Evolving Beauty Ideals, Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Finding Self Acceptance

I feel fortunate that I was born in the 80s and raised in the 90s. While everyone thinks of their era as the “golden era”, I genuinely think this was one of the best times to be growing up – in between the second wave of feminism and the digital revolution I experienced an empowering upbringing where the world was literally at my fingertips. Questionable fashion choices aside, it was a great time to be growing up as a girl! I could be anything I wanted and I had unparalleled access to the information to get me there. 

I don’t think it’s any surprise I ended up in digital and become a fashion blogger. Growing up with a pre-Windows PCs, dial-up Internet, forums and MSN Messenger, this generation was the first to experience communication without any boundaries and the beginning of media democratisation. I remember joining a couple of forums as a teen and discovering kindred spirits across the globe to discuss everything from niche makeup trends to Justin Timberlake. Books became less important as a source of research or inspiration as I had the whole world at my fingertips, instantly. 

I have a real soft spot for the 90s and it’s funny looking back and seeing how far things have evolved in the past 20 years. The 90s is a huge reference point for the fashion world currently, I really enjoy seeing how everything from streetwear and slip dresses to crop tops and chokers are being reinterpreted by today’s designers. This is the first real fashion era where I can instantly recognise trends from the first time around but despite this, it still feels fresh. It’s an evolution of the looks I grew up with. 

While fashion may currently be recycling trends, today’s beauty ideals couldn’t be any more different to the 90s. Naturally, the meteoric rise of Kate Moss meant the waif-like look was one of the defining looks of the decade, but I actually feel like it was fairly diverse; Pamela Anderson is another icon of the 90s and she couldn’t look any more different to Kate! With icons of the era ranging from Liv Tyler and Drew Barrymore to Aaliyah and Brandy, it was a fairly diverse decade. 

Across music, movie, TV and magazines, the one common thread I remember is seeing natural, accessible beauty. Sure, the super-waif Kate Moss aesthetic and the ultra-buxom Pamela Anderson look were unrealistic for most, they were two opposing ends of the spectrum. And yes, Pam had gone under the knife but it wasn’t the norm for the majority of celebrities back then. Beauty was more understated and makeup tended to be pared back – Gwen Stefani and Aaliayh would rock a bold lip but on the whole, the 90s was an era of minimalism and the natural look. I didn’t wear much more than a slick of mascara and lipgloss til I went to university. 

Fast-forward to today and beauty ideals couldn’t be more maximalist. A quick scroll through Explore on Instagram shows me that more is more, from the ‘Instagram brow’ with accompanying 7 eyeshadow’s blended to perfection to waist-trained, potentially enhanced butts. While I prefer to credit the likes of Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez for making a pert posterior covetable, it’s obviously the Kardashians who have championed the dangerous, cartoon-like proportions which are influencing young women today. From suffocating with waist trainers and trying “detox teas” to going under the knife, I’m finding that I’m getting increasingly concerned with how far women are being pushed to fit into a a very narrow view of “perfection”. Why aren’t our bodies celebrated instead of being told we’re not good enough? 

Looking back over the decades, women’s beauty standards are constantly in flux. From the lean, athletic look of the 80s to the waifish 90s to the Victoria’s Secret bombshell look of the 2000s, the “perfect female form” is a constantly yo-yo-ing concept which is a totally unrealistic long term. flexing between slim to curvey to slim as each decade passes means that inevitably we will never feel beautiful in our bodies. 

I’ll use myself as an example, I have a naturally small build and high metabolism so I’ve always been slim without really needing exercise or watch what I eat. This was fine in the 90s but as the zeitgeist moved towards a curvier aesthetic I felt a little alienated and self-conscious about my lack of curves. I say “a little”, I’ve probably wasted weeks of my life feeling down about it rather than celebrating the things that I love about myself. Isn’t that crazy? 

I’m far from the only case though. Hands up if you’ve ever felt personally victimised by society’s unrealistic beauty standards?! For women especially, the media and society are geared up to feed on our insecurities and make us feel like we’re not good enough. You just have to walk past any newspaper stand and glance at the magazines either pitting one woman against another or pointing out “flaws” while someone is just trying to chill on a beach. 

These days, feeling confident in your own skin and at peace with your body is almost a radical thought, especially in a society which profits from our insecurities. We are bombarded with a plethora of things that can be wrong with our bodies from the shape and size to body hair, stretch marks and just about anything else which is actually natural. Women more than men are shamed for their bodies in one way or another while being provided with a list of products to buy to “solve” the problem. It’s crazy. 

I’ve started accepting and loving my body rather than wishing it was something it’s not. And you know what, it’s so empowering. I’m channelling the women I grew up watching or listening to, the ones who were comfortable in their own skin and natural beauty. I’m more than channelling a little bit of Aaliyah with this look! I’m learning to love myself which is such a beautiful, rebellious thing. As Dr Gail Dines once said; “If tomorrow women woke up and decided they really liked their bodies, just think how many industries would go out of business”

Jacket – Tommy Hilfiger (similar)

Tshirt – Uniqlo x KAWS

Trousers – Missguided

Belt – Off White

Heels – Brian Atwood

Photography by Adorngirl. 

Reena Rai

Reena Rai is a 30-something London-based fashion, travel and lifestyle blogger. She has been blogging for 10 years (!), previously at fashiondaydreams.com before launching her self-titled blog.


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