNN article “False beauty in advertising and the pressure to look ‘good'”, writer Jo Swinson says beauty adverts are not a reflection of reality because of all the airbrushing that is done to the images of the models to get the perfect look that is “the norm in advertising”. Yet from a younger and younger age, people are aspiring to these biologically impossible ideals”, says Swinson.

Q: What part of your body are you happy with that doesn’t meet commercial beauty standards?
When asked which part of your body you were happy that did not meet commercial beauty standards, hair was a recurring answer.

  • Stan (61) from Brazil says he is quite happy with his curly hair. “That’s [curly hair] unusual for a black person here in Brazil. My daughter has the same curly hair, which she feels sensitive about,” he says.

In hair adverts, curly or “kinky” hair is not often celebrated. For instance, the end result of using a hair product such as a shampoo, in most ads, is walking away with straight wavy and bouncy hair, no matter what race you are.

According to Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, “straighter and smoother” hair has been perceived throughout history as being more socially acceptable than hair with natural kinks.

  • Anonymous (27) from Cape Town says: “My lips – I don’t have the pout that is increasingly a necessity for beauty seen all over in ridiculous selfies.”

Q: If there was one thing about your body you could change, what would it be and why?

  • The one thing Ravona Naidoo (25) from Johannesburg would change about her body is her weight because of the “resounding images and insults” she gets for it. “Because fat is ugly, fat and beautiful are never coinciding features and the images make me feel ashamed of it.”
  • Kristin Kleinschmidt (30) from Klerksdorp says: “My breasts. I like my breasts but I would like them to be bigger.”
  • “My wide hips, I heard they are good for childbirth. I love that they are built for a purpose, but beauty standards say they are too wide and must be scaled down to barely there,” says Ncumisa (33) from Pretoria.

Q: Name the celebrity that represents your ideal body type and give a reason(s) why.
A body shape being celebrated at the moment is curvy, with a generous booty but a tiny waist. Respondents generally felt the same shape had to come in a size 32 package.

  • Naidoo says the curves are beautiful “as long as they are still small”. Her ideal body type is the hourglass figure, which was the most popular desired body type among participants.

Bootylicious singer Beyoncé, curvaceous actress Scarlett Johansson and soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo are some of the celebrities that represent your ideal body types. 

  • “I adore Kim Kardashian’s body. It’s a more “true” reflection of how the majority of women look; well, Africans that is. She has really given a platform to the appreciation of full-figured women,” says Morongwa (25) from Pretoria.
  • Katlego Phele (28) from Gaborone says: “Zizo Beda. Great body and she always looks very comfortable in her body. Gorgeous stuff.”

Q: What would you change about beauty advertising?
Although celebrities such as Kardashian and Lopez have helped change the idea that skinny equals beautiful, advertising companies are still trailing behind. When asked what you would change about beauty advertising, the use of Photoshop and the lack of diversity in ads kept coming up.

  • “I strongly dislike beauty advertising as it is not realistic. We are all different. I believe in a healthy lifestyle and being fit,” says Phele.
  • Mabuza says she wants to be able to see “that raised zit on the faces and the somewhat puffy eyes or the bags underneath the eyes. I want to see women with stretch marks and cellulite and people that look like normal people we meet in the streets every day.”
  • “Seeing as this is South of AFRICA … would it not make more sense to have more black models on our magazine covers, billboards, ads, etc. And not black girls made to look more white (ie bleached, skinny, weave). We are a rainbow nation but most beauty campaigns sadly do not reflect that,” says Morongwa.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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