I'm not talking about a Wonder Woman spin off here (unfortunately!), rather the rise of a new ideal female form which is typified by exaggerated facial features, such as lips, eyelashes, brows. This amalgamation of perfect facial proportions then sits atop an exaggerated body, with large breasts, a small waist and a large posterior.
This description should trigger off a Kardashian-esque image in your head and is a phenomenon I call “hyper woman”: typical female physical characteristics on steroids. Another example of this aesthetic might be someone like Huda Kattan, of Huda Beauty or Charlotte Crosby (post-surgery) from Geordie Shore.
To unpick the rise of the “hyper woman” image, let's start at the beginning.
The idealisation female form has always been a feature of human aesthetics. From the first clay models representing a fertile Venus figure, to our modern preoccupation with female beauty, the way women are supposed to look has always been of concern to those creating visual images that represent their culture.
The female form has been portrayed and manipulated in multiple ways and through the lenses of multiple normative values. From Botticelli’s blondes, to the voluptuous women of Rubens, different physical attributes have been picked out to be celebrated or dismissed.
However, throughout the centuries, what remains the same is that the female form has constantly been under scrutiny, picked apart and reassembled into a Frankenstein’s monster of preferable proportions, colouring and shape.
Arguably the male form has also undergone the same sort of scrutiny and idealisation. However, it is with women that this visual pressure to conform has been used as a method of control and coercion. The notion of a female identity has always been linked to physical and visual appeal and in order to control what is female, society needs to control what a female should look like.
I am a distinctly average looking human being, like pretty much everyone I know, but as a female living in the early twenty first century, I am constantly made acutely aware of my supposed physical failings as a woman.
The rise of social media, especially image sharing platforms such as Instagram, had the potential to democratise beauty. Surely if people were able to access content that had been generated by the masses, beauty standards would be under pressure to become more diverse, interesting and unique.
Women perhaps could use the democratic access to, and creation of, worldwide content to take back agency over the production of the female image.
Whilst there have undoubtedly been some advances towards this end, such as the body positivity movement, it seems that women are still under pressure to confirm to normative values. A dominant and prolific ideal female form seems to have normalised around the “hyper woman” aesthetic, as described at the beginning of this piece.
You only have to spend 10 minutes on Instagram to see this particular mode of being female idealised and shared. The results are not only physical, as people change how they look, there has also been a shift in what women consume and do. Sales of lip products have skyrocketed in the past few years as a direct result of women looking to emulate the larger than life lips of people such as Kylie Jenner. Squats have become the most searched for exercise tutorial, as women look to sculpt their bodies to conform to a certain physical standard.
I would never look to criticise a woman for emulating a certain aesthetic, our bodies are our own and our choice of external presentation should be a product of our own free will.
What concerns me is the anxiety that is created by an ideal female form which pushes ideas of what it means to be female to the limit. Because that is what the “hyper woman” image is, a product of a socially constructed idea of what makes us female, taken to the extreme.