Mental Health The Designed Body: Aesthetic Canons Versus Real Beauty

The Designed Body: Aesthetic Canons Versus Real Beauty


The effort to achieve a “perfect” body can damage self-esteem. We can avoid this by remembering how subjective beauty is and claiming another look.

Despite the wish or illusion of some aesthetes, there is no universal canon of beauty. The canons with a universal vocation have clashed and will always clash with the heterogeneity of the individual differences of people and with the cultural mutations of societies. To give an example: a few decades ago, the fact that a woman measured more than 1.80 meters was perceived as a defect in our country. Currently, that same girl would be a potential runway model candidate.


Feeling that a certain body is beautiful is a subjective perception that depends on three conditioning factors: natural selection, hormonal stimulation, and cultural stereotypes.

The interaction of these three conditioning factors can lead us to perceive a person who attracts us strongly as the most beautiful and desirable in the world, although it is possible that we are left alone in this appreciation depending on which is the dominant factor in our choice.


The perception of bodily beauty depends primarily on biology; of the instinct of conservation of the species engraved by inheritance in the genes.

The social psychologist Judith Langlois, from the University of Texas, has shown that from the first months of our life we are attracted by the facial symmetry of our interlocutors.

We reject asymmetry because it can mean malnutrition, disease, or faulty genesNancy Etcoff, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard Medical School, believes that we are primarily driven by an instinctive urge to preserve good genes.

Evolutionary biology shows that extreme characteristics tend to fade in favor of averages. Birds with too long or too short wings perish more frequently in storms. Mammals that are born too small or too large are less likely to survive.

According to this scientist, we are attracted by soft and smooth skin, by shiny and strong hair, by symmetry, by the curves in female hips, by a wide back in men, because we identify them as signs of health, ” because throughout evolution those who noticed these signs and mated with their carriers had more reproductive success. And all of us are his descendants.


The second conditioning factor of the beauty detector is the sexual impulse.

The biological mandate of the reproduction of the species is materialized in hormones of different signs that, at puberty, discharge with increasing intensity into the bloodstream and stimulate the desire to copulate.


Interacting with these two impulses, the third ingredient intervenes: the cultural component, the stereotypes marked by civilization and concrete society; the canons accepted (consciously or unconsciously) by the majority and rejected in absentia by a minority. The values ​​they impose can vary enormously depending on each country, era and social group, but they are at the service of the ruling classes.

There is nothing in culture, according to social scientist Karl Polanyi, that is alien to economics, and canons of beauty are no exception. They are based on the cult of sexuality, especially on the female model, because in the capitalist system sex is perceived as a sign of power, that is, a means of access to money, influence and prosperity.

The writer Naomi Wolf denounces the media imposition of an unattainable model of woman as a weapon of domination of men over women. Surveys show that a large percentage of women are unhappy with their body image and that a small but significant percentage would be willing to take drastic measures even if it affects their health.

Sociologist Jean Baudrillard claims that capitalism has turned beauty into an important sales value. A series of industries (fashion, pharmaceuticals, surgery, gyms) have used the media to impose the entelechy of perfect bodies in order to economically exploit human beings: they have “redefined” the body as an ideal entity in the fact that people want to “invest” relentlessly motivated by their narcissism. The anthropologists believe that the man acted on his body as an object of design from the Palaeolithic; to impress your enemies and ward off your predators; to attract the opposite sex; to mark differences between equals: the lotus feet of Chinese women, the dilation of the ears of the Maasai, the waist of a wasp from the middle of the 19th century.

But under the rule of the audiovisual media, people are first and foremost their image. As Mercedes Salgado, director of the Barcelona School of Fashion Arts and Techniques, says: “New technologies acquire a hypnotic power by enhancing a sensory component of the image and anesthetizing the other senses. The body has become the center of work based on exercise, diet, makeup and cosmetic surgery. A body that must be revised, transformed, manipulated ”.


The beauty industry shows us some artificial models, which become the “natural ones”, built with diets and sacrifices, photographic retouching and scalpel. The bodies that paint us as ideals have marked sensuality and sexuality but they do not suffer, they do not feel, they do not have physiological needs, they do not smell, they do not excrete, they do not get sick and, of course, they do not age.

To get closer to the current ideal, people who are aware of their attractiveness act with what is available to them: makeup, hairdressing, tattoos, piercings, dresses and accessories, diets, creams, pills, hormones, gymnastics, sports, plastic surgery. It is the artificially intervened body, the design body.

In Spain, seven out of every thousand inhabitants resort to cosmetic surgery. In order of preference, the favorite interventions are: botox injections, liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelids, tummy tuck, and rhinoplasty.

The bodies that appear in most of the commercials and in practically all the films, belong to a minority of people molded according to the current canons of beauty. We will rarely find them in everyday life. Responding to current standards is an unattainable goal for the vast majority of real bodies, a failure that causes frustration and disappointment and directly attacks self-esteem.

How can we counter the frustrating and damaging media empire of unreal beauty? The answer is clear: teaching about the concept of beauty.

Recovering the meaning of real beauty, which is based on subjective and personal perception, on instinctive sexual attraction, but also on the attraction for the personality and qualities of being that arouses our desire to love and be loved.

Beauty is like color: it is not an intrinsic quality of objects. It is in the gaze of the perceiver and, therefore, depends on the light with which the gaze is illuminated. If we illuminate with love, beauty is guaranteed.

Let us treat our bodies as objects that deserve to be cared for and beautified, but let us not let others treat us as objects We Let’s change the “I love you because I see your beauty” for the “I see your beauty because I love you.”

MindFixes Staff
MindFixes is dedicated to promoting mental health, preventing mental disorders and advocating, educating, and serving all people with mental and substance use conditions. MindFixes is determined to persevere, learn, grow, love and laugh through our wellness journey and we invite all to join.


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