3 Easy Ways To Challenge Impossible Beauty Standards (That Make You Feel Bad)

Photo: Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
redefine body image beauty ideals

Over the last four decades, women have questioned many traditional concepts about gender roles and the stereotype of what a "good woman" should be.

This generation has more choice and power than any generation before, yet the unrealistic ideals of beauty and the standards for the "perfect" body in our culture have not been challenged.

Women internalize them and spend a lot of time and energy trying to reach these ideals, even though less than four percent of the population could ever attain them.

This leaves many women with low self-esteem, feeling like they don’t measure up and like they are not enough.

Throughout my career as a psychologist, I have conducted research on body image and beauty, developed programs to help adolescent and adult females develop positive body/self-image, and treated individuals to overcome body shame and dissatisfaction. 

And it makes me sad to see how little has changed.

I once asked a group of women in a workshop I was leading to find a place in the room where a part of their body or their whole body did not fit. Each found a place to put a part of their body (arm in between bookshelves, a body under a desk that was too small for them, legs between furniture where the space was too narrow).

After a few minutes, some of the women said, “This hurts”, “My back is hurting trying to fit under the desk”, or “My arm is burning trying to fit in between these bookshelves.”

I replied, “Exactly! It hurts to try to fit your body or self where it does not fit.”

Trying to be a size you can never be, trying to be someone you aren’t, in order to please another person hurts your body, your mind, your spirit and your self-esteem.

It can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and even despair.

The time for change is now!


Here are a few ideas for how you can do that:

1. Include your unique appearance in the definition of what is considered beautiful.

2. Focus on your signature strengths and engage in self-care through exercise, good nutrition, and rest and relaxation.

3. Buy fabric and colors that express who you are, instead of colors to hide the parts of your body you do not like.

4. Challenge messages in the culture such as “you must have the perfect figure to be worthy,” and “you must be a superwoman to be valued.”


By taking action to change these standards of beauty, you can be the writer of the next chapter of your life and challenge the beauty ideals.

Change is happening in the world for women, and you have the opportunity to become the first generation that defines beauty on your own terms. You can do this, because you deserve so much better!


Ann Kearney-Cooke is a psychologist in Cincinnati, Ohio, and mother of four adult children. She is a distinguished scholar at Columbia University and a New York Times bestselling author. Catch up with her on LinkedIn.