Redefining Beauty Standards for Women |

Redefining Beauty Standards for Women

Before you read this article, I’d like you to stop and think of a woman you really admire:  someone you love to spend time with and who inspires you. Have you thought of someone? Maybe it’s your mom, sister, aunt, daughter, or best friend? Now think of a few qualities you love about her. What are the traits that make her unique and wonderful?

Did you come up with a list? Good. Whatever you thought of, I’m fairly certain you did not start naming qualities like:

“She has perfectly toned arms.” 

“Her complexion is wrinkle-free.” 

“She has no cellulite.” 

“Her hair doesn’t have a trace of gray.” 

“She has the ideal amount of lean muscle mass.”

The things we love and cherish in other women – warmth, kindness, wisdom, loyalty, piety, strength, generosity, humor, trustworthiness, insight, and more – are a reflection of what we truly value. But many of us are so influenced by the society around us that we tend to lose sight of what matters most – at least when it comes to ourselves. When we look in the mirror, many of us only see flaws. We get caught up in culturally-dictated beauty standards that are based on an idealized version of female attractiveness. We forget about our souls. We forget about our character. We forget what beauty really is.

And let’s face it, physical beauty standards are getting harder and harder for women to reach. Judging by the images we see on social media, advertisements, movies, and magazines, women are now expected to look young, toned, and attractive well into our forties and fifties. Even those of us who try hard not to be brainwashed by mainstream media can be sucked into the traps set by filtered Instagram pictures, airbrushed models, cosmetically-enhanced celebrities, and contoured and highlighted influencers. Unless we live under a rock, we are bombarded daily by numerous images of the kind of woman society wants us to be – perpetually youthful, fit, well-dressed, slender, sexy, and glamorous.

Cosmetics, weight loss products, and other physical enhancements are a multi-billion dollar industry, flourishing now more than ever before. These days, even girls as young as ten and eleven are buying expensive makeup and skin care products from pricey retailers like Sephora and Glossier. Thanks to popular video tutorials, many pre-teens have learned how to apply makeup like professionals. Older women are often turning to Botox, cosmetic surgery, anti-wrinkle treatments, and regular trips to the spa or salon in search of the fountain of youth. In sum, women of all ages feel like they need to invest a great deal of time and money in their physical appearance.

But isn't beauty important? After all, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

“Verily, Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.” 

(Sahih Muslim)

And aren’t we supposed to make an effort to look attractive for our husbands? We shouldn’t just “let ourselves go,” right?

I’m not arguing that we should stop investing in our physical health and appearance completely, or that we should quit trying to be pleasing to our husband’s eyes. Our bodies are an amana, or trust from Allah, after all. We absolutely should prioritize eating healthy foods, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and exercising in a way that boosts our mood and strengthens our muscles. And guess what? If we do all those things consistently, we will likely end up with a healthy, functioning, beautiful body. By “beautiful” I don’t mean perfect. A well-nourished, healthy, attractive body might still show natural signs of aging, or the impact of bearing children, or the blemishes and scars that human skin sometimes gets. 

As the saying goes, “beauty is only skin-deep.”  Our inner beauty eclipses everything else. A person who has physical imperfections can still be glowing with light and kindness, radiant from within, and genuinely beautiful in the eyes of everyone who loves her. On the other hand, a person who looks like a supermodel on the outside can be markedly unbeautiful on the inside, and her character will eventually change the way people perceive her. 

Be Proactive

Sisters, we only have 24 hours in each day, and a limited number of years on this earth. How are we spending our time? Our biggest investment as Muslims should be in the Hereafter, but is that really where our effort and energy are going? Let’s take an honest look at our habits. If we are spending too much time, money, and energy in the pursuit of physical beauty as defined by society, then we are robbing ourselves of the chance to earn Allah’s pleasure, and ultimately Paradise. After all, when the Hour comes, Allah will not be judging us based on our physical appearance. 

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: 

“Verily, Allah does not look at your appearance or wealth, but rather He looks at your hearts and actions.” 

(Sahih Muslim)

So I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else when I say, “STOP.” Stop falling prey to the idea that you are not beautiful enough, or that you need to buy dozens of products, or lose twenty pounds, or get three cosmetic procedures to look better. If you are feeling pressured by images on social media, magazines, commercials, or movies, then limit your exposure to them. They are doing you no favors by peddling an idealized, fabricated, shallow version of beauty. Remember: our insecurity feeds their industry. Our perpetual dissatisfaction with ourselves lines their wallets. They want us to feel like we’re not beautiful enough. 

Instead, be a rebel. Don’t buy into their schemes. Focus on your heart and actions because Allah has told us they are the most important. 

  • Redefine beauty for yourself. Be mindful and intentional about what you focus your energy on and what messages and images you allow into your brain. 
  • Increase your acts of worship, your charity, your nourishing self-care, and the halal things that make you happy. 
  • Spend time with people who love you as you are, not ones who make you feel insufficient or insecure. 
  • Notice and cherish in yourself the same qualities you love about the women you admire. Are you patient? That’s beautiful! Did you make someone smile today? That’s beautiful! Did you strive to do your job with excellence? That’s beautiful! Did you pray on time and remember to thank Allah? That’s extremely beautiful! 
  • When you look in the mirror, don’t focus on any superficial imperfections, but instead, make the duaa of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him: “Oh Allah, you have beautified my features so beautify my character as well.” 

Remember that woman you admire? The one you thought of at the beginning of this article? You’ve probably got a lot in common with her. If you stop and think about it, you probably possess many of her wonderful traits, or you’re working on developing them, or your behavior is positively influenced by them. You know beauty when you see it, sis. Now see it within yourself. 

Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at

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