What is aesthetic violence?

Aesthetic violence does not recognize the diversity of bodies and is promoted mainly from the media. What exactly does it consist of?

Last update: February 20, 2022

For many, hearing talk of “aesthetic violence” is something new. However, It is a reality that has been present since ancient times. and that today is a topic of discussion due to its consequences.

«Summers for me are a nightmare: I have to be skinny and waxed». “I would like to leave my gray hair, but they told me that it makes me look very sloppy.” “I’d rather be a sad skinny than a happy fat one.” These are just some of the comments that are often heard among those who face the tyranny of beauty.

It is a form of violence that forces us to respond to certain patterns and mandates about how to dress, what measurements to have, how the figure should be, etc. Although it goes unnoticed because of how much it has been normalized, the truth is that it has psychological implications that should not be neglected. Let’s see in detail what it is.

What is aesthetic violence?

When we think of violence, we often limit ourselves to its physical or psychological form. However, in our daily lives we come across other types of abuse that are more subtle or silent, but equally dangerous. Among these, it is worth mentioning aesthetic violence, which has been quite present in the media and other areas.

To be more exact, it is related to the validation of a single model of beauty, which determines hegemonic and desirable bodies. So, All those people who do not meet this ideal are left out, that is, they are less valuable. Its main characteristics are the following:

  • Sexist. Because although it affects all people, in general it falls with greater pressure and demand on women. Men can have a “belly”, but women “were neglected and are fat”.
  • Racist. In general, it highlights white bodies or tends to respond to a parameter of Western bodies that leaves aside the body diversity that —many times— goes hand in hand with the context and geographical conditions.
  • Fatphobic. Rejects bodies with curves, with other proportions or overweight.
  • Ageist. It promotes youth as a value and rejects the passage of time and old age.
  • discriminating. It recognizes a single body and rejects bodies with functional diversity. After all, how many people who use wheelchairs work as models? Surely, when you think about it, there are several fingers left over.
  • Reproduce gender stereotypes. This happens by establishing as parameters what is masculine and what is feminine, and criticizing those who do not comply with them. An example is when we say that such a woman does not look feminine because she does not take care of her hair or does not paint her nails.

Now, it is worth noting that although aesthetic violence has girls and women as its main victims, it is also suffered by non-binary identities and men to a lesser extent. In the latter case, some examples are when they lose their hair, do not respond to a certain height, etc.

Aesthetic violence occurs when a person does not meet the beauty standards established by society.

Consequences of aesthetic violence

The pressure to “fit” to certain models and ideals leads to situations of discomfort. In particular, it generates states of stress, anxiety and low self-esteem. Many people are discriminated against and stigmatized for not complying with that “should” that beauty prescribes.

In response to this, some undergo strict diets that lead to eating disorders that harm their physical and mental integrity. Such is the case of bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia, among others.

Also, there are those who are exposed to cosmetic surgeries to erase wrinkles and expression lines or to reduce the abdomen and increase the bust. In this way, the body begins to be modeled according to mandates, moving away more and more from appreciation and respect for oneself.

Aesthetic violence is also among the causes of bullying. We all know a case of a colleague who was harassed by his weight and who was not chosen for the sports team.

Its danger is even greater because it begins to develop at an early age and has a negative impact on identity, self-esteem and developing bodies.

On the other hand, we must not ignore the consequences in relation to the sexualization and objectification of bodies —especially of girls and women— that is implicit in said standard of beauty.

That is, to attract attention and be accepted, they often show themselves in sexualized and erotic poses, inappropriate for their age and emotional maturity.

In short, aesthetic violence exposes people to both physical and mental health risks. At the same time, as a society it makes us intolerant and discriminatory.

How to act before aesthetic violence

It is not necessary to wait for everything to “explode” to talk about a change. We can begin to be part of it with daily and small actions, although no less significant. Some of the recommended ones are:

  • Avoid comments referring to a person’s body, in which their light weight, their youth, etc. are valued.
  • Enable other models to follow. For example, many times we transmit to girls that the aspiration is to be like “Barbie”, but we forget about scientists, women leaders, politicians, among others. That is, women who are not confined to their bodies, but occupy roles of power.
  • cut off mocking comments that sustain and reproduce aesthetic violence. Do not laugh or be complicit in them. If possible, indicate to the person who makes them that it is not correct.
  • Recognize other attributes and qualities. Both in ourselves and in others and, above all, reinforce them. People are much more than a pretty face or body.
Breaking down stereotypes and acknowledging the diversity of bodies is a first step in overcoming aesthetic violence.

Beware of covert messages of empowerment

Sometimes, under messages of empowerment and autonomy of the bodies, girls and women are confused when choosing what they want to be, to show themselves semi-naked or to exhibit themselves freely, when in reality it is one more maneuver to respond to what the market and society expect.

Of course, everyone has the right to do what they want. However, it is better not to fall into the naivete that on the other side there is no gaze seeking to give an opinion and validate each step we take. Repeating more of the same or doing what is expected of us is not—not even close—being free.

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