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“Attractive women are more likely to succeed” A debate on feminism and body image

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They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but who is that, exactly? Is it the advertising industry? The patriarchy? The person sitting opposite us in a job interview? The trolls on Twitter? Or the lens of your smartphone? 

Today, we are drenched in imagery that tells us beauty is Caucasian, youthful, slim and tanned. But it wasn’t too long ago that beauty meant pale and plump; and in non-western countries, there’s a completely different ideal being projected upon women, altogether.

Are beautiful women more likely to succeed? How much time do women spend perfecting their image – in reality or on social media? Why is image so important for women- is it more important for men?

This last month alone, we’ve seen a young woman abandon social media because it made her feel pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty ideals – through dieting, photo-editing and obsessing endlessly about how many 'likes' she received. Soon after, another Instagram star decided to only post realistic images to her social media and, as a result, lost thousands of followers - so unsatisfied were people by reality.

The pressure and expectation to conform and how to react to those pressures is an ongoing feminist issue – and one that the BBC is attempting to understand in its 100 Women debates.

Fiona Crack, BBC 100 Women Editor says: “The level of response we’ve had of people wanting to take part [in the debate] is testament to how needed they are.”

Here’s what the women at the BBC's debate had to say on the topic:

On beauty and success

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Do beauty and success go hand in hand?

Dr Catherine Hakim, author, Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capitalsays:

“Attractive people- not just women – are more likely to succeed, to be promoted, to be remembered in a positive way, they earn more money – 10% to 20% more on average. Unfortunately, evidence also shows men earn more than women for being attractive. Why aren’t women exploiting their attractiveness in the way that men are?”

Natasha Devon, founder of The Self Esteem Group, says:

“Women who feel beautiful feel more entitled…”

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, psychologist, says: 

“If you look at the research around what is beautiful, almost everything is socially constructed.” 

The effect of social media on our perception of beauty

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Has social media changed the way we see one another?

Charli Howard, model, says:

“It’s weird, you see yourself all photoshopped and you wish that you really looked like that. Then when people meet you in person they are disappointed because you don’t look like you do in those images or on social media.”

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, psychologist, says:

“We have an amplified self awareness thanks to the online world – we are all like mini celebrities. Because everyone can give us their opinion, all of a sudden everyone’s opinion matters.” 

People think they have a right to comment on your looks

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Kaitlyn Regehr praised the man who stood up for her when she was sexually harassed on a bus

Kaitlyn Regehr, writer and film maker, says:

“We are taught from a very young age to be good girls, to be nice, to be liked but also to be able to defend ourselves if someone assaults us.”

“Official TFL statistics show that 90% of assaults on London transport go unreported. I was groped on a bus and it’s not the first time it had happened but what made this remarkable was that someone saw it and stepped forward, shouted, called-out the individual and said: ‘Do you not have any women in your life? This could be your sister!’”

Holly Brockwell, Editor-in-chief, Gadgette says:

“Why is it that we have to frame something for people, along the lines of ‘this could be your mum or your sister’ When, really, we should be framing it in terms of ‘this is a human being and they don’t deserve to be treated in this way.’

Can women enjoy beautifying themselves?

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Can you enjoy beautifying yourself a still be a feminist?

Dr Linda Papadopoulos, psychologist, says:

“Who the heck said I have to choose?! You can like lip gloss and be a feminist.”

“If you put all your eggs in the looks basket, don’t forget looks go, they fade, but an education lasts a lifetime.”

You can watch all the 100 Women debates here.

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