Supermodel citizens: A look into US beauty standards

Infographic by Julie Kilpatrick

The United States is a melting pot of different cultures, which is why it seems like the US doesn’t have a culture of its own.

However, the US does have an influence on pop culture and the culture of being “perfect.” Look anywhere and there are articles about tanning, teeth whitening/straightening, getting plastic surgery and going to the gym to sculpt a perfect body. If there aren’t articles about these topics, there are celebrities who advertise these things by having plastic surgery or braces.

Tanning, for example, is quite prevalent in the US. Tanning to get glowing orange skin is an aspiration for 35 percent of adults, even if, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, indoor tanning increases one’s chance of skin cancer by 59 percent.

“I used a tanning foam because I had senior pictures and homecoming coming up and I really just wanted to look tan. I associate being tan with being prettier. I didn't always do this, only starting during prom of last year, but I liked the results and continued applying it,” senior Lauryn Groves said.

A gorgeous tan is complemented by a set of bright white, perfectly straight teeth. These are another staple of American culture. According to ValuePenguin, the average set of braces costs between $5000 and $6000 and according to What’s Cooking America, Americans spend $1.4 billion annually on over-the-counter teeth whitening products.

“I think as a society we are all wanting to look our best. Most of our famous movie personalities have straight white teeth and we see patients trying to emulate what they're seeing in media. Straight, white teeth help to boost people's confidence,” orthodontist J. Lawrence Hutta of Hutta and Cook Orthodontics said.

However, having a perfect set of pearly whites is unusual in comparison to most countries around the world.

For example, British people stereotypically have less perfect teeth when compared to Americans, but according to BBC, free orthodontics are provided by the National Health Service to those who are deemed to need them.

The UK isn’t the only area of the world where gap-free teeth aren’t standard. In Ghana, Nigeria and Namibia, having a midline diastema (a gap between one’s two front teeth), as Michael Strahan and Eddie Murphy do, is perceived as a sign of beauty and intelligence. In some tribes in these countries, a midline diastema is created rather than closed with braces.

Tanning and teeth whitening/straightening are minor forms of body modifications that help one meet America’s idealized standard for how a person’s body should look. If a person can’t or isn’t willing to get the idealized body by working out or dieting, he or she may turn to a more extreme form of body modification: plastic surgery.

Whether a person goes under the knife for a rhinoplasty, a breast lift or a liposuction, the fact remains that he or she must be completely committed to creating the “perfect” body.

“I believe people get plastic surgery to help improve their areas of concern. People want to feel good about themselves and being comfortable with one’s appearance can be a part of that. It is upsetting that our culture is so focused on an ideal image, why is why I like to stress to my patients that I am simply enhancing their natural characteristics,” Michael Sullivan, plastic surgeon at The Sullivan Centre, said.


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