What does beauty actually mean?

The question may sound simple at first, but answering it honestly is easier said than done.

Our society has a clear idea of what is considered 'beautiful' and we are confronted with this prevailing ideal of beauty on a daily basis: In advertising, on social media, when shopping, on posters, just everywhere and more and more! We are inundated with images of toned bodies, symmetrical faces, healthy hair and flawless skin.

If we are aware of this, we can learn to deal with it. Far too often, however, we allow ourselves to be subconsciously influenced by this and begin to accept this ideal of beauty as our own, as the only true one. In the long term, this can eat away at our self-esteem and lead to us suddenly no longer finding ourselves beautiful and becoming increasingly dissatisfied with ourselves and our appearance. But why is this the case and what can we do about it?

Beauty ideals and the value of women

Women have been judged by their appearance for, well, ever. It has always been a woman's job to be "beautiful". And nothing else. What exactly "beautiful" means, however, has changed again and again over the years.

For centuries, a voluptuous, "well-fed" female body was considered the ideal of beauty, representative of prosperity and fertility. Many years later, the wasp waist followed as the ideal image, with wide hips and large breasts. In the twentieth century, the ideal changed again, with slender female bodies and short hair now the order of the day. In the post-war period, the curvy woman returned as an ideal of beauty. And in the 1960s, the body ideal of a slim woman, today probably referred to as underweight, gained the attention of society. Today, the predominant ideal of beauty is embodied by the fit and trained woman. The classic "bikini figure".

The value of women has also always been defined mainly, if not exclusively, by their appearance and attractiveness. Personality attributes, character traits, skills and abilities are less important. Those who are not beautiful and do not stay young forever are also worth less.

The resulting pressure from society and our own belief that only this one body ideal is "beautiful" can lead to a long-term desire to conform to the ideal. If this does not succeed, it can also lead to a feeling of inferiority and of not being enough.

What the development of beauty ideals over the course of time can show us, however, is that the respective ideal is so culturally and temporally conditioned that it ultimately loses all meaning and importance. You can also look at it this way: If you had been born perhaps 100, 200 or 300 years earlier, you would conform perfectly to the current ideal. So how useful is it really to listen to society and its ideas?

But let's be honest, our society has certainly evolved in many respects, but the ideals of beauty have always remained the same. And so has the judgment and condemnation of the female body. Those who cannot conform to the ideal are often confronted with condemnation and contempt:

You don't care enough about yourself and your body.

You are not living healthy enough.

Why don't you do more sport? You're not trying at all.

The really scary thing is that the condemnation doesn't always come from the outside. Far too often, it also comes directly from within ourselves.

Consequences of the beauty craze

The ideal of beauty is more present than ever. Thanks to social media trends and fake images, we can hardly avoid the unrealistic comparison with others who supposedly meet the ideal. And this also means that there are fewer and fewer limits and more and more ways to achieve this ideal: Sport and diets, filters and editing apps, make-up and cosmetic surgery. The pressure is increasing and this has consequences:

  • Just about every woman is dissatisfied with her appearance or has a negative body image. This often goes hand in hand with low self-confidence and strong inferiority complexes. Am I beautiful enough? Can I really be lovable the way I am?

  • Pathological self-optimization and chronic dissatisfaction with one's own body are often the result!

  • The social pressure exerted on women has considerable consequences: Women, for example, suffer from eating disorders much more frequently - according to the BZgA (Federal Center for Health Education) around 10 times more frequently from anorexia nervosa - than men.

  • Such a negative body image can lead to enormous psychological stress in the long term. Almost half of those affected by eating disorders also suffer from another mental illness. Most commonly depression or anxiety disorders.

What can I do if I don't think I'm beautiful?

Neither you nor I will probably be able to change the ideals of beauty in our society. But we can: We can focus on ourselves!
You may still find it difficult to let go of the beauty ideals around you. Not being able to live up to the ideal changes your own body image in the long term and leads to an unrealistic assessment of yourself. If this is the case, it can help to start with your body image!
Try taking the ideal of beauty completely out of the equation and looking at yourself in the mirror independently of it. The following questions can help you to become aware of your body image:
How would you see this body if it wasn't your own, but perhaps that of a dear friend? In that case, how much attention would you pay to the few dents on your thighs or the wrinkles on your face?
What thoughts come to mind when you look at your body? Try to be loving and kind to yourself.
How do you feel in your body? Consciously notice the feelings that arise when you look at yourself.
What exactly bothers you about yourself? Can you change it? Then change it! Can't you change it? Accept it and let it go!
What do you find beautiful about yourself? Which parts of your body do you particularly like?
Allow yourself to feel beautiful!
Try to see it like this: Your body is like a mirror of yourself. Your inner self is individual and wonderful, so why shouldn't your body be too? You get older and change over the course of your life and so does your body. Conforming to an ideal or a standard would rob you of your individuality. And that is exactly what makes you so special! Your body tells the story of your life. It is the real you, your own true beauty!
As trite as this quote may be, it is no less true: beauty is in the eye of the beholder! And the only observer who really counts here is you!

What constitutes true beauty?

What does true beauty mean to you? I had to think long and hard about how I would answer these questions. Whether I really find the external features that correspond to the ideal of beauty beautiful myself or whether I simply can't free myself from the social ideal. And honestly? I still don't know.

I find people who fulfill society's ideal beautiful. But I also find people beautiful who don't directly conform to the visual ideal. People who have little flaws and quirks that make them unique. Friends whose laughter and loving nature are so heart-warming that I can't help but describe them as beautiful.

Or people whose character traits are so special, so unique, that their whole being is impressive and beautiful. And also people in whose company I feel particularly beautiful myself, because they love and accept me just as I am. People who are so full of self-confidence and self-love that they completely captivate you with their beauty.

For me, the key to true and genuine beauty is to love yourself and those around you and to radiate this outwards.

And before you say "but": self-love has absolutely nothing to do with your dress size! It may be a long and perhaps difficult journey to learn to love yourself. But believe me when I tell you that it is doable and more important than almost anything else in our lives!

To support you on your journey towards self-love, there are a few little exercises and food for thought that can help:

Keep a diary

Write down five things you like about yourself every day. These can be little things, outward appearances, character traits, it doesn't matter.

This list is just for you. You don't have to show it to anyone, you don't have to be ashamed of anything.

Loving yourself doesn't have to mean being selfish.

Be your own best friend

Be loving and grateful to yourself and your body.

Treat yourself like a good friend.

Try to practise forgiving yourself. You don't have to be perfect. Don't be your biggest critic, be your biggest supporter!

You can make it easy for yourself sometimes.

Fight your self-doubt

Become aware of your self-doubt and learn to let it go.

Stop constantly comparing yourself to others. Instead, become aware of your strengths, your beautiful sides!

You are just right the way you are!

Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself

Coco Chanel once said this and I completely agree!

Of course, there will always be certain external features that are considered beautiful by society. And that's ok! But we have to learn to develop our own image of beauty. And above all, to accept and love ourselves, without ifs and buts!

Because our body is no less a part of ourselves than our mind or our feelings are. All of this makes us the person we are! And in the end, it's all about doing exactly what makes you feel best and what makes you feel most comfortable in your own skin!

So be yourself: With body, mind, soul and everything that goes with it!

Because that's exactly what you're on this earth for!

    October 26, 2023