Society's Pressure to be Perfect. | Teen Ink

Society's Pressure to be Perfect.

June 13, 2014
By giordanom BRONZE, Brewster, New York
giordanom BRONZE, Brewster, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Teenagers in our culture are constantly forced to act and feel a certain way. Society enjoys dictating how our youth should behave. The pressures placed on teens to meet a certain standard often lead to harmful outcomes. Although some pressures are only experienced by one gender and not the other, some are endured by both and it is only fair to say that both boys and girls feel the pressure of fitting into society’s norms.

For decades women have been put under the pressure of looking a certain way. This pressure, primarily begins in the adolescence- teenage years of a girl’s life. Teenage girls are expected to have perfect bodies.Thin- but curvy, tan- but not orange, beautified by make up- but not resembling a clown.

But where do these unreachable standards come from? Middle school is a rough time, bodies are changing, hormones are kicking in, and the struggle of fitting in is becoming more prominent. So when a young girl hears the photoshopped model on the cover of Vogue being called flawless it’s easy for her to then aspire to be a real life replica of the photoshop. Society spits out magazine covers plastered with teenage “idols” daily. Young girls just need to understand society’s ideal body image is unachievable.

In a study conducted on mass media it was revealed that women’s magazines had about 10.5 times as many weight loss advertisements than men’s. The struggle to be thin is not only the primary cause for eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia, but also leads to low self-esteem and severe depression.

However, girls aren’t just expected to be thin, they’re also expected to have curves attractive to men. Being 100lbs and also having decent sized breasts and round hips is a difficult combination to come by, and yet it’s just another pressure placed on girls. Which is why adolescent and teen girls will do anything from stuffing their shirts, and buying special bras that create cleavage, to strongly considering breast augmentations for when they’re older. Our culture is also rich with songs like “Baby Got Back” or “Wiggle” that promote girls having round butts by making it known that’s what guys are looking for.

As if maintaining the perfect body wasn’t hard enough our culture also forces girls in to the forever expanding world of make up. When young girls start to experiment with makeup, usually in middle school or early high school, it’s exciting! But soon the excitement fades away and the application becomes a chore. The makeup industry has developed a way of capitalizing off young girls by manipulating them into thinking they need makeup to look pretty. Teenage girls are told if their cheeks aren’t rosey enough guys won’t like them, or if they accidentally stab their eye balls with black pencils it’s okay because their eyes will finally be captivating. It starts with just a bit of mascara and soon leads to a 20 minute (sometimes longer) process of prep-ing oneself prior to leaving the house, because leaving the house without making means you really didn’t try hard enough and clearly don’t care about how you look..

It is certainly fair to say that guys do not have to worry about makeup. I will even grant you that most guys do not spend the same time on their hair and preparing ourselves to go out as girls do. We certainly do not embellish ourselves to the extent that most girls do, however, body image, is not only a pressing issue for girls, but for guys as well.

In the same way you described, society creates pressure for guys to look a certain way. Ads and posters of skinny female models are everywhere, but lets not forget the male models who accompany them. Each one of them better looking than the last. They give a nearly impossible standard for guys: tall, tan, washboard abs, big buff chests, big arms, not an ounce of fat on his body… The perfect man. A guy will never be happy with the way he looks if he looks in the mirror and sees anything less than perfection. Part of it is wanting to look good, but truthfully, most of it is wanting to be the image which a girl wants. Believe it or not, although we may not seem to be affected by things like this, we are constantly feeling as though we not only could be better, but need to be better. When a guy sees a girl going crazy over a hot guy on a poster with huge muscles, it drives us to work out more and more in an attempt to achieve that body image. Try as we might, it is usually in vain. There is a similarity in the ways males and females feel pressure to maintain a certain body image. In fact, In a study conducted by Dr.Phillippa Diedrichs, it was revealed that men have anxiety over the way they look. 80.7% of the men in the study talked about themselves in a negative way, pertaining to being fat, baldness, of having too slim of a frame. men, much like women, feel pressure to have perfect physique.

The difference is, guys have to keep it hidden way. A guy’s insecurities are rarely shown, thus creating the illusion that the insecurities are non-existent. Take this into consideration, if a girl was visibly upset about her insecurities, how would you react? Would you show sympathy to her? Now compare that to the reaction a guy would have to another guy who is visibly upset about his insecurities, which would more than likely consist of ridicule and a cold shoulder. Guys have to remain composed at all times and keep in control of his emotions. Growing up we are told it’s okay to be miserable as long as we don’t show it, because that makes you a wimp. We are taught that as long the girl is happy, our emotions don’t really matter.

This is the origin of the misconception that guys do not have emotions at all. Keeping silent is not an easy thing to do, but society says we have to, so we do it.

Ever since it has been documented women have been expected to act proper. We must do what we are told and not have anything to say in the matter. Girls are constantly reminded by society that they should look, act and display themselves in a specific manner. As girls we are seen to be vulnerable, emotional and overly sensitive.

With all the stereotypes that exist about girls, being weak and vulnerable is probably one of the worst. There is the mentality that we cannot fend for ourselves and that we are not only emotionally but physically weak as well. It is expected that we keep ourselves in check and not have explosive reactions in tense situations.We are forced to conform to these rules so that we are not judged by society.

Unlike guys, we are not allowed to lash out at others when something happens to us. The “proper” way to respond when we are frustrated and angry is to cry or talk it out. If someone angers us to the point where we can’t take it anymore we are supposed to walk away and turn the other cheek. We cannot show our true emotions of anger, in a dramatic way, for if we do we are frowned upon by society. If a guy were to become angry because another guy is hitting on his girlfriend and he starts a fistfight, he is praised because he is fighting for her. On the other hand, if a girl were to react the same way, we would be seen as overreacting psycho girlfriends. We are expected to be on our best behavior and to act as ladylike as possible.
Apparently to society, being a girl also means that we always ‘need’ help working out our problems and we ‘need’ a men to save us. If a boy has a problem he is told to “be a man” and figure it out himself. In contrast to that girls are given a million and one suggestions to solve their problem when in reality we don’t really need everyone in our business. From a young age we are shown, through Disney films, that we should play the role of a damsel in distress. They tell us that we can only live that ‘happily ever after’ if we are saved by the man of our dreams, that without them our life is not complete. That is not always the case; there are plenty of women who are happy without a man in their life. We are more than capable of solving our own problems, unfortunately that is not what society wants. Society wants us to need guys to help us with everything that we supposedly are incapable of doing on our own.

If girls do not follow these “rules’ put in place by society it is seen as a bad thing. As a teenage girl we want to fit in with the rest of our gender group, but that might not always be the easiest thing. Sometimes we don’t want to conform, and we want to go off and do something that might not necessarily be the “girly thing” to do. More than half the time, we can’t because if we do those things, the rest of our gender group will shut us out for not fitting in.

From the moment you’re born your family brands you with a particular gender. Blue for boys, pink for girls, trucks for boys, Barbies for girls. The separation between genders starts early and continues on throughout life.

Gender and sex are two very different things. Judith Lorber’s article, “Night to His Day: The Social Construction of Gender” explains how sex is something we’re born with and gender is something our culture forces us into. Gender norms are constantly being recreated throughout cultures and only continue to survive because people in our world are constantly “doing gender”.
In our particular society it’s considered abnormal for a little girl to reject wanting to play with dolls and as she grows up not loving to wear dresses or braiding hair she sticks out even more. The pressure on girls to fit in with their gender is quite the struggle. No little girl wants to be judged or-god forbid- called a tom boy, for playing too rough in the dirt with boys. Society tames girls to behave like young ladies so by the time they are in high school they’re like little robots. Our culture tells girls they should enjoy burning their hair so it’s pin straight, applying pounds of makeup to their face, or spend paychecks on nails, Starbucks, and clothes. More importantly, they tell them that not wanting to take part in the rituals that makes them girls, will make others perceive them as masculine. Why is it that a girl who has short hair and dresses in t-shirts and sneakers is automatically mistaken for a boy? An extreme example of this can be found in an article about a young girl kicked out of her Christian school because her attire was confusing her peers. Where is it written that because a child doesn’t look like a typical sex they are considered a different gender? This theory pushes ‘not girly girls’ away from ‘girly girls’ and separates the sex.

In a very similar manner, boys feel the pressure from their peers and are expected to look and act a certain way in order to fit in. In the same way a girl is expected to dress a certain way, a boy is expected to dress in a way that will make him fit in among the other boys, and if he does not, he is deemed a girly boy or gay. A boy is taught to play video games at a young age, or to play sports, or to spend his life in the weight room, or to really do anything that all the other boys are doing, because if he doesn't, he will be the outsider.

Although I feel that society as a whole is becoming more accepting to boys and girls who may not fit the stereotype, however there is still pressure to conform. There is still, and always will be the pressure to look the same as your peers; wear what they wear, do as they do, speak as they speak. There is always a pressure to emulate what society sees as the standard for your gender. There will always be people who will ridicule those who look and act a certain way. The fear of ridicule is what makes most people desire to fit in, sometimes to the point of breaking. People, not just girls, not just boys, people; will do just about anything to fit in, and go to extreme lengths to do it.

There are also those rare people who do not. There are those who are okay with who they are and what society has to say about them, both boys and girls who do not care what they should be, but care about who they are.

It’s fair to say that in our world today, both boys and girls experience many pressures from society to look and behave a certain way. Some pressures hit girls harder than boys, and some affect boys more than girls either way our culture strives to create clones of what they believe boys and girls should resemble.

It’s also valid to state that these pressures are severely harming the youth of our nation. From depression, and feelings of exclusion to, pursuing drastic measures to change their body image, the struggle to be a culturally accepted individual is exhausting and dangerous. But how do we change this? Do we force our kids to be stronger individuals, or do we fight for a change in our societal values?

The first step is shifting our values. Putting things like creativity, and individuality above fitting in is essential to making a change. Society needs to stop giving orders to our youth on how to look and act and instead of prescribing teens with a path to follow, let them make their own.

People, especially young people, should be free of pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way, behave a certain way, and think a certain way. We should not be robots, programmed to carry out what big brother wants. We all need to learn to want better for ourselves, but at the same time be okay with ourselves. We need to learn not to go against our own feelings for what society wants us to feel. Girls and boys alike are held prisoner to these pressures, especially in high school years, and it is detrimental. Whether you feel girls have it worse or boys have it worse is not necessarily the issue; the issue at hand is that these pressures exist, and are a plague to teenagers across America.

The author's comments:
This essay was written as a final project. The essay has three different authors, one male two female. The three of us worked together to expose the pressures placed on our youth by society, and propose ideas to lessen these pressure.

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This article has 5 comments.

Niamh said...
on Feb. 8 2017 at 4:04 pm
I love this! More people should be aware of this as this is great to know about girls and guys but more importantly I would love if people knew more about the guy part because that is very interesting to know. I knew that guys are affected by this too but I didn't know they were affected by this that much. If I didn't know this then that means a lot more People don't know this and they need to know this so they don't contradict people. (Tbh I don't know if I used that word right haha).

chavs04 said...
on Oct. 19 2016 at 6:53 am
when was this article posted?

on Dec. 3 2015 at 10:25 pm
Amazing article... Thank you so much for helping me understand.... I HAVE close ( friendship) with a player and
everything what u just wrote here sounds like him....I dont know how I managed to stay with him for 2 years but I have to say yes your right ( I tried to be always a little bit different... I GOT into a point when I know him the way like no one does...Yes Players are very insecure people trying to prove that they worth it....!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Xoxo88 said...
on Jun. 2 2015 at 6:56 pm
Thus has really helped me! Thx you for this article. (:

jenika said...
on May. 1 2015 at 5:08 pm
@Lupitaluvsyou imig