Redefining Beauty: Susan Sontag's Critique of Societal Expectations

Categories: Women

Susan Sontag, in her thought-provoking essay "A Woman's Beauty," delves into the societal pressures and expectations placed on women regarding their physical appearance. She argues that women often feel compelled to prioritize their outer beauty over their inner qualities, believing that their worth is tied to their looks. Sontag laments the obsession with beauty perpetuated by fashion and the media, which have distorted women's perception of themselves and their role in society.

In today's world, women face immense pressure from their female peers to conform to certain beauty standards.

Sontag notes that women are quick to judge one another based on their appearance, perpetuating a culture of comparison and competition. Men, on the other hand, are not held to the same scrutiny when it comes to their looks, as it is deemed "unmanly" to prioritize physical appearance. Women, therefore, feel the need to constantly strive for beauty in order to attract male attention and approval.

However, Sontag argues that this relentless pursuit of beauty often leads women to lose sight of their true selves and their inherent value beyond their looks.

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She highlights the detrimental effects of reducing women to mere objects of desire, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and celebrating women for their intelligence, talents, and aspirations. Despite societal expectations, women must remember that their worth is not contingent on their physical appearance alone.

From a young age, girls are socialized to view their bodies as a collection of separate parts to be scrutinized and judged. This fragmented view of beauty perpetuates a harmful cycle of self-objectification, wherein women internalize unrealistic beauty standards and constantly seek validation from others.

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Sontag suggests that this preoccupation with physical appearance can hinder women's personal and professional growth, diverting their attention from more meaningful pursuits.

Moreover, the pervasive belief that beauty equates to power and success further reinforces the notion that women must conform to narrow beauty ideals in order to achieve recognition and respect in society. Sontag challenges this notion, urging women to reclaim their agency and redefine beauty on their own terms. She emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and self-love, encouraging women to embrace their unique qualities and resist the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.

In essence, Sontag's essay serves as a powerful critique of the ways in which society commodifies and objectifies women's bodies, reducing them to mere objects of desire. She calls attention to the harmful impact of perpetuating narrow beauty standards and urges women to reject societal expectations in favor of embracing their true selves. Beauty, she argues, is not a measure of one's worth or value, but rather a reflection of one's inner strength and authenticity.

Ultimately, Sontag's essay challenges readers to reconsider their perceptions of beauty and to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, regardless of their physical appearance. By celebrating women for their intelligence, talents, and unique qualities, we can create a more inclusive and empowering society that values diversity and authenticity above all else. Beauty, as Sontag reminds us, is not a one-size-fits-all concept, but rather a multifaceted and complex expression of individuality and self-expression.


Updated: Feb 15, 2024
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Redefining Beauty: Susan Sontag's Critique of Societal Expectations. (2016, Aug 03). Retrieved from

Redefining Beauty: Susan Sontag's Critique of Societal Expectations essay
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