beauty

The problem with defining 'the most beautiful girl in the world'.

“You’re stunning.”

“More beautiful than I ever was.”

“Can I be her?”

These are comments teenagers and adults have left on the Instagram account of Russian model Alina Yakupova.

A six-year-old girl.

Video by Mamamia

Somewhere in the midst of Alina’s growing social media profile (30,000 Instagram followers, and counting) and her work for fashion brands including Monnalisa and Yudashkin Kids, the child model has been cast as “the most beautiful girl in the world”.

There was no pageant or photo contest, no reality show; it’s just an arbitrary label gushed by her Instagram fans, then spotted and legitimised by tabloid media headlines.

RUSSIAN DOLL: Russian child, 6, is dubbed the new ‘most beautiful girl in the world,’” The Sun read.

“Alina Yakupova, six, from Moscow, started modelling when she was just four-years-old, and has gone on to grace the pages of magazines Instyle and Grazia.

“Her striking ice-blue eyes and long, blonde locks have gained her a global fan base.”

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Alina’s not the first to be given the label.

A little over a decade ago, French schoolgirl Thylane Blondeau was declared “the world’s most beautiful girl” and, at the age of six, became the youngest person to model for the French edition of fashion magazine Vogue. The shoot captured Thylane reclining on a chair, wearing a full face of makeup, high heels and diamond jewellery.

She’s now 18 and still modelling, but that title stuck to her throughout her career; an addendum to any mention of her name. Almost as if it was something she had achieved.

A Russian girl named Kristina Pimenova followed. Then Anna Knyazeva.

Now it seems Alina has been handed the same legacy, and her mother is thrilled: “Today is a perfect day!” she wrote, posting an article about the title to Alina’s Instagram page.

But is it really something to celebrate?

thylane-blondeau
French model Thylane Blondeau was also given the title. Image: Instagram.
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Sarah McMahon, psychologist and director of Body Matters Australasia, noted just how much a superlative like "the most beautiful girl in the world" encapsulates our culture's distorted take on beauty.

For one, it reveals what we value most.

It's no accident that Thylane, Kristina, Anna and Alina look similar. White. Wide, blue eyes. Long, light hair.

"It really is a reiteration of a very homogenised beauty ideal, because it highlights the fact that there is a very clearly defined perspective on what is beautiful," she told Mamamia.

But as Sarah notes, they also represent a beauty standard that's wholly unattainable. At the surface level, simply by virtue of being the most, the best: "It's something that's presented as a compliment. But ultimately, it does pit children against each other, because if someone is 'the most beautiful' then it illustrates the fact that children exist in a hierarchy, that there's a hierarchy around beauty that they can't escape from," she said.

But beneath that, also because these girls exist in a strange in-between cultural space.

"Adults are comparing themselves to [Alina], which highlights just how much beauty is infantilised. But at the same time, in a lot of the images, she's adultified, in that she's dressed up as an adult," she said. "And so it's an ironic juxtaposition, because it creates an impossibility for young people and older people."

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This is a construct that adults have created and continue to foster. But it's children that it stands to hurt the most.

"A child is really just developing their sense of identity and self-worth. So there are multiple layers on which it could be damaging to them," Sarah said.

By holding one child up as the most beautiful, posting pictures of her on social media that invite compliments and praise, it reiterates the idea that beauty and worth are synonymous. A message, Sarah said, that children are already getting from all sorts of angles — from fairy tales, to movies and TV.

"It's something that's almost brainwashing children before they have a chance to actually see the world from a different perspective. And of course, that creates a confirmation bias, so that wherever they look there's evidence to prove and substantiate that the beautiful people are the ones that have positive outcomes, get opportunities and are seen as being good and seen as being more liked."

So how do you counter that? A reflex might be to tell a girl bombarded with those messages that she is beautiful, too. But Sarah argued that it's not the best approach.

"Counter-intuitively, praising girls on their appearance doesn’t inoculate them against body shame, it does the very opposite," she said. "It elevates beauty as most desirable trait and something they are defined by, ultimately increasing body anxiety."

Instead she offers the following advice for grown ups wanting to promote healthy body image in a child.

1. Ensure kids know they are more than their appearance, and that life itself is about more than just looking good.
2. Talk to kids about their body, not their appearance. Their body is a vehicle and they are in the driver's seat of their lives.
3. Encourage kids to live from the inside out rather than the outside in: We should be informed by our body and do things because it feels good, not simply because it looks good.
4. Teach kids that loving your body has nothing to do with how you look. It is knowing your body is fantastic — not that it looks fantastic.
5. Lead by example!

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