A Sociologist’s Eye upon Beauty in Buenos Aires
I would definitely state that I live in a wealthy bubble over here, but at least I am aware of it. This because of I go to a private university, and so I am surrounded by the rich kids of Argentina. The exchange students are mostly from Western European countries, or from wealthy South American families. The neighborhood that I live in is one of the richer ones. Nonetheless, my subjects at school are about the culture, poverty and the issues of the country. Also, I can see the poverty happening in public places daily. The differences between the rich and poor are huge.
To understand the current situation, a bit of background information is necessary. Because Argentina once used to be rich, the promised land. Immigrants from mostly Spain and Italy entered the city of Buenos Aires in the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. In the beginning I was surprised by how many white people there were here, and how less indigenous looking or any other diversity. Between 1860 and 1930 there was a huge economic growth, and until 1962 the GDP of Argentina was higher than Italy, Japan, Austria and its colonizer Spain. IMF, World Bank and the United Nations all have a different order of highest GDP countries, but in 2018 Argentina used to be somewhere around the 55th place.
When walking around the streets of Buenos Aires nowadays it can be hard to image this flourishing wealth. The streets are broken and buildings not to well-maintained, but the poverty can mostly be seen in the endless amount of homeless people sleeping on the streets and in ATM spots, people with self-developed jobs like salesmen who try to sell you napkins, UNO-games or colorful pens in the subways. Next to the main train station Retiro there is a neighborhood where police and taxi-drivers don’t go because of its unsafety. One of the last remnants of wealthy period in history can be seen in some neighborhoods that resemble rich Parisian neighborhoods, with high buildings resembling Hausmanns’ design.
The cause for this poverty is mainly due to a chronic inflation in the 1980s during the dictature. Again in 2001 a big financial crisis broke out. Argentina was on a loan inflation rose and the government tried to keep everything ‘in toom’. They thought to have found a solution by just freezing the peoples bank accounts. Of course, this was a very bad idea, the people got mad, big demonstrations broke out in which people broke into the banks to fight for their rights and their money. Upon until today people don’t have any trust in their currency and would rather exchange it for dollars.
Let’s get to the theme of this issue of the SOMO. Beauty, poverty and Argentina are definitely intertwined. As you might know, beauty culture is big allover Latin America. With my sociological eyes upon the streets, I can definitely see this in everyday life. Most of the women are quite thin, have died hair and perfect nails. Sadly, I heard that Argentina is the second country in the world with the most cases of bulimia and anorexia. If you walk in the richer barrios of Buenos Aires (where I honestly spend most of my time since the lesser rich barrios are not that safe), you will see hairdressers and beauty salons everywhere. Since Buenos Aires is a city where the streets are easily divided into blocks, it’s really easily to navigate yourself in it. Each block is around 2 to 3 minutes walking. In some of these blocks you can find 3 beauty salons in a row. What was surprising to me was that in those places there can be a hairdresser, a person who waxes your body parts and a manicure/pedicure all in one.
What surprised me even more were the prices. In Buenos Aires you can get your hair cut at almost every place for between 300 and 500 pesos. Those amounts currently (since there is a huge inflation) equal 5 to 7,80 euro. In the Netherlands you can get 1/4th haircut for that price. Also waxing is super cheap, waxing your full legs won’t be more than 5 euro. In the Netherlands I wouldn’t even think of waxing regarding the prices and my student loan. I got curious and wanted to know what the prices are in the Netherlands, but these are at least 10 times as much when I googled.
While reading this you might think ‘yes, but it is Latin America, that’s why it is so cheap’.
Yes and no. For example, going out for diner is way cheaper than anywhere in Northern Europe. But groceries are pretty expensive over here in Buenos Aires, they equal the Dutch supermarket prices. Electronics and big imported brands such as Nike are even more expensive than in the Netherlands. This is because of Argentina wants to protect her economy and has high import taxes. A lot of chain stores such as H&M and the brand Apple aren’t even available in Argentina. While debating the beauty topic with a cultural professor from here, she told me that labor in general is quite cheap in Argentina.
So, in summary, some things are cheaper, some things are comparable in price, and some things are more expensive. But those prices tell us a lot about the market and therefore about the culture in the country.
Because of the prices of the beauty treatments and the fact that a lot of women (and man as well!) look like they have spent some time in one of the beauty salons I realize I think way more often about getting a new haircut or getting my nails done. Partially this is a kind of social pressure from society in Buenos Aires, partially I want to experience the Argentinian beauty culture and partially I just fall easily for the cheap prices.
I definitely feel there is more of a ‘feminine beauty standard’ over here compared to the Netherlands. When going into certain clubs it’s better to wear as less clothes as possible (also some of the real fancy clubs) and I heard stories about girls not getting into certain clubs because of being too fat/too small/not beautiful.
I think because of this beauty standard women are constantly reshaping themselves: their bodies in the gyms, their hair and nails in the beauty salons.
Of course, this beauty is way more accessible for the rich than for the poor, but wat really surprised me was that the people who live on the street look quite catered as well. Often the cartoneros (people who dive into the dustbins in order to find carbon to sell it to the government, this is a self-created job without any contract) wear clothing from big sports brands and often their hair looks like they went to the hairdressers just the day before.
Compared to the Netherlands, I think I can conclude beauty is bigger and more accessible in Buenos Aires.
Poem by Anne van Wieringen
I keep bowing
to this device of mine
broken hearted by your
running and chasing
dreams that were never mine
given to me by accident
not made for off-line
square as the moon
not going anywhere
sticking like glue
onto your wall
when all you try
is just not to fall
towards the moon
away from the sun
in this broken cocoon
falling and rising
just like the night
swallowing this square
bite by bite
The Filter Bubble
I used to feel envious while looking at my Instagram feed. The flood of posts from people I followed was never-e. Whether they were friends, acquaintances or celebrities, I felt jealous and self-conscious. They all went to the best parties, the most beautiful resorts and clubs, but most of all – they all looked better than me.
I was stuck in a bubble of forged perfection.
The world of Instagram I inhabited didn’t know any flaws. No crooked teeth, pimples, (unwanted) body hair, love handles or stretch marks. Every girl had the most amazing figure and knew exactly how to pose and what to wear. Of course, they all had the boyfriend everybody wanted. This is how I grew up with the idea that you need to be perfect in order for other people to like you.
Every day, I watched people on Instagram and compared myself to them. I spent hours thinking about how my nose was too big, my skin too ugly, my butt too small and my tits practically non-existent. I was thirteen at the time. Of course I didn’t look like any of the Instagram models, and I definitely wasn’t thinking about the help they were getting from their best friends: Good Angles, Adobe Photoshop and Plastic Surgery . Even after realizing this I still didn’t stop comparing myself to others on social media. All I saw were girls better looking than me. All I wanted was to be like them.
This is an interesting dynamic that has been verified by Kleemans, Daalmans, Carbaat & Anschüts (2017). In their research they suggest that girls, especially those with higher social comparison tendencies, were negatively affected in their body image by manipulated (photoshopped) pictures. The participants rated the manipulated pictures more positively than the original ones, even after noticing the filters. Adjustments made to the bodies were not noticed very well, since the participants reported the pictures to be realistic. That is where it goes wrong. With the technology of today, with regard to both surgery and photoshop technologies, we don’t know what to believe anymore. Even make-up can get you a long way in looking nothing like yourself.
Of course I realize feeling this way is completely normal for a teenager. Everyone experiences insecurity during their adolescent years. However, the way social media works could be enhancing and even extending this process immensely. I blame the filter bubble.
Once you start following the typical Instagram model, social media apps keep recommending you more of the same. This becomes your filter. Eventually, you’re stuck in this eternal loop of the same perfect people with the same perfect appearance.
I say: pop your filter bubble. If you feel like your social media behavior is affecting your sense of self, hit that unfollow button. Start following people who inspire you, make you laugh and motivate you to be good to yourself, instead of bringing ing yourself down. This is what I did, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Mirror, Mirror On The Web
Karina Scarlet de Vries
Women must labour to be beautiful. – W.B Yeats
Did you ever get the chance to lose yourself in the movement of your torso? To be able to experience the liberation of your fluid and flexible limbs; to expand your body; to be fearless enough to stop — to disconnect? The social position of a woman does not permit this. Although the radical change in less than one hundred years has transformed the living conditions of women, their lives are (still) restrained in an invisible corset — demanding them to follow the structure that has been forced upon them. The everyday performance of a woman takes place in a ballet studio where the mirrors represent the observers. We are all programmed to observe, we are trained in controlling the woman’s movement; nothing stays unseen. She must labour for her persona, she must outshine other women with her very own femininity; she must fit into her role. Mirror, mirror in my hand, who’s the fairest in the land?
The beauty myth – an obsession with physical perfection – that has been haunting women since decades, is now transforming into an increasingly multifaceted obstacle. Everyday use of the internet has opened the doors for interaction with people all over the world, and the worrying thing is: the internet algorithms show us only the prettiest of the prettiest; the funniest of funniest; the most remarkable of the most remarkable. We are the cast of a never-ending human exhibition — we are the product of our digital life. Where the mirrors were once situated in a ballet studio, they are now smashed into minuscule reflective crystals and placed inside a kaleidoscope. The smallest movement causes motion; the smallest motion causes assessment. The judgment that a woman is often obligated to deal with is based on her ‘deep’ nature and/or biology. We cannot forget the important piece of evidence that femininity is socially constructed. Hence de Beauvoir’s statement in The Second Sex that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
Becoming a woman is not as easy as applying an online filter prior to posting a selfie. A filter requires a single click on your device in order to make a portrait more appealing — becoming an appealing woman takes a lot more than that. According to Fausto-Sterling, the embedded structure in our society exists out of a two-sex system: since her birth, the woman is forced into her proclaimed role of the second sex. The fairytale Snow White demonstrates how young women are restrained within (our) sexist society. A short recap of Snow White: each morning the Evil Queen presents herself in front of her golden mirror, and every morning the mirror replies: “My Queen, you are the fairest in the land!” The recognition of her beauty meets the requirements of an addiction: she needs her daily dose of dopamine. She is hypnotized by her reflection in the mirror, studying her own skin. And then on a day like any other, when the sun just had risen over the horizon, the Evil Queen routinely presents herself in the mirror, she asks for her daily dose and the mirror replies: “My Queen, you are the fairest here so true… But Snow White is a thousand times more beautiful than you.” The Evil Queen gets sick: filled up with jealousy; filled up with hatred; she had lost her mind.
Why is Evil Queen’s story remarkable? As the kaleidoscope rotates, the access to the internet has turned our environment into a more pressurized one: comparison and competition might be the number one killer of self-confidence. Women are trapped in an endless cycle of hopelessness as they try to fulfill society’s impossible definition of flawless beauty. As writer and feminist Naomi Wolf, who has become a leading spokesperson of third wave feminism, explains in her book The Beauty Myth: “Beauty is a currency system like the gold standard. Like any economy — it is determined by politics, and in the modern age in the west, it is the last best belief system that keeps male dominance intact. Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that women will buy more things if they are kept in self-hating, every-failing and sexually insecure state of being aspiring beauties” (my emphasis). The multifaceted quality of on- and offline environments is demanding a great deal of women. Beauty is destroying women physically and depleting them psychologically. Studies from the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Health Movement have shown that for kids, teens and adults in their early twenties who use Facebook or Instagram only for short periods of time daily, body image concerns are higher compared to non-users. One study also demonstrated girls expressing a heightened desire to change the appearance of their face, hair and/or skin after spending time on social media. As shockingly many as nine in ten teenage girls say they are unhappy with their body. So here we are, stuck in an unhealthy overload of digital beauty. Mirror, mirror on the web, who’s got the most likes on the net?
Since a young age women are trained to control their movement, to restrain their beauty in an unhealthy corset. The potential liberation of women’s limbs now clashes with the online connection to digital beauty overload. I do feel a pity for the Evil Queen: is it really such a strange thing to be craving for your daily dose? Today’s networked exchange has locked us up inside of a kaleidoscope, its dazzling reflection fools us: it feeds us with unattainable beauty norms. It makes us craving for more. The digital life keeps us sealed in ongoing algorithms — we cannot disconnect.
The Imperfect Perfect Image – Fitness Influencers and Self-Image
Let’s take the Dutch society. Statistics have shown that over 50% of the people of the age of 20 or older is overweight (CBS, 2018). It seems that being overweight has become the norm and not the exception. Yet while looking on social media platforms, the only thing we get to see is people with abs and big biceps. This image we get represented by social media is thus not a representation of our social reality. Yet, our minds gets so diluted by seeing the same image over and over again, that we start to believe that the image being sketched is the one and only image we must be to be able to be happy about ourselves.
We don’t see the effort nor the energy these “fitness influencers” people put in to get a body like that. The only thing we see are the results. They claim that everybody can have a body like that. You just have to put in the effort and energy. I don’t claim that this isn’t true, but as I said: we don’t see the effort you need to put in to obtain results like this. Looking at these people’s Instagram or Facebook, it looks like their main occupation is training, eating, making video’s to put on their platforms and training other people. Looking at a website whit a list of top 8 fitness influencers this seems to be true. The influencers in that list are fitness coaches, fitness cookbook writers, body builders, fitness models (Admin, 2019). Fitness influencers who earn their money through social media put in a lot of time to know what things to do to make your muscles grow faster, how to train, when to train, how much to sleep etc. etc. To sum it up: the main occupation of the life of a fitness influencer is fitness. They live and breathe it. They make money by posting their results and saying: you can do the same!
Putting the life of such an influencer in perspective with the life with many other individuals in this society and one can see the difference. Many people in this society have other main occupations. Some study, some work, some do both. Some have kids at home, some love playing music or whatever. It’s easy to say that this image of a perfect body is not obtainable for anyone. Yet, this image keeps showing up wherever they go. A perfect image that doesn’t fit into their lifestyles but still takes part creating a bad self-image of many people. A self-image from which they can make profit from. But does this mean we can neglect our bodies? Like I said earlier in this essay: more than 50% of the Dutch population is overweight! This is having a huge impact on many individuals’ health and also the whole healthcare system of the Netherlands. These influencers may be bad for our self-esteem but in my opinion they do have a point. We need to take care of ourselves, but maybe not in such extreme ways as fitness influencers portray it. But why don’t we? Are we just lazy? Or is our generation under such a big pressure to perform that we don’t have time for our own health anymore? Maybe it’s time to get some pressure off of work. For example: no longer a 40-hour workweek. It’s been proven that in a 8-hour work day, only 2 hours and 53 minutes are used productively. So why keep a not working system in tact (Curtin, 2016)? Working less, being more productive and creating some more spare time to actually think of our bodies. We should be promoting a healthy lifestyle. Not only by influencers, but by our whole society. Maybe it’s time for our government to intervene? Even when rationalizing in numbers it would still benefit the government to invest in getting their people healthy. People who are getting sick or dying at a young age is really bad for the government’s wallet. Why not create a healthy environment for the people living in this society so they can obtain even more from our wallets?
The conclusion of this article is first: that fitness influencers are creating an image of the perfect body through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The image that is being sketched is not representable with the reality of our society. Over 50% of the of 20 years or older is overweight (CBS, 2018), yet the repetitive image represented by social media make us believe that the image that is being sketched is the one and only image we must be to be able to be happy about ourselves. Second: we don’t see the effort the influencers are putting into getting such a perfect body. This takes a lot of time, dedication and knowledge. They make their living from being a fitness influencer, they live and breathe fitness in contradiction with a lot of people who have a 9 to 5 job, study and/or have other hobbies to attend to. Again, the image that is being sketched doesn’t fit anyone’s lifestyle but still takes part in creating a bad self-image for many people. A self-image which the influencers can make profit. Last: I want to stress that the influencers are more aneffect and not the cause of the society we live in. Our generation is under a lot of pressure to perform that being busy with health seems to be off the agenda for a lot of people. My opinion is that society should intervein on a political level to create a healthier lifestyle for the people living in our society. A suggestion for such an intervention is to higher the taxes on fast food and foods with lots of sugar in them, while lowering the taxes on healthier foods so it would be more attractive for people to make healthier food choices.
‘It’s complicated’: The Relationship between Social Media and Beauty
“Beauty is a human right.” This sentence from the ‘Zomergasten’ interview with essayist, writer and researcher Maxim Februari continued to reverberate in my head long after its broadcast. It got me contemplating. I agreed with the statement, but also quickly wondered: if beauty is human right, then what is beauty exactly? And when do we as a society deem something, or someone, as “beautiful”?
If you were to ask a random person on the street to name a beautiful person, there is a big chance that you would get the answer: Kim Kardashian. In 2014, the American reality star posted nude pictures of herself on Instagram, waxed up and radiating in a black, tightfitting latex outfit, whilst balancing a champagne glass on her ‘most famous assets’. The caption left no doubt about her intentions: ‘Break the internet.’ And she succeeded. To say these pictures stirred quite some contention, would be an understatement. Some people heavily criticized the 34-year old star, for setting a bad example for young girls by – quite literally – ‘sticking a for them unattainable beauty standard in their faces’. Others applauded Kardashian for her actions, which they branded as ‘a bold move of a woman who celebrates her body’. Though, next to wondering if balancing champagne glasses on your ass would become the next #challenge, the other question that popped up in my head was: how do social media have an impact on our ideas of beauty?
Kim Kardashian’s stunt is a good example of how beauty nowadays is presented to us; fast and in a personalised form. Meaning: before the existence of internet and social media, notions on what was deemed beautiful were spread out by institutionalized – often nationally based – media, such as highly regarded beauty magazines, radio and television. But nowadays, everyone with a smartphone can share their own views on beauty directly with the world. It is because of this new, more personalised form of communication, that scholar Clay Shirky has marked the surge of social media as the ‘revolution of the people’. First, he argues, the surge of internet and subsequently social media, have provided minority groups and dissident movements with the power to create their own frames, opposed to the ones created by the status quo. And secondly, because of the speed and accessibility of social media, dissident movements have now gained tools to organise themselves and gain new following in more efficient ways than ever before. To clarify these notions further, let’s take a quick look at an example of such a dissident movement, which inherently claims beauty to be a multifaceted concept: the LGBTQ+ movement
‘True beauty is about looking like yourself’. This is one of the many activist statements found on the Instagram of Alok Vaid-Menon. Here, Alok presents themselves (their/they/them is Alok’s preferred pronoun) as a non-binary transfeminine writer, activist and performer. With their 261.000 followers, Alok can be seen as prominent and remarkable person on social media within the LGBTQ+ movement. With artistic images and poetic texts, Alok uses the platform to challenge the cis-hetero patriarchy’s beauty standards. Connecting back to Shirky, it could be stated that social media enables Alok as an individual to send out their own frames about what beauty is into the world. In addition to individuals like Alok, there are also more institutionalized accounts for LGBTQ+ people to be found on social media. For example, journalistic platform the ‘Gay Times’, which aims to ‘amplify the queer voice’. Or closer to home, the account ‘Queer Rotterdam’, which brings queer people in Rotterdam together by organising events. Together, these different accounts illustrate how social media help the LGBTQ+ movement to connect queer people everywhere and organise the movement further, like Shirky pointed out. An interesting side-note to make here, is that social media have also made the debate about beauty standards more of a global affair. Continuing on that notion, a research was once conducted on the attractiveness of Kim K. and concluded that one of the reasons she is deemed so beautiful by so many people, is because her appearance (body shape, shape of her face and colour of skin to name a few) congregates with a lot of different cultural beauty standards around the world. These conclusions make one wonder if social media then, instead of empower minority groups, might actually help reinforce a one-dimensional globalized idea of beauty.
This turns us to the work of critics of social media, such as famous scholar Malcolm Gladwell, who has argued that although social media might indeed grant individuals and minority groups more access power into the public debate, that does not automatically implicate that their wielding power is even to those of groups already in power. On the subject of beauty you could translate this to: it’s still the influencers who post nude pictures of their perfectly shaped behinds who have the most followers and are able to ‘break the internet’ like Kim Kardashian, who has astonishing amount of 148 million followers (!). Following this line of reasoning, social media then actually amplify already existing inequalities rather than diversify the concept of beauty.
So, how then do social media have an impact on our ideas of beauty? Naturally, the answer to this question can only be: it’s complicated (welcome to social science first years!). On the one hand, social media provide minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ movement with a platform, making it more visible as a group in society. In addition, social media enable minority groups to organise further and spread their own ideas on beauty into the world. On other hand, the activist powers of social media should not be overestimated. It is no magic tool which dissolves inequalities in society, in this case strikingly illustrated by the fact that Kim K. has exactly 147.739.0000 more followers than Alok.
Though, I would like to conclude that, with social media, people nowadays have more access to different kinds of expressions of beauty than ever before. You can decide who follow. And thereby, you can decide who influences your perspective on a matter like beauty. So, follow wisely, and look for beauty in accounts that resonate with you. For it is your human right, to behold it.