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  • Lily Kucera

Women’s (Unrealistic) Beauty Standards

“Ugh, I am so faaaat!,” my sister said, that irksome glottal fry resonating strongly in her voice. My sister is the reason why I can no longer stand anyone who speaks with that vexing teenage irritant in their voice. She spoke like that for three years and dropped it shortly after her first visit home from college, but that was three years too much for me. By the time she was 18 and heading off to college, I was excruciatingly close to grabbing the nearest vase and lobbing it straight at her head. 

She had been standing in front of the mirror for what felt like an hour now, poking at the miniscule amount of fat on her stomach and comparing herself to various celebrities: “Oh my God, you know Jennifer Lopez? She is just sooo fetch, and she wears the tightest tops, so I know what I’m talking about when I say she has the flattest stomach everrrr! She’s like soooo skinny. Ugh, why can’t I just look like her?!" or “You know Megan, right? No, not me silly. God, I wish. No, Megan Fox. Yeah, well, whatever, did you know she’s like, had work done or whatever? I dunno, but anyway, she has like the perfect figure...", and on and on. 

I had been sitting on her bed the whole time, taking in the appalling hot pink room decorations, a trend so eerily reminiscent of the early-2000s. I’d idolized my sister, Megan, ever since I was little, so staring down at my baggy sweatpants and itchy gray T-shirt, I began to think about something, something that has haunted women for generations. My appearance. From the moment that I could choose my clothes, my haircut, and my overall style, I went with sweatpants, a loose-fitting shirt, and long, uncut, and unkempt hair, paired with an attitude of general distaste towards fashion. Needless to say, I didn’t look great, but I had never really thought about it until this moment. My sister was beautiful. That’s what I had always thought, and my entire family always seemed to agree, with her long, bleached blonde hair, a little fried from all the straightening, but still. She always kept up with the trends, whether it was dresses over jeans, denim everything, invisible eyebrows, concealer as lip gloss, skinny scarves, or asymmetrical skirts. She was with it, and now, there she was, looking at her body in disgust. 

“Hiya sweeties, whatcha up to?,” my mother said, cracking the door open and peeking inside. 

"Hey, mommm, d’you have any tips for, like, losing weight or whateverrrrr?,” my sister asked, turning to our mother and looking her up and down. 

My mother had always been quite pretty, I thought. She was younger than most other moms; only by a couple of years, but still, and she had the most entrancing ginger hair, although my dad always called her “carrots” because of it. However, looking at her face now, I almost fell back onto the bed. She carried the most putrid gaze of shock and horror on her face. 

"Ewwww, mom, what’s wrong with your faaaace? It was just a question." "Honey, what are you talking about? Lose weight? I don’t want any of that nonsense in my house, understand? You are perfect the way you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” she said, her voice going from sympathetic to strict and back. “But mooooom, have you seen Paris Hilton? She is like soooo skinny…” “Enough,” my mother said, her voice cutting through my sister's shrill droning. “Megan, sit down next to your sister. I thought that the new generation was past this, but clearly not.”

As my mother stepped fully into the room, her face eased into a saddened, remorseful expression, and as my sister slipped down into the space next to me, she pulled up a chair, sat in front of us and a serious silence filled the room. 

“Let me tell you two a little story about when I was a girl, a bit younger than you, Megan. It was the ‘70s, and the ideal female body type was broad shoulders, small hips and long, lean legs. Now, I’ve always been a bit on the smaller side, with a bit of a thinner, flatter frame, and back then puberty hadn’t really hit yet, so it was even more accentuated than today. People used to mock me for it and call me “Meggs”, after this old cartoon. Then came the ‘80s, and the ideal body type for women shifted to a toned body with an hourglass figure, and with it a society which, again, didn’t really favor my looks, or my body. Skip ahead a decade to the ‘90s, the era of ‘heroin chic’.” Then my mother, turning to me, said, “Now, you’re probably a bit young to hear this, Olivia, but I’ll tell you two anyway; it’s important that you hear this. In the ‘90s, when Megan was born, it was trendy to be very, almost deathly, thin, with translucent skin and no curves, a look that very much idolized a common side effect of the drug heroin, hence the name. I wasn’t exactly deathly thin, per se, but suddenly my figure was celebrated and idolized. And now? Ten years later? Well, I don’t quite look the way I used to, after two kids, but again the beauty standards have changed. Now it’s cool and funky to look sporty, toned, and skinny, rather than having a sickly look.” 

I turned to my sister then, just fast enough to catch her cringing at mom’s use of “cool” and “funky” as adjectives, but somewhere in her eyes, I thought I saw a hint of a tear, before I tuned back in to my mother's little spiel. 

“… so, don’t you see? It’s impossible to keep up with the trends, with the “ideal female body type” changing so fast. Society objectifies women’s bodies and subjects them to trends that change in the blink of an eye. So remember this…” 

My mother’s inspiring speech was suddenly cut short by my grandmother barging into the room, hobbling along with her walking stick, tutting about losing something or other. “Mom,” my mother cried, “I was talking to the kids; do you mind just leaving us for a minute?” 

“Oh yes, yes, so sorry to interrupt,” my grandmother responded, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Don’t worry about me, dearies. I’ll just wait outside, since apparently I’ve got unlimited time on this earth. Let's hope I don’t die while you’re finishing up your little ch…” And just like that, my grandmother unfortunately interrupted her own rant with a long, dry fart that seemed to echo around the room, and within seconds my nose was assaulted by the most fetid, rancid smell, a smell that could only be imagined in your wildest nightmares: the smell of old lady fart. 

“Oops.” 

Luckily for my grandmother, the room burst into laughter. Unluckily, however, the incident was discussed in the presence of friends and family at the following seven annual Christmas dinners, and my mother never did get to finish her story. Although at the time I couldn’t fully grasp the years of suffering behind my mother's words, little nine-year-old me carried that lesson in my heart for the rest of my life. However, whenever I think about the memory, even now, it is always filled with the retched smell of my grandma’s fart.


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