Reconstructing Beauty Standard

Photo by Anna Sastre on Unsplash

We could not deny the fact that beauty standard has been a part of our women’s life since centuries ago. Each region developed their own so-called beauty standard that last for a decade or over, without considering the ugly truth behind it. Some practice that should be done in order to achieve the beauty standard are even risking the health condition, such as the ones that is practiced in China where women wrapped their feet tightly to form a crab-shaped feet, or in Africa where women scratch their forehead by using sharp tools. Perhaps, this harmful practice of beauty is the inspiration of the popular phrase “beauty is pain”. Even though some those harmful practices are already left behind, the inclusiveness of our beauty standard, especially in Indonesia, is still questioned. Hence, one of the missions of the fourth wave of feminism movement is promoting inclusive beauty. Through this paper I would like to deliver my thoughts on the reconstruction the standard of beauty, with a focus on how the movements that has been done by the mainstream beauty-related industries could help to achieve inclusiveness.

Numerous literatures mentioned that the begin of feminism movement dated back in the 16th century, even though some people would disagree with it because they believe that since the 14th century Khadija, the wife of Muhammad PBUH, has practiced it earlier. Khadija herself was known as a well-established businesswoman in the Arabian world. The idea of feminism was triggered by inequality in treating women. Western feminism works of literature, especially the American ones, said that the feminist movement is usually divided into three periods, which are respectively the first wave that focused on political change, the lobby of women’s right to vote, and support on women’s access to education; the second wave was a series of critiques to debate the rigid sex roles and emphasized feminism’s scope to take in the critical differences among woman which include, inter alia, race and ethnicity; then came the third movement that incorporated more issues, such as queer sexuality, transgender, personal expression, etc (Wrye, 2009).

The current feminist movement, which is known as the fourth wave is a continuation of the previous movement that focus on eradicating discrimination of people of color. Situated in the second decade of the 21st century, the fourth wave take place in the real world and also online world where the geographical border is no longer a limitation. The social media has become an arena where feminist and others tackle each other. Apart from the third wave that is focused queer theory and so on, the fourth wave take feminism to the next level: issues on people from minority group and at high rate of discrimination are also included in the new movement. Those are people of color, people with plus size bodies, people with different sexual orientation, etc. On the other side, the existence of the fourth wave feminism has been also a debate: could they become the agent of change that delineate a new era by using the internet?

Questioning the Beauty Standard

What does it mean to be beautiful? Is beauty limited to a discussion on how does a woman’s face look like? Or is it about the whole body that follow the ‘standard’?

Wolf, as cited by Worotitjan (2014), said that the construction of ‘beauty standard’ is an impact of the patriarchy culture that has been inherited through generations. The embodiment of beauty standard consists of two elements, the outer beauty which could be seen physically, and the inner beauty that resemble kindness and virtue (Wolf in Worotitjan, 2014). However, beauty standard is not only a product that is influenced by the patriarchy culture, but also a social construction that responded to social, economic, and political change (Worotitjan, 2014).

Mainstream beauty-industry along with the advertising agency partake an important role in delivering beauty standard. It is not difficult in Indonesia media to find commercials that promote girls with light complexion as an embodiment of the ideal women, despite the fact that the range of natural Indonesian’s complexion is very high. The depiction of women’s stereotype in our television has influenced the society to be obsessed with light skin, which later led to numerous effort to achieve their obsession, even through doing unsafe treatments (Fitriyarini, 2009). Beside the ‘ideal’ light skin, another stereotype that could be easily found in Indonesian commercials is the straight black hair. Shampoo producers often use this strategy to promote their products, despite the fact that many people with non-straight hair in Indonesia do exist.

The landscape of beauty trend in Indonesia itself has changed through eras. During the colonization of Japan, Indonesian women set their standard of beauty by following the Japanese standard who are known for their light skin. This trend is later replaced with more-Indonesian look in the 1970s. Local beauty brands, such as Viva, Sari Ayu, and Mustika Ratu begin to establish their campaigns that bring natural Indonesian look as their main issue. However, the obsession of light skin rose again after the trajectory of foreign of beauty products by multi-national brands, such as Vaseline and Nivea.

Besides the face-related issue, the beauty standard is also related with the whole physical appearance. The depiction of the ideal body in most local advertisement is the tall and slender one. It also easy to find supplements, herbal drinks, etc that promote the ideal body result, without considering the health risk. Tween girls, who are not rationale enough about the beauty standard could even starve themselves because they believe that the less food intake, the better weight they have.

In a more contemporary context, alongside the massive commercials that are aired through television and also YouTube, the rigid beauty standard is still happening in social media, particularly Instagram. Actors who are involved in the Instagram niche are a little bit different. If the television and YouTube are dominated with major beauty brands who are not doubtful in splurging money for their campaign, Instagram is an open arena for small brands. The less-known brands that exist on Instagram mostly promote their products through doing an endorsement, a partnership where an Instagram celebrity promote their product or spamming comments with profiteering an Instagram celebrity’s claim. Instagram celebrity are not only celebrities in real life, as in those who are working in the entertainment world, but also ordinary people who start their celebrity career with posting fashion inspirations, crafters who gain massive audience because of their artworks, but also people who got instant fame just because of non-sense reason that got exposed.

A typical endorsement post on Instagram usually consists of a photo where the celebrity is posing with the endorsed product and accompanied with a caption that usually speaks about the celebrity’s testimony after using a particular product. However, their testimony should be questioned, too, especially when they are known for a luxurious lifestyle but oddly the give testimony on a less-known product that even cost cheaper than a portion of beef steak. A common thing that could be found from those less-known brands that use Instagram as their online store en bloc online marketing tools is their username and hashtags that they use, which resemble people’s obsession for the Indonesian beauty standard: tall, slim, and light skin. It easy to find those kinds of accounts by typing “jual_pelangsing_peninggi” or “#jualpelangsing” through the search bar and then numerous similar accounts will pop at once.

Acknowledged Movements

Notwithstanding major beauty brands that could be found in Indonesia are still promoting the rigid standard of beauty, some independent and grassroots movements, both international and local, already begin to eradicate the old school ideology of beauty. They act as a regime that uses their power to gain more audiences through social media. Below I present several examples of real movements, which do not only exist in the online world but also in the offline one.

In 2017 Fenty Beauty, a makeup-brand that is established and owned by the popular singer Rihanna launched their debut campaign. What made this brand get worldwide attention is that they promote a wide range of foundation shades, consisting of 40 shades, that suits the skin tone of people with albinism to people with deeper skin tone. Rihanna herself, who is a person of color, said that her mission is to create products that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with (W Magazine, September 19th 2017). However, some beauty gurus made a counterattack by saying that the wide range of foundation shades campaign that Fenty has thrown was not the first one. Instead, another high-end brand named Lancome already did it earlier.

Female Daily, a Jakarta-based online beauty platform, recently held their annual event titled “Jakarta X Beauty” with a theme that focused on breaking the rigid beauty standard, too. The theme for the 2018 edition is #yourbeautyrules, a theme that is hoped to be a trigger that each woman has the freedom in defining their own definition of beauty. On their video trailer that is upload to their YouTube channel, they feature five Indonesian celebrities, who are Putri Marino (an actress), Aquila Firrina (a model), Shafira Umm (a presenter), Sivia Azizah (a singer), and Harumi Sudrajat (a makeup artist). Each celebrity who are interviewed for the video trailer shared their own beauty rules and stigma that they heard from various people. As an example Putri Marino is known for her natural look. On her wedding day that was held on March 2018, she received both positive and negative comment about her makeup. Some people said that she did not looked manglingi, a Javanese word that is used to describe a flawless makeup that make people amazed with how the bride look differently compared to her daily makeup. By cotrast, the others praised her simple yet elegant look. On that video Putri Marino confessed that she feel more beautiful without any makeup on, despite the fact that most Indonesian assumed that public figures, including actress, are very identic with heavy makeup.

My Reflection

I personally thought that beauty should not be standardized because each person is unique. Everyone was born the way he/she are, with the feature that was given by Him. Each feature that every person should be appreciated, not only because of the matter of religious norms but also social norms. If one cannot say something affirmative about someone’s appearance, remain silent is better.

I also strongly believe that our daily culture has contributed significantly, too, in forming a rigid standard of beauty. We are often forced to do small talks with people we meet, including the ones that we are not really close with. As long as I can remember, most of the small talks contains speech on body image that is, of course, too personal, such as “are you getting fatter?”, “you seem so skinny?”, “why do you have so many acnes?”. These small talks usually take place in family gathering during religious holiday season, or other occasions such as arisan, birthday dinner, colleagues gathering, or even just a regular meet up. We would never know exactly the detail of a person’s life. Perhaps she is struggling with her acute acnes after trying the wrong skin care or makeup products. Perhaps she is struggling with her weight after delivering her baby. There are so many possibilities that we do not have to know because basically everyone has their own battle.

In conjunction with the fourth wave of feminism movement, I suggest that we should spread more positive vibes on beauty, both in real life and on the internet. We must stop throwing body image-related conversation, even to the person that we have known for a very long time both online and offline. In addition, we could also teach our future daughters about self-love so that they will not underestimate their physical appearance and be more focused on building their inner beauty that is resembled through their character.


Fitryarini, I., 2009. Iklan dan budaya populer: pembentukan identitas ideologis kecantikan perempuan oleh iklan di televisi. Jurnal Ilmu Komunikasi, 6(12), pp. 119–136.

Worotitjan, H., 2014. Konstruksi Kecantikan dalam Iklan Kosmetik Wardah. Jurnal E-Komunikasi, 2(2), pp. 1–10.

Wrye, H., 2009. The fourth wave of feminism: psychoanalytic perspectives introductory remarks. Studies in gender and sexuality, 10(4), pp. 185–189.

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