What are the social-community expectations of appearance?

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“First, what are the social-community expectations of appearance?


Brene Brown:

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From a societal level, appearance includes everything from hair, skin, makeup, weight, clothing, shoes and nails to attitude, confidence, age and wealth.

If you pile on community-specific expectations, you might have to add things like hair texture, hair length, skin color, face and body hair, teeth, looking “done-up,” not looking “done-up,” clothing and jewelry.

Why do appearance expectations exist?

I would say they exist to keep us spending our valuable resources—money, time and energy—on trying to meet some ideal that is not achievable.

Think about this: Americans spend more each year on beauty than we do on education.

How does it work? I think the expectations are both obvious and subtle—they are everything we see and everything we don’t see.

If you read fashion magazines or watch TV, you know what you are “supposed to” look like and how you are “supposed to” dress and act.

If you look hard enough, you also see everything that’s missing—the images of real people.

If you combine what’s there and what’s missing, you quickly come to believe that if you don’t look a certain way, you become invisible; you don’t matter.

What is the impact of these expectations? Well, let’s see. . . .

• About eighty million Americans are obese.

• Approximately seven million girls and women suffer from an eating disorder.

• Up to nineteen percent of college-aged women are bulimic.

• Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among females.

• The latest surveys show very young girls are going on diets because they think they are fat and unattractive. In one American survey, eighty-one percent of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once.

• A research survey found that the single largest group of high-school students considering or attempting suicide are girls who feel they are overweight.

• Twenty-five years ago, top models and beauty queens weighed only eight percent less than the average woman; now they weigh twenty-three percent less.

The current media ideal for women is achievable by less than five percent of the female population—and that’s just in terms of weight and size.

• Among women over eighteen looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least eighty percent are unhappy with what they see.

Many will not even be seeing an accurate reflection.

Most of us have heard that people with anorexia see themselves as larger than they really are, but some recent research indicates that this kind of distorted body image is by no means confined to those suffering from eating disorders—in some studies up to eighty percent of women overestimated their size.

Increasing numbers of women with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.

• According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, since 1997, there has been a 465 percent increase in the total number of cosmetic procedures.

• Women had nearly 10.7 million cosmetic procedures, ninety percent of the total. The number of cosmetic procedures for women has increased forty-nine percent since 2003.

• The top five surgical procedures for women were: liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, tummy tuck and facelift.

• Americans spent just under $12.5 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2004.”
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