Expanding beauty standards in the 21st century
Throughout history, there have always been standards of beauty, particularly for women. In ancient Egypt (c. 3150 to 332 BCE), the ideal woman was slender, youthful, and heavily made up. Society promoted a sex-positive environment. Premarital sex was entirely acceptable, and women could divorce their husbands without shame.
In Ancient Greece (c. 1200 BCE to 600 CE), the ideal woman was plump and full-bodied with light skin and a partially shaved head. The male form was worshipped, and some even went as far as to say women’s bodies were "disfigured" version of men’s.
Fast forward to the 1950s. In the era of Marilyn Monroe, the ideal woman was described as having curves, an hourglass figure with large breasts and a slim waist.
Moving on to the 2000s, current, western beauty standards for women include a flat stomach, “healthy” skinny figure with large breasts and butts with a thigh gap. Women are expected to be skinny, but not too skinny, because that’s “gross.” Women have to have large breasts and a big butt and still maintain a flat stomach.
So what about women who don’t meet these standards? What about women who use wheelchairs? Does that mean we aren’t beautiful or sexy?
The answer is no. A lot of women who have disabilities are coming forward and breaking beauty-standard barriers, myself included. One person by the name of Jillian Mercado is a wheelchair user due to a form of muscular dystrophy and is breaking down barriers in the modelling industry. Because of people like her, the profession is becoming more diverse. Agencies, photographers and casting directors are seeing an increasing number of disabled models who are making history.
I have been modelling for the last five years. In 2018, I worked with a photographer on a pinup shoot and, because of it, I made the cover of Pinup Life Magazine. Then I was all over the news for days because of it. And then again, my photo was published last year in the first edition of True North Pin Up Magazine, a Canadian pinup magazine.
All of this was amazing, and, yes, it was a lot of work. Jillian said in an interview she also worries that companies “will only hire her because of her disability, perhaps for good publicity, instead of for her modelling skills.” This resonates with me, because sometimes it’s hard to escape that little feeling that maybe I have only been published and chosen because of my disability.
There is no such thing as a perfect body, because everyone’s bodies are completely different. People don’t need to change how they look to fit into these tiny beauty-standard boxes. Differences are what make people beautiful. Kindness, compassion, generosity and sincerity should be the beauty standards society encourages.
Also, being disabled shouldn’t automatically mean an individual isn’t beautiful or desirable. I’ve faced that perception my entire life, and I’ve made it one of my missions to destroy that stigma. I’m in a wheelchair, I have a trach, I have scars, I have scoliosis, and my body isn’t “perfect,” but I am beautiful regardless of what the beauty standards are.
Crystal is a 30-year-old woman living with a progressive, terminal illness. However, she lives her life to the fullest by getting several tattoos, writing her blog on Facebook, modelling, advocating for various causes and sporting a rocker-girl style.
Published in Volume 74, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 13, 2020)