Beauty — How Wealth Creates The Standard

Author Naomi Wolf once famously stated that “beauty as an objective and universal entity does not exist.” This?video from BuzzFeed?highlights changes in?ideal body types and standards of beauty?over the last 3,000 years.

How often do we question why what society sees as beautiful becomes the standard accepted by everyone within a particular culture? In the U.S. at the current point in history, beauty is most typically defined as?thin, tall, and white. How did that become the standard, though, and how do our values relate to and create that standard?

This can be?easily explained when one considers how wealth creates a beauty ideal. Although “tall” may be related to genetic luck, being white and thin?and adhering to the standards of beauty maintenance reflect a value placed on wealth.

For instance, much has been discussed regarding the cost of eating healthy. Unhealthy foods are the cheapest, as Jamelle Bouie found when researching the topic for The Prospect in 2010. Bouie wrote that

“To tackle obesity, we have to change the calculus for poor and working-class families. Healthy food needs to be more affordable, and unhealthy food — hamburgers, processed snacks, etc. — needs to reflect its true cost. Fixing a meal needs to be cheaper than buying a hamburger for the country to make any headway in the fight against poor health.”

At one time, being wealthy meant being heavier. Those who could afford to eat well did, and those who couldn’t were thin and existed outside what was considered beautiful. Healthy foods today are more expensive and the weight loss industry is raking in over $20 billion a year. The standard of beauty and how it relates to wealth?goes much further than money spent on food and diet aids, however.

According to In Style Magazine, the average woman spends approximately $15,000 in a lifetime on cosmetics. Acceptable beauty standards also require women to spend inordinate amounts of time and money at beauty salons on waxing, haircuts, and coloring. Add in money spent on cosmetic surgery, skin care products, perfumes, fitness centers and exercise equipment, and fashion…how does a low-income woman ever hope to meet this standard?

Money is not the only requirement, either. The average woman, according to the Daily Mail, spends three hours and seventeen minutes per week just applying makeup.?Imagine a low-income woman with a full-time job as well as full-time childcare responsibilities. When does that woman have more than three hours of free time to spend on nothing else but applying makeup?

When the cost of maintaining beauty is added in with the time required, as well as the fact that women of color disproportionately live in poverty,?it’s easy to see how current beauty standards require women to be thin and white, but most of all, wealthy.