Evolution of Beauty Standards

A counter-archive exploring the evolution of beauty standards throughout history.

Subject to a culture industry where behavior and ideology are commodified into a “formal freedom” (Adorno, 370), mass media forces women to conform to an ideal beauty standard. Manovich highlights that “the most mortal of sins is to be an outsider” (Adorno, 371) within a society of conformist consumer. Our archive demonstrates the ways in which media dictates female body pedagogy through advertisements and images. Our project demonstrates media’s influence over individual agency, and its role in using “psycho-technology” (Adorno, 381) as a means of manipulation.

Media’s role in fabricating female body pedagogies has, for the most part, favored the thin, tall and white skinned. Whether it be runway or magazine advertisements, the public is rarely confronted with a body type that does not conform to those qualities. When considering what society deems ‘beautiful,' it is necessary to recognize the role media plays in establishing a beauty standard in addition to the influence this beauty standard has on female identities. In this case, we are specifically focused on photographs and the ways in which “The press photograph is a message. Considered overall this message is formed by a source of emission, a channel of transmission and a point of reception” (Barthes, 15). Our counter-archive thus presents fashion advertisements as a source of emission, mass media as a channel of transmission and consumers as a point of reception for the fabrication of female body pedagogies.  

To challenge the stagnant and outdated narrative of thin, white and young ‘beauty,' our counter-archive highlights the increased representation of fuller, colored and more mature women in media. By featuring diverse body types in media, our counter-archive demonstrates the rise of a new and inclusive discourse of beauty. Due to the fact that media dictates social norms, individual behavior and assigns identity, the variety of shapes and sizes represented in our counter-archive argues for the normalization of an inclusive beauty standard which welcomes diversity. For example, the representation of older women in media communicates to consumers that the process of aging can also be beautiful and that a woman is not only beautiful in her 20’s when her body is undeniably young and vibrant. This, in turn, externalizes new discourse of beauty and transforms the outdated ‘universal’ beauty standard. Our counter-archive thus argues that with increased representation of varying female bodies in media, society’s definition of beauty is transforming. With this, it is necessary to recognize the spillover effects of inclusive representation on varying female identities. Rather than being ashamed or feeling excluded for not conforming or belonging to the ‘thin, white and young’ qualities of ‘beauty’, revolutionized body pedagogies are normalizing the beauty in diversity. This in turn allows for and encourages women to feel more comfortable in their bodies, and to accept and embrace their identities.


Ali, Phoebe, Sabine, Lea