Home Society & Culture Changing Beauty Standards Over the Decades and the Impact on Mental Health

Changing Beauty Standards Over the Decades and the Impact on Mental Health

Published: Last updated:
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since 2010, there has been an evolving perception of the consequences of expectations of beauty. Social media, especially Image sharing platforms such as Instagram, have promoted mental health issues for young and old alike. The expectations we place of people to aspire to set standards became more pronounced because everyone was sharing an ideal version of themselves online and leaving their true selves feeling bruised. 

For centuries, people have idolised beauty and demanded set body shapes while damning imperfections. Here we explore how these beauty standards have changed over time and why this new awareness of the damage media and social media has been long-awaited.

An attitude born thousands of years ago

For Egyptians, the pressure was slim with a high waist and slender shoulders. Beauty of the face was determined by the symmetry of facial features, which was often exaggerated with makeup. Hair was expected to be long and loose braid or flowing freely.

Yet, in Ancient Greece, it was the fashion to be plumper, as it was a sign that you had wealth. If you look at the statues of a Greek goddess, soft curves, delicate facial features, and a light skin were all prized.

A period of Renaissance and then piety

The fashions for beauty very much mirrored the ideals of society. It is no surprise that the Italian Renaissance celebrated a rounder, a broader figure like the ancients. A rounded stomach was celebrated, as was light skin and high foreheads. If you didn’t have a high forehead, you probably plucked back your hairline.

In contrast, the Victorians over in England commended respectability and restraint. Therefore, pulled in waists, pale faces and a general air of delicacy was viewed as beautiful. Women felt the pressure to be thin and toned and to pin up long hair to avoid a sense of being provocative to males.

Media influence begins to kick in

In the 1920s, the first icons hit the mainstream and influenced the beauty ideal. Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Jean Harlow, Mae West, Greta Garbo and Vilma Banksy became pin-ups. While there was an abandonment of the traditional ideas of femininity with boyish looks, there was still a pressure to appear slender, healthy, and youthful that was difficult for some to aspire to.

This media-based pressure increased in the age of Hollywood when stars such as Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn represented beauty to the masses. The hourglass figure was more popular, though there was an expectation that you had a slim waist and toned arms and legs. 

The ‘freedom’ of the 1960s

It is easy to believe that the 1960s offered women the opportunity to opt-out of the pressures of beauty expectations. However, there were two female beauty standards: the hippy and the swinging woman. While this represents a huge variety in fashion choices, there was an expectation that you were willowy, thin, long legs and youthful. Women such as Twiggy and Ursula Andres lead as the icons of the time.

The time when weight became an issue

The 1980s and 1990s were notable because an obsession with exercise gave way to an unhealthy desire to be as slim as possible. Here the media played a massive part in shaping mindsets, as we saw the beginning of the age of the supermodel with Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, followed by Kate Moss and Tyra Banks. While understanding body image and its damaging effects started to rise in people’s minds, the pressure for perfection was high. As we entered the 2000s, the risk of being body-shamed was significant, and eating disorders were prevalent.


It is refreshing today to hear the pushback on beauty standards that can damage a person’s self-worth. There is much work still to be done, but attitudes are shifting. 

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.


© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd