What’s Your Spirit Animal?

Spirit animals are all around us – it’s just up to us whether or not we believe in their power, or whether we even notice them at all. In many Indigenous cultures, spirit animals, sometimes known as spirit guides, often refer to a spirit that helps protect or guide a person throughout life’s journey; the person and spirit animal commonly share or embody similar characteristics or qualities. In this blog, we’ll discuss the origins and modern usage of spirit animals, techniques for discovering them, along with a few common spirit animals and their symbolism.

The Origins of Spirit Animals and the American Indigenous People

It’s well documented that throughout history, the Indigenous people that inhabited North America identified deeply with all aspects of nature. In fact, numerous Indigenous individuals were named after animals; two famous examples are Chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

The American Indigenous people also believed in spirit animals, which were animals they shared a connection with that guided them. It was commonly thought that a person would have nine spirit animals, each serving its own purpose depending on the situation and time during that person’s life.1

Pinny Lavalier, a Sicangu Lakota volunteer at Native Languages of the Americas, says this connection with animals isn’t limited to American Indigenous beliefs. “Animals were likely important in the religions of numerous traditional societies throughout time. Many modern uses of the term often relate spirit animals solely to American Indigenous culture, which isn’t true.”2

The Present Use of Spirit Animals

In modern times, the term “spirit animal” is commonly used to express a person’s favorite kind of animal or childhood idol. For example, one might take a sloth’s characteristics – slow, sleepy – and say, “Oh, he’s my spirit animal.” However, many find that the term “spirit animal” often stereotypes Indigenous people or appropriates real religious beliefs.3

While the concept is generally the same, most tribes don’t refer to them as spirit animals, but rather as guides, messengers, or even gods, considering that Indigenous gods are personified animals. Using the term “spirit animal” can be seen as an overgeneralization of deeply personal traditions, leading to many calling them Patronus, like in Harry Potter, or kindred spirits. 

“Animals have sustained our people for thousands of years, through food and medicine and clothing,” says Renee Gokey, teacher’s services coordinator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. “Essentially, to understand the culture and significance behind spirit animals is to not appropriate but to celebrate.”4 

Techniques for Discovering Your Spirit Animal

It’s believed that spirit animals often hold particular qualities that could help you navigate life with a bit more ease, confidence, and faith. Not sure which spirit animal best represents you or what messages it’s trying to send you? Here are some techniques to help you discover your spirit animal:

Try A Meditation

Using meditation to find your spirit animal often involves attaining an altered state of consciousness by using deep imagery or visualization with the specific intention of meeting your spirit animal guide(s). These methods can be guided (spoken, drumming) or non-guided (silence, nature sounds)

You can find a guided meditation to help you discover your spirit animal here

Journal About the Animals You Feel Drawn To

Try to consider one animal that has a special significance to you. Ask yourself this question: If this animal were my spirit guide, what lessons could it be trying to teach me about my personal power and inner strength? Spend a few minutes journaling on the answer. You can complete this exercise for as many different animals as you wish. Then, come back to your journal after a few days and see which animals and lessons resonate the most with you. 

Need tips on journaling? Check out this blog on why and how journaling can improve your life.

Common Spirit Animals and Their Symbolism

There are thousands upon thousands of spirit animals, each with their own significance and symbolism, which can make it difficult to distinguish which are yours. Here is a brief introduction to the qualities of some common spirit animals:

  • The Butterfly: In many cultures, the butterfly is a symbol of transformation and development. It’s known to be incredibly adaptable by approaching all changes with ease and grace. Butterflies also carry the message of “being light” and floating above earthly matters.5
  • The Spider: Spiders are known for creating intricate webs and their patience in capturing prey, which is why these guides are here to tell us when to start building the life we want. Spiders also represent the feminine and the power behind feminine energy. If this is your guide, tap into your creative side and try to be patient with yourself.6
  • The Hummingbird:  Hummingbirds signify playfulness, connection, and adaptability. If you see a hummingbird, try to connect with the enjoyment of life by not taking things too seriously. Hummingbirds are here to remind us to be playful and that in the grand scheme of things, connections are what really matter – whether it’s with a higher power or loved ones.7
  • The Owl: Owls have the ability to see what others may miss. They know the deeper meaning of things and discover the hidden treasures in life. If the owl comes to you, you might be at a time in your life when you’re exploring the unknown – like maybe going through a transition or about to embark on a big journey. The owl can help you see beyond your mind’s illusions.8
  • The Hawk: The hawk represents truth, self-awareness, courage, and perspective. As spirit animals, hawks are known for their ability to see things from a higher perspective by recognizing the truth in any situation for what it is. If you see a hawk, it may be telling you that it’s time to take inventory of where you’re at in life and what your next steps are.9
  • The Grasshopper: Grasshoppers are innovative and don’t miss opportunities to move forward in life. Grasshoppers are also considered good luck. If you run into a grasshopper, it could be a sign that you’re struggling with a decision and it’s time to make a choice and move forward.10
  • The Eagle: Eagles represent light, spirit, and healing – healing yourself so you can connect deeply to your spiritual journey. Eagles are also known to carry the knowledge of gifts and magic from above. If an eagle is your spirit animal, it can mean that you have lightness in you, but need to stay grounded.11
  • The Crow: Crows are known for their higher perspective and “trickster” personality type. If you’ve seen a crow – whether in an awakened state or a dream – consider your connection to life’s magic. To fully embrace the crow, invite a heightened awareness into your life and try to shift your point of view to a higher perception. This will allow you to recognize the magic in everything that is happening to you and around you.12

Interested in learning more about spirit animals? Here’s a list of 102 spirit animals and their symbolism. 

In Conclusion

Spirit animals are guides that can help you on your life’s journey; they’re here to keep you on track, to show you that you’re loved, and to remind you to play, create, connect, and nurture. As you go about your day, try to be aware of your surroundings and the animals that may cross your path. You may be surprised how synchronistic these encounters can be, but knowing what these spirit animals symbolize, along with the cultures they originate from, can provide you with meaningful insight and understanding into your life’s past, present, and future happenings.

What’s your spirit animal? If you’re not sure, take this spirit animal quiz to find out. Let us know your results in the comments!



References: [1] [2][3][4] [5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

All About the Moon Cycle

In ancient indigenous cultures, the Moon has always held a special place and was worshipped for its rhythms of life and the universe. Just as we move through different phases in life, so does the Moon; no matter if the Moon can be seen or not, it’s always with us. In this blog, we will explore the Moon cycle in nature and astrology, along with its connection to femininity and how it’s celebrated uniquely around the world.

Understanding the Moon Cycle

Moon Phases

Pictured: Moon Cycles    Source: Time and Date

Every 29.5 days, the Moon goes through eight phases. A Moon cycle can be described as changes in appearance created by shifting angles or positions of the Moon, in relation to the Earth and the Sun. Here are the eight Moon phases and their significance in nature:

New Moon

Moon Phase: Primary

Moonrise: Around Sunrise | Moonset: Around Sunset

Illumination: 0%

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon is between the Sun and Earth. If the Moon’s path crosses the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun while the Sun, Moon, and Earth are aligned at New Moon, a solar eclipse happens somewhere in the world.

Waxing Crescent Moon

Moon Phase: Intermediate

Moonrise: Morning | Moonset: Afternoon

Illumination: 0.1% to 49.9%

Orientation: The right half of the Moon is lit in the Northern Hemisphere, while the left half is lit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon is transitioning from New Moon to First Quarter Moon. The Crescent phases can be an excellent time to see Earthshine, which is when sunlight reflected from Earth gives the dark areas of the Moon a faint glow.

First Quarter Moon (Half Moon)

Moon phase: Primary

Moonrise: Around Midday | Moonset: Around Midnight

Illumination: 50%

Orientation: The right half of the Moon is lit in the Northern Hemisphere, while the left half is lit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon has gone one-quarter of the way around Earth. 

You can look for the First Quarter Moon in the blue afternoon sky.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Moon Phase: Intermediate

Moonrise: Afternoon | Moonset: Early Morning

Illumination: 50.1% to 99.9%

Orientation: The right half of the Moon is lit in the Northern Hemisphere, while the left half is lit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon is moving from First Quarter to Full Moon. A couple of days into the Waxing Gibbous Moon phase, you can see the Golden Handle, which is a lunar light phenomenon that occurs when sunlight hits the Montes Jura Mountain Range at a low angle, causing the mountain range to glow in stunning detail.

Full Moon

Moon Phase: Primary

Moonrise: Around Sunset | Moonset: Around Sunrise

Illumination: 100%

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon and the Sun are on opposite sides of the Earth. If the Moon’s path crosses the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun while the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned, a lunar eclipse can be observed on the side of Earth experiencing nighttime.

Waning Gibbous Moon

Moon phase: Intermediate

Moonrise: Evening | Moonset: Morning

Illumination: 99.9% to 49.9%

Orientation: The left half of the moon is lit in the Northern Hemisphere, while the right half is lit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon is moving from Full Moon to Third Quarter Moon, but it can still look nearly full for a few days after Full Moon.

Third Quarter Moon (Half Moon)

Moon phase: Primary

Moonrise: Around Midnight | Moonset: Around Midday

Illumination: 50%

Orientation: The left half of the moon is lit in the Northern Hemisphere, while the right half is lit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Position in Space: During this phase, the Moon has gone three-quarters of the way through its orbit around Earth. The Third Quarter Moon begins on the last quarter of the lunar cycle.

Waning Crescent Moon

Moon phase: Intermediate

Moonrise: Early Morning | Moonset: Afternoon

Illumination: 49.9% to 0.1%

Orientation: The left half of the moon is lit in the Northern Hemisphere, while the right half is lit in the Southern Hemisphere.

Position in space: During this phase, the Moon is moving from Third Quarter to New Moon. 

The Moon Cycle and Astrology

Just like the Sun’s placement in the sky can help predict your personality traits and even influence current events, the phase the moon is in at any given time — and the cycle you were born under — has a huge influence on your life, mindset, and mood.

To find out what the Moon looked like when you were born, plug your birth date, time, and location into a birth chart generator, such as this one.

Here’s a deeper look into the influence the Moon cycle can have on you:

New Moon

The New Moon is a time of reflection. During New Moons, you can lean into the Moon’s energy by reassessing your options or reviewing your plans for the next few days, weeks, or even months. 

Those born under a New Moon are adventurous, enthusiastic, and creative. They enjoy trying new things and facing new challenges in life. However, they are less likely to find a life partner than someone born on a Full Moon. They may be on the more thoughtful end of the spectrum regarding love, holding out for a perfect match.

Waxing Crescent Moon

During a Waxing Crescent, it’s important to make moves towards your goals and desired outcomes for the month. This is the time to start planting the seeds for your future by taking the first steps toward your goals. 

Those born under a Crescent Moon are often self-assertive and determined with a desire to follow what may seem like an inner command or personal urge. These individuals are drawn to do good in the world; however, they can sometimes feel a sense of struggle and frustration in life.

First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon is a time to take action. Try to be brave as you set forth the goals you are planning and reaching for. You may notice you tend to make more decisions during the first Quarter Moons.

Those born under the First Quarter Moon phase have a strong will and an ability to push through obstacles and make decisions. They often experience personal satisfaction in overcoming obstacles, but there can be a tendency toward escapism and a defeatist attitude engrained in their negative side.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

The Waxing Gibbous Moon is a time to take stock of where you’re at with your plans and goals and assess your strategy for moving forward. You can look at this phase as the time to refine ideas.

 Those born under a Gibbous Moon are often eager to improve others and themselves and have an innate ability to evaluate things carefully, leading to the ability to bring things to a successful conclusion. They tend to have strong connections too, surrounding themselves with loved ones, friends, and family.

Full Moon

The Full Moon is when the Moon is the most energetic. During this time, your strength may be intense and your confidence high, so it’s the time for action. Those born under a Full Moon often have concrete ideas, but they may find themselves shifting quickly from emotional to logical thinking. 

The Full Moon is a time for guidance and healing. An evening before this phase can be perfect for recharging your energy. Sit outside and bask in the moonlight. Also, crystals, oracle cards, and meaningful jewelry can be exposed to the Moon to cleanse and charge up with lunar energy.

Waning Gibbous Moon

The Waning Gibbous is also known as the Dissemination Moon, which brings about energy for better communication, revelation, and completion. This is a time to reflect on your actions from this past month, and also a great time to figure out ways to enhance your life’s journey. 

Those born under a Waning Gibbous Moon may have an innate ability to demonstrate what they’ve learned, and they fight for what they believe in. On the negative end, there can be tendencies toward fanaticism or mental confusion. 

Third Quarter Moon

The Third Quarter Moon can make it easier to let go of what’s not working for you. Each path is unique as we are all special in our talents and goals, but this is where you can be true to yourself as you make life yours.

 Those born under the Third Quarter Moon often have organizational and managerial abilities. They have broad social ideals and can force issues and create a crisis to transform something, as well as build new systems and work for future goals regardless of personal cost.

Waning Crescent Moon

A Waning Crescent Moon is a perfect opportunity for downtime. This is the time for you to zone out and rest up as you have built a stable path. Before you step forward again, you’ll need to recharge your batteries.

Those born under a Waning Crescent Moon may experience eagerness to serve in organized groups and social institutions. They can often feel a sense of personal destiny or as if they’re being led by superior powers; they may even have a prophetic gift.

The Moon and Feminine Energy

There are so many representations of the Moon throughout various cultures. Most often, the Moon is represented as feminine energy, while the Sun is associated with masculine energy. This does not mean working with the moon is only for women as we each have both masculine and feminine energies in our makeup.

In the case of the Moon, feminine energy is associated with yin energy: being, feeling, receiving, surrender, ease, and flow. Feminine represents the softer, cooler, darker energies that allow us to flow with cycles, receive, and surrender.

Masculine energy is associated with yang energy: doing, thinking, action, effort, and forward motion. Masculine represents the harder, hotter, and firey energies that allow us to push forward, persevere, actively create, and make things happen. 

The entire universe needs a balance of masculine and feminine energies to thrive in harmony, as do each of us. However, we live in a masculine society that, for thousands of years, has valued masculine energies over the feminine. 

We believe the way to success is in hard work, pushing, fighting, the struggle, and overcoming obstacles. Excessive masculine energy may be the cause of  increased violence, aggression, and exploitation of the planet. In our day-to-day lives, excessive masculine energy can cause burnout, anxiety, stress, and their resulting health problems.

Working with the Moon is one way to restore the energetic balance. Whether you are male, female, or nonbinary, working in harmony with the cycles of nature can help to bring a greater connection to the divine feminine and allow your life to naturally flow the way it should – with ease.

The Moon as the Triple Goddess

This Triple Goddess is symbolized by the Waxing, Full, and Waning Moons, which represent the three phases of the goddess – Maiden, Mother, and Crone. There have been countless representations of these three women in the arts around the world. Here is a look at the Triple Goddess in relation to the Moon:

The Maiden represents the Waxing Moon, growing larger in the sky. The Maiden symbolizes the early phases of life that are full of potential. Think new beginnings, expansion, youth, and excitement. 

The Mother represents the Full Moon. Mother energy is full of creativity and nurturing; representing the midpoint in life. She is fertility, power, stability, and fulfillment. Whether you are caring for a child or loved one, or tending to a project or business, you are in your Mother energy.

The Crone represents the Waning Moon, growing smaller in the sky. The Crone symbolizes the last phase of life; one where we have gathered wisdom from living through the previous cycles and we can surrender knowing that we’ve done all we can. She is the elder, the teacher, the keeper of wisdom, and the holder of compassion.

Each month you have the opportunity to harness the excitement and potential of the Maiden, the power and fulfillment of the Mother, and the wisdom and intuition of the Crone. Learning to live in accordance with these Waxing and Waning energies can change how you see the world and your own life.

You can learn more about feminine archetypes here

How To Begin Working With the Moon

While it may seem that there is a lot to learn, working with the energy of the Moon does not have to be an overwhelming task. You can follow these simple steps to begin your lunar journey:

  • Get a Moon cycle app, planner, or calendar. This will also help you see when the major shifts in the Moon phases are going to occur. Often standard calendars will include the New Moon, First Quarter Moon, Full Moon, and Third Quarter Moon.
  • Start small. Begin by becoming aware of the Moon. When you’re outside, look up. Notice when the Moon is Waxing, Full, Waning, or New. You’ll start to realize the rhythm and cycle and this will help you as you start to work with these phases.
  • Create your own routines, rituals, ceremonies, or habits that you do around the time of the New Moon and the Full Moon. These recommendations from Yasmin Boland are wonderful ways to begin your Moon rituals. 
  • Find events near you. Check your local yoga studio to see if they have any Moon-related yoga classes or meditations. You can also scour the internet for women’s groups and Moon circles in your area. If there aren’t any events near you, you can join online communities that offer membership Moon planning, meditations, and rituals. The Human Beauty Movement (The HBM), for example, often hosts events surrounding the Moon cycle. Click here to join The HBM community and learn more about the upcoming lunar events.

Moon Cycle Rituals Around the World

The Moon has been celebrated by different cultures for various reasons throughout history. The following rituals of ancient and modern cultures around the globe can provide you with inspiration for your own Moon ceremony:

Native American Moon Dance

Native Americans Moon Dance

Pictured: Native American’s performing the Moon Dance   Source: Pow Wows

The Moon Dance is an ancient indigenous practice of Native Americans that comes in addition to the Sun Dance. Both dances involve the gathering of a community and focus on praying and dancing for the sake of healing. The Moon Dance also worships the feminine energy and Mother Earth. 

The dance aims at reuniting women, men, and children with the Earth and the essence of the Moon. It’s a three-day ceremonial dance taking place on the Full Moon. During the night, the community gathers together to dance, sing, and share sacred teachings under the Moon, while the days are for resting and recharging.

Hindu Full Moon Ritual

Hindu Woman Fasting

Pictured: Hindu Woman Fasting During the Full Moon Festival   Source: La Croix International

Hindus believe that the Moon in its fullest state has a great influence on human anatomy, just as it affects the bodies of water on Earth. During a Full Moon, people might become restless, irritable, and even ‘lunatic‘, a term derived from the Latin word for Moon “luna.” 

In Hinduism, the Full Moon day is called “Purnima.” It’s a very felicitous day in the Hindu calendar promising prosperity, and happiness. Therefore, it’s celebrated with a strict fast from sunrise to sunset and praying to the presiding deity, Lord Vishnu. After the whole day of fasting, praying, and reflecting, they take a dip in the river and consume some light food at dusk. 

Lunar New Year in China

Lunar New Year in China Celebration

Pictured: Lunar New Year in China Celebration  Source: BBC

Known as Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, this festival is typically celebrated in China and other Asian countries. The celebration begins with the first New Moon of the lunar calendar and ends 15 days later on the first Full Moon of the lunar calendar.

Lunar New Year celebrations are known to usher out the old year and bring forth the luck and prosperity of the new one. Festivities often include firecrackers, fireworks, and red clothes and decorations. In addition, Lunar New Year is a time to feast and visit family members.

In Conclusion

Celebrating the Moon cycle can be very powerful for your self-development. The Full Moon, for example, always marks a time of change and re-birth; it’s a perfect time to let go of the things that are holding you back from living your best life and reaching your fullest potential. 

How do you celebrate the Moon cycle? Let us know in the comments!

The Origins of Beauty

From an ancient Roman anti-aging cream recipe to the 12th century “Trotula,” a set of medieval texts with formulas for skin care and perfumes, the desire to make ourselves more attractive stretches back through history. Rather than embracing the subjectivity of beauty, though, societies have instead categorized these qualities into beauty “standards.” In this blog, we’ll explore the many definitions of beauty, the Darwinian Theory of Beauty, the beauty standards that shaped history, and why these standards are still changing today.

What is Beauty?

I say beauty comes from within – you are beauty and beauty is you. You are a masterpiece – a work of art. There is only one you, made up of your genes and life experiences. And there will never be another. – Segun Garuba-Okelarin

The Oxford dictionary defines beauty as: “A combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight,” while philosopher and teacher Confucius said of beauty: “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.”

Popular phrases also define beauty as:

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
  • Beauty is pain
  • Beauty is only skin deep

So what is beauty? Various cultures have different definitions and perceptions of beauty. From the Kayan tribes who believe that long necks are the ultimate sign of beauty and from age five, start priming their necks with heavy brass rings, to several parts of Asia where pale or white skin is often seen as a sign of beauty and affluence.

Maria-Alina Asavei, a lecturer and postdoctoral researcher in the Russian and East European Department at the Institute of International Studies at Charles University, says, “We often fail to make clear what we mean by “beauty,” even if we use this word quite frequently.”

Asavei continues: “When we appreciate something as beautiful, we implicitly accept that X is a source of positive aesthetic value or aesthetic appreciation. In the history of philosophical aesthetics, there are many theories and definitions of beauty. Despite differences, most of these theories connect the experience of the beautiful with a certain type of pleasure and enjoyment.”

Yet many would argue that by our very nature, there’s a certain universal set of indices that inform beauty. Alan Moore, a former designer, believes that beauty isn’t about what something looks like; he often speaks about it in terms of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Dirac’s theorem, spirituality, and the laws of nature.

“At an atomic level, everything is connected; they dance and are attracted to one another at a nuclear level. The law of nature seeks things to be made of symmetry and harmony, and even in opposites they’re complementary: we have night and day, up and down. We’re all made of the same stuff molecularly, so we intuit beauty – we know it to be the life-enhancing force.”

While Asavei and Moore have their own views on the definition of beauty, many other researchers, authors, and philosophers have also dipped their toes into the topic.

Denis Dutton: The Darwinian Theory of Beauty

Denis Dutton

Pictured: Denis Dutton   Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Despite the subjectivism dominating contemporary society, there are still some renowned authors who maintain that in beauty there is objective value, such as the philosopher Denis Dutton

Here is a breakdown of Denis Dutton’s TED Talk:

Denis Dutton developed a Darwinian Theory of Beauty. According to this theory, “The experience of beauty is one of the ways that evolution has of arousing and sustaining interest in order to encourage us towards making the most adaptive decisions for survival and reproduction.” 

As an example of natural beauty which seems to appeal to every human being, no matter our geographical provenance, he speaks of the savannah landscape. Dutton states that this landscape is where we have evolved and points out that it shows up everywhere today, like on posters and calendars.

Savannah Landscape

Pictured: Savannah landscape   Source: All Posters

To illustrate artistic beauty, which more frequently than not is deemed the result of cultural conditioning, Dutton offers us the Acheulean pear-shaped hand-axes associated with early humans, which were first found in France. Dutton argues that their sheer numbers show they cannot have been made solely for butchering animals.

Moreover, the fact that many of these hand-axes are too big for butchery and many others show no evidence of wear and tear on their delicate blade edges, seems to suggest that they served other functions. Dutton’s belief is that these artifacts are, in reality, the earliest known works of art. 

Pear shaped hand-axe

Pictured: Pear-shaped hand-axe   Source: Science Buzz

His reasoning for this is that they were transformed from practical tools into what Darwinians call “fitness signals.” These “fitness signals,” Dutton explains, work like the peacock’s tail, displaying to potential mates desirable personal qualities, which in the case of the Homo Erectus or Homo Ergaster would be signs of “intelligence, planning ability, access to rare materials, and fine motor control.” 

After Homo Erectus came Homo Sapiens, and as Dutton points out, they clearly found new ways to amaze each other: perhaps by telling jokes or dancing, through hair styling, storytelling, and so on. He continues on to highlight the fact that for us moderns, the element that has continued to matter is this aspect of how impressed we are by the skill of creating and doing something extraordinary. 

He jestingly tells us that the next time we pass by a window of a jewelry shop displaying a beautifully cut pear drop-shaped stone, we should not be so sure that it’s only culture telling us that that sparkling jewel is beautiful. The reality is that our forebears also loved that shape and found beauty in the skill needed to make it.

So concluding, he asks: ‘Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No!’ he exclaims. Not at all! It’s rather deeply present in our minds and a gift handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our ancestors.” 

To learn more about Dutton’s theory, you can watch his TED Talk here.

How Beauty Standards Have Evolved

Beauty comes in all different forms; from art to design to fashion. However, physical beauty standards tend to respond to the shifting political and social landscapes, and they continue to change with the times, according to beauty and wellness writer Kari Molvar.

“So much about how beauty is being defined right now has a political undertone to it,” she said in a phone interview with CNN, noting how both the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements have inspired responses from the beauty industry.

In her book, The New Beauty, Molvar charts the evolution of beauty standards and the forces that influenced them from antiquity to the present day. It’s a wonderful reminder that the idea of beauty has been shaped by everything, including industrialization, gender politics, and the media.

Beauty From the Land

In the 17th century, Europe was a growing center of global commerce. A network of trade routes brought exciting new foods to the continent. Pepper and sugar, as well as new meats, cereals, and grains, were now available. They were not only sold to the old upper class but also to the gentry, a new group of wealthy landowners.

“All of this naturally led to plumper bodies,” Molvar wrote in her book, “which forged a new beauty aesthetic.”

Renaissance artists, like Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, helped popularize the fuller figure as a new body ideal. Buxom women with soft physiques were idolized on the easel with their dimples, ripples, and all. 

But it wasn’t entirely progressive, Molvar noted. “It’s a shape that is largely celebrated for its biological function, fertility,” she wrote. “And the ability to fulfill the desires of men.”

Peter Paul Rubens Painting

Pictured: A painting by Peter Paul Rubens showing the ideal beauty standard for women   Source: ELYSIAN Magazine

Around 300 years later, another shift in agricultural rhythms saw a new aesthetic come onto the scene in the US. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the arrival of the “Gibson Girl,” a character devised by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, with long legs. Unlike previous images of women with large busts and hips, though, the Gibson Girl was not vulgar or lewd. 

The Gibson Girl represented a new kind of American woman that was wealthy and educated; she was emblematic of the new freedoms of the industrial age, despite hailing from a class that likely never took part in farmwork.

Gibson’s creations could be found in the pages of Life magazine, commonly engaging in high-energy pursuits like swimming or horseback riding. These hobbies trickled down through society to shape a new beauty standard. The new defining features were a slim, athletic build and windswept hair loosely pinned and very voluminous.

The Gibson Girl

Pictured: The Gibson Girl    Source: ELED

Beauty From Liberation

While beauty standards may be oppressive by their very nature, they’re sometimes shaped by the shirking societal norms. In her book, Molvar detailed the “certain amount of liberation” afforded to some White Western women during the 1920s, and the impact this had on beauty and style.

The desired silhouette moved from corseted curves, cinched in at the waist, to a more androgynous shape that “freed women’s bodies.” Makeup also evolved. Instead of only being used to smooth one’s complexion, it was now “intended to shock and stand out,” Molvar wrote.

Women during the 1920s

Pictured: 1920s women     Source: Library of Congress Blogs

1920s Makeup Looks

Pictured: 1920s makeup looks     Source: Hair and Makeup Artist Handbook

Molvar also noted the emergence of the “Black is Beautiful” movement from the 1950s to the 1970s. The phrase was, in part, popularized by the work of photographer Kwame Brathwaite, who shot portraits of dark-skinned models wearing Afrocentric fashions with their hair in afros or protective styles

“It was a way to come up in a beauty system that privileged European notions of beauty,” Tanisha C. Ford, co-author of the book Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful, said.

Brathwaite’s art encouraged Black communities to embrace their natural features, despite prevailing beauty standards being overwhelmingly White. “African American women and men expressed their political support for the cause through their physical appearance,” Molvar wrote, “choosing to leave their hair free … in lieu of straightening or styles that conformed to the standards of white society.”

The Black is Beautiful initiative aligned with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and illustrated how powerful and political cosmetic rituals could be.

Kwame Brathwaiten portrait

Pictured: Portrait by Kwame Brathwaite   Source: BBC

Beauty From Progression and Inclusion

Former CEO of cosmetics giant L’Oréal, Jean-Paul Agon, predicted a swing towards decadence reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties, which followed the 1918 global influenza outbreak; similar to the state of our world following the Covid-19 pandemic. “Putting on lipstick again will be a symbol of returning to life,” he told investors in February, according to the Financial Times.

In 2018 and 2019, the beauty industry experienced its highest level of growth. Over the past three years, celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Rihanna, Emma Chamberlain, Peyton List, and Pharrell have all launched either skincare or beauty lines.

Molvar believes that what we are now seeing is an absolute revolution. “Usually beauty trends and ideals take centuries to change. And the change comes so slowly,” she said. “But with the digitalization and the globalization of the world, we’ve been exposed to so many fresh ideas, thoughts, and points of view, the whole notion of what beauty is has just completely blown up.”

Expectations around taboos that have been honored for centuries, like wrinkles and aging, to perceptions of women’s body hair, are changing. “You can see it with the young folk,” Molvar said. “They’re questioning everything, like, ‘Why do we need to shave our legs? That’s an annoying habit. Why would we do that?’

For example, Billie, a start-up selling uniquely packaged razor kits, has raised $35 million in seed funding since 2017 after its depictions of women’s body hair went against the norm. In 2022, Calvin Klein also ran a campaign that featured Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes Leon, that normalized body hair.

Lourdes Leon for Calvin Klein

Pictured: Lourdes Leon for Calvin Klein   Source: Popsugar

Elsewhere in the beauty space, makeup has become a tool that belongs to both genders. Tom Ford and Chanel have both helped bring male makeup to the mainstream by launching men’s beauty lines in 2013 and 2018. Since then, other big names like Fendi and Dior have jumped on the bandwagon by showcasing men in makeup within their campaigns and on the runway. By 2024, the male grooming market is estimated to be worth $81.2 billion.

Boy de Chanel Campaign

Pictured: Boy de Chanel campaign    Source: Chanel

Dior Men's Campaign 2022Pictured: Men’s makeup look on the Dior runway in 2022    Source: Grazia Magazine

The beauty standards of today are becoming more fluid with individuals tapping into their true selves to show the unique, more freeing standards that they deem beautiful. Today, it’s not about what everyone else thinks is the perfect body type; it’s about the beautiful admiration one can hold for themselves. 

A Study on Changing Beauty Standards

The dominant standard of female beauty in Western media may have vacillated slightly over the decades, but for the majority of the 20th and 21st centuries, symmetrical, toned, white, and thin women have been advertised as the “ideal” by mainstream media. 

Increased visibility for diverse body types has ramped up significantly in recent years, showing that there isn’t just one kind of female body that’s beautiful. And for millennials raised on the internet, having a diversity of different types of bodies in the spotlight is wonderful for body positivity. 

But what influence could different images have on people who’ve never experienced mainstream media, or the beauty “ideals” it espouses? This new study aimed to answer that question, and what it found was that body standards changed much quicker than people might have previously believed.

The scientists behind the research wanted to find out how images of thin models might affect ideas about an “ideal” female body in people who’d never been exposed to those kinds of images before. They traveled to Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, a deeply isolated area where villages have no electricity, and therefore no exposure to television or film. 

Eighty volunteers, male and female, in those villages were recruited and asked to describe their ideal body shape. Half were shown 72 photographs of plus-size models, and the other half were shown 72 photographs of thin models.

Experiment Photos

Pictured: Sample photos used in the experiment   Source: Cold Springs Harbor Library

The entire process lasted about 15 minutes, at which point the scientists then asked the villagers to describe their ideal body image again. The people who had been looking at plus-size images made their idealized female bodies fit that standard, while those who’d been gazing at size zero women also changed their ideal to fit what they’d seen. 

Ideal body size graph

Pictured: Pre-test to post-test difference in ideal body size between groups   Souce: Cold Springs Harbor Library

The shocking element of the experiment was that it only took a small amount of exposure to this imagery for the subjects of this experiment to shift their ideals completely. However, the experiment didn’t measure how long the effects of the

The big lesson to take away from the Nicaraguan experiment is that images, of any kind, can warp our beauty standards within the time it takes to bake a cake. Knowing about why that is, through media literacy and other education, can stop it.

In Conclusion

The idea of beauty has its roots in every facet of humanity. What we consider beautiful can stem from magnificent tools that were used for hunting in ancient times or from farm life during the 17th century. The origins and evolution of beauty are truly fascinating and can teach us how the world around us shapes our thoughts and views.

As for the definition of beauty, perhaps the answer is within you. Perhaps you are beauty, personified.


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