The Origin of Beauty Standards

By Katherine Tinsley


From conversations with industry professionals and learning about not only aesthetic trends, but also proper cosmetic treatments and services, one may wonder about what the origins of these beauty standards are. Not only does beauty history exist, but the beauty standard differs from different parts of the world. From contouring your face to achieve the illusion of high cheekbones to lasering off baby hair, this is a full analysis of the history of aesthetic trends.


Reconstructive surgery:

When thinking about reconstructive and plastic surgery, one might not realize that its history can be dated as far back as 800 BC in India. One of the most common plastic surgery procedures is a breast augmentation. In 1895, the earliest account of a breast augmentation occurred from taking back tissue and transplanting it into the breast. Shortly after in 1899, the first implants were made using ingredients such as paraffin, beeswax, and oil. However, plastic surgery would not begin to take its current status until World War I. During the war, Armenian American Oral Surgeon, Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian, volunteered to join the Harvard Medical Corp. While treating injuries to body parts such as the nose, jaw, cheeks, and skull, the doctor became the Godfather of modern Plastic Surgery through his groundbreaking reconstructive work done on soldiers. After the first World War, formal training in the field began and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons was formed. Plastic surgery done at this point was targeted towards mending severe injuries from car accidents or fires. During World War II, nine plastic surgery medical centers were built within the United States to specialize in the facial trauma healing caused by injuries from the war. Though plastic surgery can be dated back to 800 BC, elective procedures didn’t become mainstream until the 1970s and 80s, where it was used to preserve the looks of the rich and famous. Prior to the current acceptance around elective procedures, it was often joked about how celebs and people in the public eye would go on “vacation,” which was code for going under the knife. Today, elective procedures have gained popularity amongst a diversity of ages and class groups, and has become normalized due to influence from social media and the internet.


Makeup

Makeup has been used to enhance beauty for centuries. In Ancient Persia (now known as Iran), Kohl was used in powder form to darken the edges of the eyelid similar to how one might apply eyeliner. In Japan, Geishas wore lipstick made from safflower on their brows, eyes, and lips. During the European Middle Ages, women who worked in agriculture spent more time in the sun which darkened their skin, so in order to obtain the status associated with pale skin, working class women wore whitening powder. Though cosmetics have a long history dating back to the Egyptians and pre-Roman empire, cosmetics as we know it today didn’t come into fruition until 1910. Colored makeup was brought to France by the Russian ballet and cosmetics slowly became socially acceptable. After cosmetics became acceptable for the literate class, products such as rouge, eyeliner, and eyebrow shading became popular. Hollywood in the roaring 20s had a huge influence on cosmetics; in fact, many of the makeup brands favored by celebrities are still around today, such as Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden.


The Beauty Standard

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but many beauty standards are influenced by class, colonialism, and cultural influences. Even within the United States, the “universal” beauty standards differ for various communities within the country. The American Beauty or All American Girl actually isn’t that reflective of the country’s diversity and multiculturalism. The American Beauty is traditionally slender with blonde hair and blue eyes.


In various countries the beauty standard is influenced by the desire to appear as a member of the upper class. When discussing colorism within the United States, it is rooted in the history of slavery. However, in other parts of the world, colorism existed prior to European invasion. In India and China for example, fair skin symbolized being part of the upper class. Having fair skin is associated with not having to work in the fields or outdoors and being able to have free time. Though the association with fair skin and wealth is somewhat dated, the effects of it still exist today. In fact, some of the first beauty products and treatments were created in order to give the illusion of fair, and in some cases, pale skin. Today, Instagram and the rise of the influencer culture has reinvented the beauty standard to be bold and more inclusive of a variety of features and body types.




Katherine Tinsley is an editorial intern who specializes in building the bridge between the industry and culture, self care, and fostering difficult conversations.

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