Are you sick and tired of unrealistic beauty standards? They sure are everywhere, and we’re feeling exhausted from it too. Unrealistic beauty standards are dangerous for so many reasons. But chances are, they’re also doing one thing no one’s talking about: absolutely wrecking your hormones. We explain why and how.
So, what are unrealistic beauty standards?
Unrealistic beauty standards are everywhere. They’re the rules and preferences a culture or society has in place about how we look—even if those “standards” aren’t reachable or healthy. For women, these rules have a lot to do with how we act, how we present ourselves in public, and, of course, how we look. These ideals change over the years. Recently, a lot of strides have been made toward body positivity and also body neutrality. But we’re still dealing with a long list of messages about women’s appearance.
Women are expected to be so many things. Often, the ideals a society upholds aren’t possible for every body type. They don’t promote good health, and they create a ton of stress. Some examples of these standards are the fact that our culture wants us to be thin but very curvy or curvy but not “overweight.” It wants us to have a tony waist but a big booty. Or have long eyelashes at whatever cost (read about safer ones here!). Or to be able to go out and eat and drink but not have that show up in our body shape. And it tells us that, yes, we should wear great makeup but also make it look like we’re not wearing any at all. But, hey…underneath that, the expectation is that we have clear, wrinkle-free skin anyway.
The first way these unrealistic beauty standards are f-ing up your hormones? Stress
If you want to help your hormones, reducing your stress is the first and best place to start. (Here’s some great advice about how to incorporate yoga and meditation.) But today’s busy lifestyle and beauty standards make that pretty difficult. There’s so much pressure to be perfect that we think about it way too much. In fact, a study by AOL showed that 67% of women worry about their appearance at least once a week or more. (That’s more than the percentage who worry about finances.)
Most of us have worried big time about pimples, unwanted hair, and weight gain. Even a weight gain of just a few pounds is enough to put many women into tailspin. After all, most of our clothes are tailored and fitted. That means it doesn’t take much for them to feel too tight or not look right. And the resulting diets and food anxiety, having nothing to wear, and ignoring your cravings creates a stress cycle—whether you realize it or not.
The problem is: when you feel any type stress, your body elicits a stress response. Stress responses are positive… if you’re actually in danger or it’s short-lived. But perpetually worrying about if you’re living up to society’s beauty rules means your stress response runs 24/7. You end up with elevated adrenaline and cortisol more often than not. After a while, those hormones will start to mess with other hormones that you really need to be in balance: your thyroid hormones, progesterone, hunger and satiety hormones, and more. (Uh oh is right.)
Fad diets only create more stress and hormone imbalance
When you’re feeling like there are plenty of clothes in your closet but nothing to wear, the temptation to cut carbs or try a fad diet is real. And strong. But fad diets like keto can actually be really stressful for your body—physiologically and psychologically too. In fact, what you eat and your attitude toward food is very important to your overall hormone balance.
The second way? Under-eating and under-nourishment
But as bad as fad diets and quick weight loss can be, sustained calorie restriction in order to maintain unrealistic beauty standards isn’t good for your hormones either. Many diet apps and nutrition advice say most women can eat as few as 1,200 calories per day for safe weight loss. If that’s what you’re aiming for, we have news for you: that’s the caloric intake most toddlers get. Grown women need more than that.
Will you be able to live on 1,200 calories a day? Sure, you can exist. But your body is going to 1. view this as stress and 2. prioritize certain functions over others. You may lose your menstrual cycle (before perimenopause or menopause) and experience reduced fertility. This is because calorie restriction lowers levels of sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It also makes it harder for your body to convert T4, one of your thyroid hormones, into T3, which is ready for your cells to use. The result? You feel colder, your metabolism slows, and you might have trouble regulating your body temp.
Under-eating and under-nourishing leads to nutrient deficiencies, which make hormone balance all but impossible
With severe calorie restriction, it’s also common to have micronutrient deficiencies. This also happens when you eat plenty of calories but don’t eat wholesome, nutritious foods and enough healthy fats. Your body needs a wide range of micronutrients to create enzymes and hormones. For example, your body needs selenium to convert thyroid hormone into a usable form for your body. Magnesium’s essential for steroid hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It also makes it possible for you to convert tryptophan into serotonin. (Serotonin helps with your mood and your sleep.)
Similarly, healthy fats are used to make cholesterol. Cholesterol is what your body uses to help produce many of your hormones. If you’re attached to an extremely low-fat diet (without a green light from your healthcare provider), you may be robbing yourself of the building blocks for hormone balance. Also, if your diet is low in fiber, you’re not going to be able to get rid of excess estrogen and other hormones from your gut.
Planning on replacing deficiencies with supplements? Not so fast. According to dietitian Wendie, these supplements can help. But the best place to get your nutrition is from a well-rounded diet. Want to work on your food habits? Take a look at Wendie’s courses and coaching.
And, three: exposure to environmental toxins
Just like we’re addicted to dieting, we’re also overly attached to cosmetics and beauty products. According to byrdie.com, women in the United States spend about $313 per month on personal care products. (That sums up to about $225,360 during your lifetime.) But all that comes at a cost. And it’s much higher than the financial hit to your wallet.
So many conventional personal care products here in the U.S. contain ingredients called endocrine disruptors. These are chemicals that mess up the your endocrine system balance, which is a complex system of glands and organs. (Think of it as a messenger network that has lots of feedback loops for what hormones should be released when—and how much.) When that delicate balance becomes disrupted, hormone feedback levels are interrupted and result in multiple imbalances.
Many of these disruptions directly impact both male and female fertility. However, they also affect your health, even if fertility isn’t top of mind right now in your life. Endocrine disruptors have been connected to several types of cancers, including breast, thyroid, and prostate. What’s more? These endocrine disruptors are pervasive. They can be found in everything from the laundry detergent you use to lotion to foundation, eye shadow, and even the lash adhesive in your extensions. (Read up on that here with ophthalmologist and safer cosmetics OpulenceMD Beauty founder Dr. Anika.)
It’s not as hard as you think to reduce your toxic load, still wear makeup and use products you love (if that’s your thing), and care for your hormone health at the same time
Lots of cleaner beauty companies have popped up in the last few years. So, if you want to wear makeup because you like it… you can. (But if you don’t like it? Give up wearing it for someone else.) Some of our favorites include Ilia, BeautyCounter, and Jane Iredale. If you want to know more about how toxins in personal care and other products can affect your fertility or your health, check out our interview with California-based physician and integrative fertility specialist Shala Salem, M.D. Dr. Salem is fantastic at explaining the top ingredients to avoid. She also reduces the overwhelm surrounding endocrine disruptors and gives all kinds of doable, simple swaps in this article to minimize your exposure. (Trying to conceive? Dr. Salem has a podcast, Fertility Journeys, which you can find here on Audible.)
Small changes really do add up
We’re such an all-or-nothing society. But the reality is: every little thing we do matters. And that means that the small changes you make toward pushing away unrealistic beauty standards add up to better hormone health—almost immediately and even more so in the long run. (You’ve got this, girl.)