The very concept of a beauty ideal negates the value of women as people. Yet, throughout the ages and around the world, women are expected to act, be and look a certain way that fulfills a man’s desires, depending on the cultural context. In Nigeria, there are spaces that provide women a place to gain weight in order to attract a male partner. Meanwhile, restrictive eating disorders are on the rise in China, as Westernization, alongside other “socio-cultural factors that include gender roles, economic opportunities, religious values, and the cultural objectification of women,” create unrealistic expectations of not only what a woman has to look like, but who she is meant to be.
In America, the history of “ideal beauty” has fluctuated over time. Post-World War II advertisements told women to gain weight (“Men wouldn’t even look at me when I was skinny.”), and a decade later, the same advertisements convinced women to shed the pounds so they could find husbands. Written by men in male-dominated industries, regardless of what the beauty ideal was, these advertisements said one thing: be “this” or men won’t love you.