They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and by that they mean that the beholder – the one who looks – is who determines whether the object of his/ her gaze can be considered as attractive.  This leaves the person being viewed decidedly at the mercy of those surrounding them. Of course, we are all both beheld and beholders, and so take turns to be the active looker and the passive looked-upon.

So where does that leave us? Well, right back at the beginning: If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder as the wise saying claims, it stands to reason that each person will interpret what is beautiful in their own way, since we are all unique, and so will have a unique way of looking and interpreting our world. What we find beautiful is totally unique to us, as we all view things differently. Some of us like yellow; some of us prefer green. No choice is superior to the other. It is just a matter of personal preference.

Or is it? We could argue, in counterpoint to the above, that for so long society has fed us a certain type of beautiful, and that force-feeding us these images has skewed beauty standards, in favour of a European ethic and ethnic.

You may already have reflected on these beauty standards; these often unwritten, but still often blatant, expectations of what people should look like to be considered beautiful. It has been a reality for a long time, but especially so in these days of mass popular print – and now electronic – media. 

Which is why a lot of us have grown up with insecurities, because the media portrayed to us what acceptable beauty was and for me, personally, it wasn’t being dark skinned and stronge-featured, with a bold forehead and distinctly sculpted mouth or nose. 

Yes beauty standards do differ from culture to culture, but we cannot deny the influence that Western culture, because of their dominance, has had on every other country. Not so long ago this dictated norm was white, blonde, and skinny, but nowadays having an hourglass body is considered ideal. Which is why we are seeing a lot of celebrities getting surgery to achieve that look as well. 

The frustration however will always be how society shames women for being anything; we shame women that do surgery and tell them to love their natural selves. Yet we also often shame women that choose to celebrate their natural selves and tell them they aren’t beautiful enough. We leave many girls – especially those who have not had positive parental influences in their lives – insecure, because invariably they are judged for being skinny, fat, tall or short – basically, not good enough; not able to just be themselves. 

Yet things like pretty privilege, thin privilege and light skin are examples of how these standards of beauty continue to thrive even today. Toxic beauty standards are toxic because they are a system that benefits people purely because they are considered attractive. Yes, a thing of beauty is a joy forever, but really, who gets to determine whether you’re beautiful or not? Everyone looks unique and has something to offer beyond what they look like to you. So learning to explore beyond the superficial will benefit us all. 

We need to stop policing women for their appearances and their bodies. Beauty is more than what someone looks like. Beauty is personality; its kindness; it’s love; and it’s very much sourced internally – as we notice when a joyful smile transforms a face. 

Let’s learn to be kinder to people, because beyond their looks, they may also have struggles they are dealing with. Choose to be beautiful to people with your actions and we will shine brighter just for being confidently ourselves. 

Tell us: Do you agree with the writer that the West/ Europe has dictated what beauty standards are for too long?