Beauty standards have existed in pretty much every culture and region across the world. The ideal physical appearance of a person most often have some really unattainable standards and unrealistic requirements for a person to be considered beautiful by majority in a society. Not only does this cause feelings of inferiority and unsatisfaction with one’s self, but also may lead to crippling effects on self-esteem.
In the pursuit of attaining the perfect beauty, science allows many to adopt a number of procedures and beauty products. Many of these may actually provide no benefit to the environment as well.
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Impacts Of Beauty Standards On Humans and Environment:
- Skin Whitening Products and Procedures: Now there are options to permanently bleach your skin white to meet the ideal pale skin standard of society. If we set aside the fact that some individuals may be peer pressured to do this just because of societal expectation, strive and collect money just to get these procedures all for vanity or feeling better about themselves- it means there is just this insane mental pressure to fit the ideal mold.
Skin products are the more common choice for ordinary people who do not have the means to afford these expensive procedures. However, these products more often than not have high levels of mercury and sometimes even lead in them which can lead to mercury or lead poisoning overtime.
Related: Impact of Heavy Metal Pollution on the Environment
The effect isn’t immediate or in the aftermath. But it shows itself in the form of various other health problems like: kidney, liver disease, nervous system disorders in old age as well as chronic pain and rashes in most cases. These problems are quite common in our society as well however, many just brush it off as part and parcel of poor diet and old age. While those two are certainly the dominant factors, it must also be considered that the products we consume and apply throughout life are also accumulating in our body and flare up later on.
Also check out: Bioaccumulation and Biomagnification of Toxic Chemicals
- Keratin Treatment: To achieve perfect, pin straight, silky smooth hair has lead to majority of people in Pakistan to get Keratin Treatment. As the chemicals used in the treatment are repeatedly washed down the drain in a process, it can lead to water, soil and land pollution. Most of the time the chemicals are persistent and difficult to biodegrade, (hence why they are used in the hair straightening process) which is why they can lead to long term underground water contamination as well. Additionally, Keratin used in these procedures are from natural sources like nails, feathers etc., however it is most dangerous for humans and the environment when it is used in combination with other added products and chemicals like Formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen. Keratin Treatment thus increases the risk of cancer in humans.
- Hair Dyes: Another popular choice is to go for lighter hair that can make one look ‘Foreign’. The desire for Eurocentric features has lead to people typically going for bleached or lighter colored hair. This is achieved by hair bleaching or hair dyes that have ammonia in them. When these dyes or bleach are washed down the drain, they end up contributing to the load of pollutants in the water ways. In addition to the various chemicals and dyeing pigments present, almost all dyes also have Ammonia. Ammonia is very harmful for the aquatic organisms once it ends up in the drains or water bodies even in very low concentrations. Thus, hair dyeing may not just lead to rashes or allergies in the scalp in some cases but also negatively impact the aquatic ecosystem.
- Botox and Fillers: Originally, Botox (Botulinum Toxin) was used as a medical treatment only but eventually it was adopted into the cosmetic industry as well. The desire to look youthful is what leads many to choose Botox.
This is done by injecting a neurotoxin drug produced by a bacteria in the facial muscles that can stop the muscles from sagging or drooping. It makes them plump and firm by temporarily paralyzing the facial muscles by blocking chemical signals to facial nerves.
Botox has many health risks too as it may not always be guaranteed to work as it should. In worst case scenario it may cause neural pathway disorders, dysphagia, muscle weakness, allergic reactions, long lasting facial asymmetry, droopiness and it could completely go wrong in many other ways. Environmentally, it is not as good either even though it may be derived naturally from a bacteria, it is also mostly made synthetically and that has lead to a huge number of GHG emissions of CO2 due to shipment costs around the world. Moreover, the cosmetic waste of syringes, needles etc. is also an important consideration for health and occupational waste hazard.
Check out: What Is Environmental Toxicology And What Are Its Branches?
- Silicone-Implants: Typically used to enhance bodily features for the desired body shape, silicone implants are the second most popular go to procedure globally. Silicone implants however, do more harm than good. Once implanted inside the body they act as a collector of all the pollutants and environmental toxins the person is exposed to. This can lead to bits of silicone to migrate around the body and cause various problems and complications. In 2022, the FDA even issued a warning realted to increased cancer risk around areas with silicone implants in the body. Moreover, the removal of these implants every 10 years further adds to the waste in the environment especially because silicone is unbiodegradable and more long lasting than plastic itself!
Also read: The Impacts of Microplastic Pollution on the Environment
Linking Beauty Standards, Human Health and Environmental Injustice:
The pressure to fit in society is felt by all, but some may feel it a bit too deeply particularly due to racism. This is especially a concern since people from marginalized communities and poor areas are more likely to go for cheap products laced with highly toxic and hazardous substances made in substandard conditions with sub standard ingredients. They may end up facing health issues sooner due to more exposure to these high potency chemicals. Additionally, due to their lifestyles and unaffordability of better products and conditions, they may just settle for anything less if it means they have one less thing to worry about in the face of discrimination.
The lack of access to resources and awareness makes them more vulnerable to cheap products marketing ploys and tactics adopted by corporations and social media trends that are actually quite bad. They are specifically targeted in order to profit off their conditions.
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The twisted concept of physical superiority of certain features over another is not only absurd and baseless as human beings yet, beauty standards are set from ancient times and history. Mostly due to colonial influence which has since been capitalized by companies for profit. This has lead to harmful impacts on the human mind, body and environmental health. Beauty standards lead to more procedures and products even to this day and age which are highly unsustainable for the environment and negatively impact both the human mind and body.
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An Environmental Science major interested in creating awareness about all things related to the environment and how we can protect it.