Beauty standards are reference points set by our culture which shape our opinions and understanding of beauty usually with reference to age, size, race, height, outfit and overall physical appearance. Beauty standards achieve this through shaping aesthetic values of individuals in a society.
By providing us a common ground on evaluating beauty, beauty standards make verbal communication easier for us as with any shared value in a society.
In some cases beauty standards might have certain positive effects on an individual's health. As they involve emphasis on the body, they might force people to pay more attention to their bodies.
In addition to these functions, standards of beauty have negative sides. As with any societal standard, they impose limits and boundaries on people. This aspect of beauty standards is more amplified than in many other cultural spheres related to tastes and visual perceptions of people, since people do not get to choose certain physical attributes that they are born with. In theory, every individual has an opportunity to take conscious decisions about their clothing. However, most physical attributes imposed by beauty standards are attained at birth and in most cases are either irreversible or are very difficult (or painful or harmful as in the case of plastic surgeries) to change.
The formation of beauty standards occurs in every society. In some, they are highly respected. In others, the role they play in an individual’s life would be limited to a lesser extent. They also might apply to different members of a population in varying degrees. For example, most societies tend to be concerned more about the beauty standards set for females than the ones for their men. There might also be groups for which beauty standards are given a greater emphasis than for other people. For example, a society might expect more conformity to beauty standards from their singers, whereas might not follow these standards very strictly in judging their doctors. In certain cases, beauty standards might be completely ignored for certain members. For example, if a person who falls short of fitting the beauty standards of a society compensates for that deficiency with other qualities that are deemed to be positive in that culture, the non-beauty of that person could be unimportant. However, not every esteemed quality will be seen as compensating for what is lacking in the aesthetic sense. For instance, a scientist who doesn't look good by the standards of that society might be highly valued, but people might not want to have an intimate relationship with her/him, which is usually a desire greatly affected by our perception of what is beautiful. However, if an ugly individual has a high income, a BMW and a dacha on Rublyovka, another individual might ignore that person's lack of beauty and be ready to live an intimate relationship with him/her. This sort of discriminatory behavior might serve us to show that beauty standards do not necessarily have to exist and it might be possible for a society to go beyond them. This example intends to underline another aspect of beauty standards: they seem to shape our perceptions of sexuality but seem to have little or no effect in decisions we make about intellectual, spiritual, political or religious matters.
Beauty standards might cause pain. In certain cases, the ways in which people suffer because of societies' beauty standards could be physical. Certain examples of physical suffering imposed by beauty standards involve Chinese foot binding, the medieval corset or the modern-day eating disorder anorexia. Most human societies who have lived on the face of the planet have usually chosen to systematically torture their female members through putting pressure on them to live up to the society’s beauty standards. Men have never undergone this kind of systematized torture because of ideas related to what they should look like. In fact, we don't see any cultural habits in any society involving deliberately killing the male members of a society with the great exception of war, the act of volitionally sending (usually the young) men of a society to armed conflict against an enemy.
In other cases, there would be emotional damage done by the common values that shape our understanding as to what is beautiful. People who do not conform or who do not feel that they conform to generally established and accepted standards of beauty might experience feelings of loneliness, insecurity, low self-esteem or other dejecting states of human existence. These cases might be further aggravated if people around the individual choose to show strict adherence to standards of beauty refusing to help or even trying to make life more difficult for them based on the person’s looks. Mostly, discrimination based on beauty standards works along racial, gender or size related axes and might as well affect a person’s opportunities of social interaction, and even financial status as these standards sometimes might get into the way of career growth. Beauty standards do not seem to be taken into account when political, religious or ideological forms of discrimination take place.
In these respects, beauty standards sometimes might come into conflict with other parts of the culture in societies where equality and human rights are commonly shared values or in societies that tend to value spirituality and inner-beauty over physical appearances.