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Plus, five women on social media who are shaking up our definition of "beautiful"

By the numbers

New study shows impact of social media on beauty standards

By Brigit Katz on April 3, 2015

Instagram/Chantelle Winnie
Instagram/Chantelle Winnie

What shapes our perception of beauty? When we answer that question, we tend to talk about models, and movies, and unattainable standards of perfection. But a study by Dove shows that more than ever before, women are looking to people like themselves for beauty inspiration—or more specifically, to the women they see while scrolling through social media.

Dove surveyed 1,027 women between the ages of 18 and 64.The results showed that women are more than twice as likely to say that their conception of beauty is shaped by “women in the public domain” and social media (29 percent and 25 percent, respectively) than they were before they entered high school (11 percent and 10 percent, respectively).

That influence is not always a positive one. A 2014 Dove study found that women wrote 5 million disparaging tweets about beauty, most of which were about themselves. Much of the survey sample (78 percent) felt that the portrayal of women on social media is unrealistic. But 82 percent of women also said they believed social media can change prevailing standards of beauty.

 “The thousands of beauty bloggers are testament to women becoming their own media creators who are influencing the beauty conversation,” Dove wrote in its study. “Whether women are rating beauty products, giving each other advice or sharing personal beauty/body image stories, or posting their own images or ‘selfies,’ beauty has become more personalized and more inclusive on the Internet.”

You don’t have to poke around on the Internet too long to realize that there has been a great democratization of beauty of late. Blogs, Instagram accounts, and Twitter hashtags galore call for a celebration of different body shapes, ethnicities, and ages. There are many women whose presences on social media are shaking up pervasive definitions of what is and what is not beautiful. Here are five you should know about:

 Rachel Hollis

I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini. I have a belly that's permanently flabby from carrying three giant babies and…

Posted by Rachel Hollis on Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rachel Hollis, who runs a lifestyle blog called The Chic Sitemade headlines a few weeks ago when she posted a photo of herself in a bikini. It seems so mundane, but the photo exploded on social media because Hollis made no attempt to hide her stretch marks (gasp!). “I have stretch marks and I wear a bikini,” she wrote on the post. “I have a belly that’s permanently flabby from carrying three giant babies and I wear a bikini. My belly button is saggy… (which is something I didn’t even know was possible before!!) and I wear a bikini. I wear a bikini because I’m proud of this body and every mark on it.” 

 Chantelle Winnie

Chantelle Winnie is a fashion model with a skin condition called vitiligo (the same disorder that made Michael Jackson’s skin turn white). Winnie’s Instagram account is chock full of photos from professional shoots, her skin on full display. “If humans want to see the same types of people over and over that’s what industries will give us,” Winnie told The Guardian. “If we want to see something different that’s what they’ll have to give us.”

 Jes Baker

Two years ago, Jes Baker made headlines when she published an open letter to former Abercormbie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries, calling him out for his blatant sizeism. The letter also included a series of mock Abercormbie ads, featuring Baker—who is plus-sized—posing with a male model. Today, she blogs under the name Militant Baker, writing about body image, mental health, and fashion.

 Lizzie Velasquez

Because she suffers from a rare genetic disorder that prevents her from gaining any weight, 26-year-old Lizzie Velásquez has never weighed more than 64 pounds. When she was in high school, Lizzie found a YouTube video of herself titled “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” Rather than shy away from the platform, she launched her own YouTube channel, where she posts videos about beauty, body positivity, and kindness. Read Women in the World’s interview with Lizzie here.

 Melanie Elturk

Founder of a retail site called Haute Hijab, Elturk advocates for style that is both modest and vibrant. Her Instagram account features Muslim women from around the world (and Elturk herself) modelling bright headscarves and some thoroughly chic outfits.