Each and everyday, women around the world are bombarded by messages that they should look a certain way, have their hair done in a certain way, wear their makeup in a certain way and so many other criteria they have to meet. The image delivered is always a woman who is tanned, slender, zero fats in her body, voluminous hair, dazzling white teeth, wide eyes, and full lips. The focus on women’s looks and how they ought to maintain it in a specific way has become the core of numerous advertisements, social media outlets, and even personal human interactions. Since the overflow of these messages can be extremely overwhelming, women have no choice but to try their best to live up to these impossible standards. Imagine the amount of scrutiny placed on women’s outer appearance!
Let us make this matter a little bit more personal and think about it from an Egyptian perspective. Here in Egypt, there’s not much of a difference. Women are also pressured to look and dress in a certain way. Given the fact that Egypt has a patriarchal society, one can notice that the issue of how a woman looks would have an effect on the male attraction she elicits and her prospects as a bride. Yes, it is that serious. Thus, I have decided that my project will be directed at changing Egyptian women’s attitudes about beauty and how they should embrace their looks and bodies regardless of the messages they receive, which always seem to convey that they are not good enough. My target will be Egyptian upper class girls and women from the ages of 18-25. I chose them specifically because they are the ones most heavily exposed to messages dictating how to look and are more likely to try to follow the unrealistic standards to attain status and prestige. I believe social psychology is the ideal medium to approach this topic because it will allow me to understand the attitude on a deeper level, gain an insight to how it forms and what makes it persist, and give me a chance to know how exactly to address the issue and solve it.
In my project, I will focus on trying to change women’s attitudes, which are evaluations of objects, people, or ideas, and not on specific behaviors that results from the attitude. That is because behaviors that women make to try to live up to the standards they have set for themselves are varied and numerous, so it will be broad to address the matter this way. As we know, any attitude has three components. The first is the cognitive component, which is people’s beliefs about the properties of an attitude object. In this case, we can say that women do all sorts of behaviors to fulfill the image imposed on them because they think that these specific actions make them more beautiful. They perform these actions because they think it is what every woman should do as part of her beauty regimen, even though some of them may be too unrealistic.
The second is the affective component, which is people’s feelings and values towards an attitude object. In this case, women adopt these irrational beauty standards to fit in within the norms of society. They feel they will be left out if they do not think about themselves in a specific way. They follow society’s harsh rules to maintain their self esteem and feel good about themselves when they feel they have achieved what is required of them, even if it’s not what they want to do. Affectively based attitudes can result from operant conditioning, which in this case, is how society rewards women who try to achieve these standards through admiration. Consequently, women will strive to maintain these impossible standards because they are reinforced by society.
The third is the behavioral component, which is how people react toward an attitude object. In this case, women react to the beauty standards imposed on them by working hard to acquire the image delivered to them. They do that by plastic surgeries, tons of makeup, starving themselves, doing vigorous exercise, and many other behaviors that have negative consequences on women’s health and psychological state.
Now that we know all the components that comprise women’s attitudes about their beauty and outer appearance, we must address the question of where these attitudes come from and what makes them persist despite how wrong they can be? The media is definitely the first culprit when we think about such an issue. Whenever we turn to our televisions or scroll down our social media home pages, we see advertisements and public figures endorsing a standardized image of female beauty. We rarely see an Egyptian TV anchor or an actress whose hair is curly, or has blemishes, or not skinny or white. This further strengthens the idea that for women to look beautiful, they have to tick off a check list that includes limited beauty criteria. When girls see these images projected in the media, they tend to think that this is how they should look like all the time. “Sociocultural standards of feminine beauty are presented in almost all forms of popular media, barraging women with images that portray what is considered to be the “ideal body”.
That’s when social influence comes in. Girls then are affected by these messages and think of ways to look like the women they see in the media. Furthermore, the idea of finding a proper suitor is very much a crucial step in any girl’s life in Egypt, so mothers tend to pressure their daughters to look a certain way for this very purpose. Moreover, the social comparison theory plays a huge role in this matter. When we don’t know how to evaluate ourselves in a situation, we tend to look at other people who share similar characteristics as us and compare. That’s how the distorted beauty messages prevail.
In addition, we can easily notice the Egyptian girls’ obsession with taking photos of everything they do and in everywhere they go, the phenomenon of Instagram and the selfies. Girls are tempted to put themselves in the spotlight more often. On the other hand, the self awareness theory will say that when people focus on themselves, they evaluate their behaviors and put them in comparison with their existing ideas. When girls focus on themselves this much, they tend to be very critical when it comes to their appearance and work extra hard to eliminate any negative attributes they detect, even ones that may be considered unique or beautiful about them.
As we have seen, the unrealistic beauty standards puts too much pressure on women and makes them prone to low self esteem and distorted perception about beauty so it’s high time we try to change their attitudes about themselves, prove to them that they are beautiful no matter how they look like, show them that the standards they are trying to maintain are fake. Changing such an attitude that is deeply embedded within the Egyptian society will not be something simple. I think the best way to do this is through persuasive communication, which is communication that advocates a particular side of the issue. Women should see the other side of the story. In order to make the message more effective, the central route to persuasion should be focused on. The message that corrects women’s wrong ideas about beauty should be made relevant and personalized to them, so then they are more likely to concentrate on the content of the message. Women should be provided with facts that will help them be convinced with the content of the message.
We should reassure our Egyptian women of how beautiful they are, all natural and all unique !
– All images are hyperlinked to their sources.