My Skin: An Anthem of Self-Love

As Lizzo’s presence in mainstream media has rapidly increased in recent years, so has the impact of her iconic messages of body positivity and self-love. Though many people know her for her 2019 album “Cuz I Love You” and her recent 2022 album “Special,” Lizzo has always been calling for reform in the way that society views women’s bodies. Her 2015 song “My Skin” and accompanying music video serves as a call to people everywhere to love and appreciate their bodies and skin.

Lizzo opens the music video with a brief monologue in which she states that learning to love yourself and your body is a journey that every person experiences—especially women. Her first verse paints a picture of why this is the case: society has created an impossible beauty standard that women feel that they must strive towards. Women are taught from birth to compare their bodies to what they see in media and to each others’, creating insecurity and self-hatred toward their own. This is an unspoken yet universal experience—one that Lizzo calls “the darkest, best kept secret.” As women compare their bodies to each others’, they are pitted against each other in competition for all the promises—love, respect, happiness—that society has convinced us we will receive if our bodies meet its standards. Lizzo articulates this in her lyrics “Let it bring us together, or it could tear us apart.” This comparison of bodies is currently tearing women apart. Lizzo is calling for women instead to unite against this harmful societal norm and revel in our universal beauty. She asserts that “the most beautiful thing that you have ever seen is even bigger than we think it means,” suggesting that the beauty of bodies and skin as well as self-love is much more significant and important than we give it credit for. She accompanies these lyrics with close-up images of diverse, seemingly unfiltered bodies painted in a beautiful light. These bodies are not perfect: they have fat, blemishes, stretch marks, hair, and other qualities that our societal standard would label as flaws. This representation of imperfect, diverse bodies in a popular music video tells women that their bodies are normal—and that their bodies are also beautiful, desirable, and worthy to be looked at.

Lizzo also applies this specifically to women of color. Societal beauty standards have created a very specific picture of what true beauty looks like: the “ideal body” is often portrayed as white and thin. Due to this association between whiteness and beauty, people of color are made to feel as if their skin inherently lacks beauty. The internalization of this belief takes away people’s ability to love and be proud of their skin, leaving shame in its wake. This can also be applied to fat women. Because thinness is seen as a requirement for beauty, fat women are made to feel as if they can’t be beautiful. In the chorus, Lizzo sings, “I woke up in this—in my skin. I can’t wash it away, so you can’t take it from me—my brown skin.” It is a call for women to reclaim the definition of beauty in their own skin. As Lizzo sings this in the music video, she runs her hands over her body with love and compassion and shows close-up images of her skin and hair, appreciating her body for its beauty.

As the music video nears its end, Lizzo, along with the other women in the music video, begin to pop the balloons that have been around them, sending glitter flying everywhere.

Throughout the video, it was not apparent that the balloons were filled with glitter—they seemed like regular balloons. As long as we believe the misconceptions that society has imposed on us, we cannot see the possibilities for ourselves that it hides. They initially appear unassuming, but when societal norms and standards of beauty are rejected, the result is magical. We can have full compassion for ourselves and unconditional love for our bodies and skin. Lizzo then runs her hands through the gold glitter and spreads it over her body, symbolizing an external layer of self-love and compassion.

This song and music video does a phenomenal job of encouraging women to reject societal standards of beauty and love their bodies as they are. Its inclusion of imperfect and diverse bodies adds representation to a historically image-conscious industry that has been plagued by photoshop, telling women everywhere that their bodies are normal and beautiful. Lizzo is an incredible role model for young women who face these standards—her unapologetic love for her body encourages others to do the same. Her popularity and presence in mainstream media gives hope that one day we can break free from societal standards and have universal unconditional love and respect for all bodies.

The Power of Voice and Intersectionality in “I Won’t Say” by Xenia Rubinos

Xenia Rubinos is an artist that does not dominate the mainstream. Her words often do not reach most Americans, and most do not hear her essential messages of the pain and joys of existing in an Afro-Latina body in America. Born to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico and Cuba, Xenia explores her place in creating music in non-white and westernized ways, through the innovation of jazz-funk and soul rhythms.

Since she speaks to being a brown girl in America and attempts to harness “black girl magic,” her music has often been diminished as solely “political,” not giving credit to her immense musical artistry and whimsical and smooth neo-soul vocals. While Xenia’s music has often been disregarded by popular American culture, her album, Black Terry Cat was ranked in the top 10 by NPR in 2016.     

In the song “I Won’t Say,” on Black Terry Cat she speaks to the experience of being silenced and constrained by the toxic expectations forced upon women of color.

Throughout the song, she repeats the phrase, “I won’t say anything at all/No, I won’t say anything at all/ Anything at all.” She speaks to her conditioning to not question and openly defy the socially accepted institutions around her. Xenia stated in 2016 with the release of the song that she has been in a “fight with words for the last ten years” and stopped singing because of it. But with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, she was empowered to speak her mind and bring voice to important truths that she and millions of other Americans have experienced.

Xenia quotes civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln’s essay, Who Will Revere The Black Woman? Singing, “Whose hair is compulsively fried? Whose skin is bleached? Whose nose is too big? Whose mouth is too loud? Whose butt is too broad? Whose feet are too flat? Whose face is too black?” her words exemplify the how expectations of feminine beauty, whiteness, and thinness intersect and are interconnected in American beauty standards. This aligns with the perspectives of 2nd wave Black Feminism, and to the essay Why Intersectionality Cannot Wait. Since systems of discrimination are overlapping and interdependent, this can render black women of color invisible and vulnerable to oppression greater than the sum of racism and sexism combined (Crenshaw 2015).  

However, in I Won’t Say, Xenia Rubinos also comments on the normative culture of social media and how posting pictures on these platforms reproduce the conditioning of women to uphold beauty standards. So, while she feels as if she cannot say anything and is oppressed by this pressure to stay silent, society is constantly in discourse about topics of white beauty within social media, bombarding her with how she should act and look through reproduced aesthetic expectations. Like stated in The History of Sexuality, our actions are constantly being regulated through public discourse and this discourse holds immense power (Foucault 17). She reclaims this power when singing her experiences to life. As stated by Wann in The Fat Studies Reader, power also lies in naming (Wann 7). Xenia is resisting and undo her alienation by naming her blackness, loudness, unique features, and desire to be heard.

By stating, “Look at me/Look at me/Look at you/Look at yourself looking at your selfie/Where’s your selfie?/Let go your selfie/I tried to see my ego but was blinded by my selfie,” she demonstrates the salient message that posting the “perfect” photo only upholds the stigmatization of those who are coded as socially undesirable and unworthy of a like.

In the words, “Where is the place you are?/Put it down/put it down,” Xenia urges young brown and black girls like her to let go of the pressure to conform and accept the normative standards of beauty and worth on social media. Like proclaimed in “Killing Us Softly IV: Advertising Images of Women,” women of color are forced to resemble the white ideal, straighten their hair, and lighten their skin (Kilbourne). They are set up to fail, never able to measure up to the unrealistic image of physical perfection—which is why Xenia urges people to “put it down” and see and appreciate themselves as they are.   

By repeatedly stating that she is “only sleeping,” she exemplifies how women are compelled to uphold norms through the hundreds of unconscious actions that we are programmed to do every day. For instance, “playing hide and go seek with a prince charming” is an action she does while sleeping, unquestioning the constructed heterosexual expectations that pervade every aspect of society. However, sexual orientation is not examined further within the album, and it is important to stay cognizant of how queer identities intersect with black identities. In “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions” for instance, Audre Lorde urges for homophobia to be seen as inseparable from racism and sexism (Lorde 1). Her newest 2021 album, Una Rosa, provides more insight on how sexuality intertwines with Xenia’s life story, inspired by Puerto Rican, diva drag queens.

When stating, “I don’t know her/she don’t know me/I don’t know me/I’m only sleeping,” Xenia speaks to girls’ ignorance over themselves and their own bodies. In light of Our Bodies Ourselves, the song demonstrates the immense occurrence of self-dissatisfaction within women because of cultural images of the female body and the little control they possess over others’ perceptions of them. But, this song is a testament to Xenia Rubinos’ journey of learning herself, letting go of expectations, and reclaiming the facets of her identity that she has been forced to conceal for so long.

Non-product day reflection

When I went to sleep the night before I told myself “Tomorrow is no-product day,” but it was not until the professor mentioned it the next morning that I realised I was supposed to be doing the challenge. I went through my morning in my mind: “woke up, brushed my teeth, had breakfast, went to class.” Not a single product, I don’t even comb my hair. 

“I’m doing great” I thought, but as the morning progressed I had to repeat the exercise over and over. I would remember that I was supposed to be doing the challenge, panic about it, go back through my day until my last check-point. And still nothing, not a single product. It was not until that night when I decided to use body wash for my hair as well, which is supposed to work just fine but not leave my hair as soft as my shampoo. 

In retrospect, the challenge was not hard at all. It was the thoughts that came after that bothered me. Am I investing enough in myself? Do I need to buy something for my skin or a comb for my hair? All this brought memories back when I decided to stop using deodorant in high school but for the summers. But also made me ask about the other face of the coin, what if I actually liked make-up, hair products, perfumes, etc.? And there is the conflicting thought: Do I not use enhancement products out of pragmatism? (That is not using them because I’m just being me) Or are those preferences not the result of growing up in a society that punishes in men all enhancements, even self-care?

Feminist Mixtape: “Beautiful is Boring” by BONES UK

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” A lovely saying that we’ve all heard many times. However, society’s idea of beauty is less defined by the eye of the beholder than as a concept that changes with the typical depictions of people in media of the time. Jean Kilbourne’s TED Talk on Killing Us Softly IV: Advertising Images of Women gives a comprehensive look at and interpretation of her research on how women have been portrayed in media since the late 1960’s. When listening to the song “Beautiful is Boring” by BONES UK, the connections make themselves. 

The first verse includes the lyric, “They said they did not want my face in their magazine/’Cause I’m not beautiful”. The singer doesn’t suit society’s definition of beautiful, and therefore is denied access to certain levels of visibility. In regard to societal standards of beauty, Kilbourne says, “From my perspective of over 40 years, the image of women in advertising is worse than ever. The pressure on women to be young, thin, and beautiful is more intense than ever before” (3:27-3:37). The singer doesn’t care about how society defines beautiful, young and thin and perfect. The second verse has the lyric, “It does not please me to be easy on any of your eyes”. Clearly, the singer’s priority does not fall with how others perceive her. This confidence and self-assuredness isn’t something that comes naturally however. Kilbourne points out that “the self-esteem of girls in America often plummets when they reach adolescence. Girls tend to feel fine about themselves when they are 8, 9, 10 years old, but they hit adolescence and they often hit a wall. And certainly, part of this wall is this terrible emphasis on physical perfection” (Kilbourne 6:51-7:17). Many times, as Kilbourne states, the expectations from society to look a certain way and be perfect can be crushing. It can absolutely destroy a young person’s confidence. 

The singer isn’t unaware of this, despite her own confidence and self-assuredness. The third verse has a lyric that critiques society on “teaching children to be anything other than who they are”. Kilbourne has many points on the alteration of children’s perceptions of themselves in society by media, from girls being “more prone to eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem” (13:17-13:24), boys being “encouraged to look at girls as sex objects, …encouraged to be sexually precocious” (10:17-10:33), and women of color being “considered beautiful only insofar as they resemble the white ideal: light skin, straight hair, Caucasian features, round eyes” (5:25-5:39). The whole message of the song, “beautiful is boring”, argues that people are much more interesting when they exist as themselves than conform to society. This message is inherently feminist, as it pushes against the factors in society that hold women back from being their complete selves.

Book Review: *Hope In a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture*

Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture: Peiss, Kathy:  9780812221671: Amazon.com: Books

Beauty in American culture has been constructed around an accepted norm or a set-standard of what makes someone desirable and beautiful. Overtime, cosmetics have become deeply intertwined with this beauty culture in America and it is no small industry – a $43.6 billion industry to be exact(1). The vastness of this industry has caused a lot of examination of beauty culture and cosmetics during the nineteenth and twentieth century and picking apart common misconceptions associated with the beginning of cosmetics. It has been a long standing assumption that the beauty industry was pioneered and dominated by males in order to sway women into a singular, confined definition of beauty, however, in Kathy Lee Peiss’s book, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, she demonstrates that this is not the case. Within this book, Peiss illustrates a beauty industry powered by women in the late 1800s and early 1900s – one where women owned the companies producing the cosmetics and one where women sold the cosmetics. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture elaborates on two things that cosmetics gave women: opportunity for expression through make-up and employment for women. 

As someone born during the baby boom and coming of age in the 1960s(2), Peiss watched as the judgments surrounding manufactured beauty changed with great speed. The meaning of cosmetics in relation to beauty standards, ideals of femininity, profit making, and politics remained difficult to pin-point. However, Peiss argues that beauty culture should be understood not only as a type of commerce but as a system of meaning that helps women navigate the changing conditions of modern social experience. Women dipping their toe in “modernity,” often placed them into a public space that was not always welcoming. In the history of beauty culture, there lies a web of intimate rituals, social relationships, and female institutions. Over decades, women have passed down the teachings of cosmetics to their children and in these little jars of makeup, lies a detailed history of women’s ambition, pleasure, and community. 

Kathy Lee Peiss, born in 1953, is a well-known author and American historian. She received her Bachelor at Carleton College and her Master of Arts and Doctorate of Philosophy at Brown University. During her lifetime, she was an instructor at Rutgers University and New Brunswick, Canada from 1980 to 1981. Additionally, from 1981 to 1986, Peiss worked as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland and as an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts from 1986 to 1992. Since this time, she has continued to teach as a professor. Peiss has also been listed as a noteworthy History educator by Marquis Who’s Who. In 2011, she chronicled the purpose of cosmetics over time and the impact they have in regards to economic, sociological, and psychological aspects(3). 

Peiss uses a mix of both qualitative and quantitative methods by developing her argument with participants and observations; first hand accounts of people’s experiences; and consumer surveys. Peiss begins her novel towards the end of the 19th century. During this time, cosmetics often contained toxic substances (i.e. lead) and were associated with “hussies” or prostitutes. In the introduction, she brings this up in the example of two lipstick shades named Lady and Hussy. The Hussy shade outsold Lady 15:1. Additionally, cosmetics were condemned by society saying that they created false needs, manipulated fears of the consumer, and raised superficiality over true substance. All this being said, Peiss makes sure to bring it back to the beauty business being largely built by women – some of the most successful entrepreneurs being immigrants, working class, and black women. The focused attention on face and figure paved the way for the pursuit of beauty to be acceptable and respectable. Transitioning into the early 20th century, women began to embrace cosmetics a lot more. However, advertising and social pressure to be “attractive” lowered self-esteem. In the first chapter, Peiss talks about an incident involving a 24 year old housewife who applied a commercial skin lightener who was admitted to the hospital and became paralyzed from the elbow down. This led to a focus on cosmetic preparation. Women were expected to be able to gather roots, distill essences, identify different herbs, and compound remedies for the skin. Many household manuals during this time included information regarding waters, oils, powders, and ointments meant to aid in the beautification of women. In this chapter, Peiss also discusses the origin of different cosmetics and beauty techniques. For example, indigenous plants were used to treat skin problems and methods like using crushed berries to redden cheeks were brought from Native Americans and West Africa. Moving on to chapter 2, Peiss describes the ideal beauty image as pale and because of this, white powder and skin lighteners became a big part of daily life for both white and African Americans, thus further propelling the aesthetic dimension of racism. Additionally, the rise of photography changed how people perceived their appearances. Portraits gave many people an idealistic version of how they looked – therefore, when people began to be photographed, they were not pleased with how they appeared. This resulted in the retouching of photos with painting or simply just wearing more makeup during photography sessions. Similarly, as photographs became more widely available, a domino effect was instituted: celebrities becoming beauty icons; celebrities using more makeup; the acceptance and consumption of makeup continually growing; and the cosmetics industry evolving into a commercialized industry. And of course, with the growth of a new “trend,” many opinions followed. Some people stood firm in their belief that painting was morally corrupt. Others sat more towards the middle, feeling that it was alright only if it was worn in a conservative fashion. Then on the other end, makeup was viewed by some as helping out the women who had not been blessed with “beauty” at birth. The key takeaway from this chapter is that someone painting their face moved from a trait of prostitutes and hussies to that of the “average” woman. During a time where it had been prohibited, chapter three centers on the transition of women into the commercial beauty industry. The Achilles heel of the beauty industry at this time was that it was a quiet industry. Many who used these products did not speak about their use of them in addition to wanting no one to know about their purchasings of them. However, in contrast to the women who were ashamed, there were the women who saw their own potential within the beauty industry. They saw an industry focused mainly around women as a place where they could get their foot in the door. Peiss drops a few names of entrepreneurs within the industry: Florence Nightingale Graham, Helena Rubinstein, Annie Malone, and Madam C.J. Walker. All were successful within their respective careers, however, their approaches were not all the same. Rubinstein and Graham sold their products in a more primitive “boutique” style, while Malone and Walker tried to market to everyday women. Transitioning onto chapter four, The Rise of the Mass Market, Peiss expands on the growth of the market for cosmetics following World War I. Between the years 1909 and 1929, the number of cosmetic manufacturers nearly doubled and their value rose exponentially. With this came a large scale system of mass production, distribution, marketing, and advertising that later transformed the initial patterns of buying and selling. The cosmetics industry transitioned to producing goods for national sale. Then, in promoting the Made-Up Woman, during the 1920s, mass produced images of glamorous screen stars, flappers, and beautiful women began to influence the fashionable ideal and beauty rituals. However, within this were racial divisions.The mass market’s democratic vision of beauty denied African Americans entry due to the unfortunate fact that white women were the target audience for national advertising. In Peiss’s sixth chapter, she talks about the beauty industry’s success in convincing their consumers that in order to fulfill individuality and femininity, one would need to purchase cosmetics. However, where information is pulled from is skewed due to its sources being limited to white middle and working class women. The use of cosmetics boomed in larger cities like New York and Chicago and came into play a lot later in smaller towns. Then, wrapping up in Peiss’s final two chapters, she discussed the white-dominated ideal “appearance,” and the weight that these powder and porcelain jars had in the war of cultural visions. Many black reformers and educators spoke out about the political meaning of appearance. The beauty industry increased the discontent of African Americans, gay activists, and feminists in regards to commercial exploitation by the long-standing beauty ideals. 

One area in Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, that Peiss really excels at is disproving the wide-spread assumption that the cosmetic industry painted women as the victim in its narrative. The history of beauty in America is often looked back upon as one where the women experienced shame and they were looked at as being on the losing side.  Peiss’s greatest strength within her novel is combatting this misconception but in chapter 3, Peiss does an exceptional job of illustrating that the cosmetic industry resulted in both social and economic empowerment for women. Beauty was the catalyst that allowed women to break from the confinements that labeled working as taboo unless their social class truly depended on it. It is depicted and regarded as women viewing it as a way to get their foot in the door – it was something for them – specific to them. Peiss even uses accounts of four entreprenuers to further her argument regarding the doors that the cosmetic industry opened for them. 

Overall, Peiss does a great job in her documentation and elaboration of the cosmetic industry in her novel – however, that is the only thing she focuses on. I would have loved for her to dive deeper into related areas since she alludes throughout the book to discussing beauty as a whole. This is not necessarily a weakness, but I think her writing could have been further developed and well-rounded by drawing parallels between fashion, plastic surgery trends, diet culture, and “ideal beauty.” The title of Peiss’s book is Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture, with emphasis on that second part: the making of America’s beauty culture. By Peiss only focusing on the wearing and history of cosmetics – I feel that it shadows other very important fields that are within the umbrella of beauty culture. More specifically, she could’ve addressed those other fields and made connections with the dangerous and sometimes unhealthy lengths people would go to in order to fall within the parameters of America’s beauty culture.

After reading this book, it is safe to say that my initial view of the history of the cosmetic industry has been broadened. I feel that this could be a really good book for college students or anyone wanting to look deeper into the history of the oppression of women or even just women’s beginnings in the workplace. I now see the opportunities that the industry gave to many women. However, I believe after reading this book that women were victims at times, victorious at times, and sometimes even the ones being the oppressors. This is a read I would love to revisit and draw deeper connections with other viewpoints after my completion of the GSS 101 course. .

(1) Manager, Jonas Sickler SEO. “Beauty Industry: Cosmetics Market Share, Trends, and Statistics.” Terakeet, 22 Oct. 2021, https://terakeet.com/blog/beauty-industry/. 

(2) Peiss, Kathy Lee. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011. 

(3) “Kathy Lee Peiss.” Prabook.com, https://prabook.com/web/kathy_lee.peiss/639345. 

Celebrities: That Doesn’t Look Like Me

With social media, more specifically editing tools like photoshop, at the tips of everyone’s fingers, being a teenager today is hard. There is a constant feed of images that have been altered to fit society’s misconstrued beauty norms: airbrushed skin, whitened teeth, any ounce of fat pinched in or smoothed out. These images, mainly of or posted by celebrities, generate unrealistic expectations that collide with the very foundation of what it means to be human: having blemishes, curves, and for goodness sakes – everyone has fat on their bodies – it is normal. This “standard of beauty” often goes uncontested, but known body positivity advocate and celebrity, Zendaya, had no problem taking a stance against the editing done to one of her own modeling photos for Modeliste Magazine.

In the screenshot above, you are able to see not only the two images she has juxtaposed, but you can see her caption, likes, comments, and even how many followers she has. I think it’s safe to say that at 108 million followers, she has quite an audience and at 839,310 likes, that her post was well-received. The right image in the post is the beautiful, unedited image of Zendaya. She is wearing a black leather jacket with high-cut bottoms that flatter her curves and she is working a subtle, soft smile with her curled hair framing her face nicely. This gorgeous image makes it puzzling that someone would even think that there are aspects of it that need to be “perfected.” Yet, thanks to what society has falsely deemed as “beautiful,” the image was edited (left). By placing these two images side by side, it makes it glaringly obvious that multiple things have been “touched up.” Starting with the most noticeable, her skin has not only been airbrushed, but a filter has been placed over the initial image, altering both Zendaya’s skin tone and hair color. Next, editors have made her hair “smaller,” by pinching it in closer to her face and flattening it out. Another evident edit is that her waist and hips have been made smaller. 

The irony in the photoshopping of this photo is that Modeliste Magazine prides itself as being an authentic source for emerging fashion and beauty trends. However, their heavily retouched photos of Zendaya scream many things – none of those things being authentic or along the lines of what “beauty trends” should be. In addition to the way Zendaya juxtapositioned these two images, her caption speaks volumes regarding her important message. At 19 years old, she describes her shock, having images posted of herself with the realization that they did not look like her at all. She quickly noticed that her hips and torso had been altered (as she describes in her caption) and points out that “these are the things that make women self conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have.” She then goes on to explain how important it is for her to represent “honest and pure self love.”

While Modeliste later took down the edited images and worked with Zendaya on publishing the complete unedited images, I think that there are multiple take-aways from Modeliste’s initial publication and Zendaya’s response. The magazine’s initial publication speaks volumes not only of society’s need to take away the uniqueness within beauty through photoshopping, but also the beauty norms that are implied as a result of this photoshopping. It implies that there is a standard for beauty and that the standard is thin, airbrushed, and lacking a single imperfection. As a result, people often don’t feel good enough and if we cannot feel at home in our own skins, where else are we supposed to go (Wann)? The amazing thing about beauty is that there is no standard. Zendaya makes it clear through both her post and caption, that beauty is more about self love and being real. Beauty is fat and thin and happy and natural with blemishes and so many other things. Beauty is all encompassing and inclusive. Photoshopping within these large platforms try to make beauty small and singular, whereas it is something that is limitless due to the diversity within the world we live in. Additionally, Zendaya’s response was empowering – not only for her, but for everyone who looks at social media and is overwhelmed by unattainable and unrealistic beauty norms. She makes it clear to her audience that the real her is beautiful and does not need to be edited. Her post radiates body positivity and breaks down the walls that confine beauty to be a singular thing. 

Works Cited

“Fashion Trends, Celebrity NEWS, Influencer STYLE, Beauty Tips, Luxury Travel.” Modeliste Magazine, 8 Sept. 2021, https://modelistemagazine.com/. 

Wann, Msrilyn. “Fat Studies: An Invitation to Revolution.” Fat Studies, pp. Forward XV. Zendaya. “Instagram.” Login • Instagram, 2015, https://www.instagram.com/zendaya/?hl=en.

Zendaya. “Instagram.” Login • Instagram, 2015, https://www.instagram.com/zendaya/?hl=en.

TikTok: Its Perpetuation of Gender-Based Stereotypes and Human Body Standards

Over the past few years, TikTok has become a mainstream social media platform. This application, available for most smartphones, uses an algorithm to curate content for users, effectively getting them addicted to scrolling on the app. There are many subcultures on TikTok… For example, people who like dogs might find that the algorithm has put them on ‘dog TikTok,’ because their ‘For You’ page is filled with videos of dogs. The same concept applies to gender and sexuality. There are many different points of view represented on the application, and once the algorithm figures out what yours is, it will show you a plethora of content to reinforce that exact idea. 

There is a large subculture (or really, a set of subcultures) on TikTok that perpetuates the gender binary system and all of the gender roles that come along with that. For example, this video is a representation of many of the different videos that are found on ‘straight TikTok’: 

When the individual speaking in the video says, “Men will choose a peaceful woman before a beautiful woman,” they are enforcing many of the expectations that are placed on female-identifying people in our society. Moreover, the speaker is implying that women must be ‘peaceful,’ therefore implying that often, women are not peaceful. This implication tells women that they need not express their emotions; rather, they should focus on being as passive as possible in an effort to be chosen by a man. 

Next, when the person speaking says, “Men seek for peace, and it don’t matter if you’re Black, blue, asian, Latina… they want to come home to a peaceful woman,” they are demonstrating a lack of awareness of the intersection between race and gender. This statement also reinforces the idea that men come home to women, therefore saying also that women should not be working professionals. 

On top of that, the speaker discusses the intellect of women and expectations in that area that men hold. They say, “He wants a woman that’s resourceful, a woman that can think on her feet. So when he can’t hold it down if he’s ill and he’s unable to pay the bills, she can be resourceful and have her intellect to make things happen.” The first implication I see in this statement is that the woman should just be intellectual as a safeguard… the woman will never actually have to use these skills unless it comes down to it. The assumption that men always pay the bills is harmful to all people, regardless of gender, because that is not the case for everybody. By the same token, the fact that the speaker is bringing this point up implies that women are, in general, less naturally intellectual than men. Drawing this unfounded connection between gender and intellectual capacity is harmful to society as a whole. 

Perhaps most disturbingly, our speaker talks about the ‘appropriate’ role of women in a sexual context. They say that men are “looking for a woman to supply their physical needs… A woman that looks good and proper and public but is a beast in bed” is the golden standard. First of all, in addition to ignoring the physical desires of the women at hand, this statement claims that the purpose of women is to fulfill mens’ sexual desires. This incredibly sexist ideology has the capacity to negatively influence the lives of many people. On top of this, the speaker is assuming a common definition of beauty… she is saying that women who have a certain physical appearance and demeanor are examples for what all other women should try to be when in pursuit of a relationship with a man. 

In conclusion, the ideology contained within this video is based on the idea that women are socially inferior to men, and that female sovereignty should not exist when it comes to romantic and sexual relationships. The central claim is that women should constantly be cultivating their personas to match what they think men are looking for in women, in hopes that they will ‘meet the cut’ for some man.

Similar to the last clip, this piece of satire brings awareness to many of the appearance-based expectations that our society holds for women, and the stark contrast between these expectations and those for men. The actor, mimicking a man, says: “Alright, so I want a girl with huge, but perky boobs, small waist, huge butt, flawless skin (but can’t wear makeup). And I like blondes, but I think she should also be brunette… because I get bored quickly, you know?” This statement encapsulates many of the body standards that our modern society has for women, and also touches on the normalized fact that men sleep around while women are expected to be loyal. 

In the caption of this video, the creator claims that this is how all men think. Although this is probably a sarcastic statement, it is representative of the way that many people think. Moreover, individuality is to be nonexistent: all men must act one way, and all women must act another way. Beyond pointing out, and perhaps reinforcing, the gender norms that are in place for men and women, this video illustrates the prevalence of the gender binary in our society. 

Content Warning: This video contains a real-life portrayal of surgical body mutilation. Use viewer discretion. 

In this shocking clip, we see a person that is identified as a man who has ‘overdeveloped’ breast tissue. His act of having the ‘excess’ tissue removed is labeled as life-changing. First of all, the video notes that this overdevelopment in the breast tissue of a man is an actual medical condition, which is known as ‘gynecomastia.’ Its causes are said to be “medications, drugs, testicular cancer, and hormonal imbalance.” 

Without looking into the history of this condition, it’s plausible to assume that this condition was developed in response to a bodily appearance that was not in line with society’s idea of what a man should look like. Moreover, this condition does not pose any medical risk to the patient; it is merely aesthetic. 

This video perpetuates a toxic standard of beauty, and is essentially telling men who have growth in their breast tissue that in order to be beautiful, they must undergo surgery. Explicitly, the caption says, “These [surgeries] literally change men’s lives.” In watching this video, men with growth in their breast tissue are inevitably going to receive the message that they are disgusting, and must go get surgery. 

In conclusion, the three videos I have analyzed here are examples of the many TikTok videos that enforce gender-based stereotypes and human body standards that are present in our society. This is not to say that TikTok is a problematic platform that should not exist; rather, this suggests that we as a society should critically examine the role that social media plays in perpetuating harmful gender-based stereotypes and expectations on a day-to-day basis.

Writing for Feministing | www.feministing.com