Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dare to Defy

Image result for Harnaam KaurA couple of weeks ago I attended the TEDxWarwick conference. This year they honoured people who have in some shape or form revolutionised our society and continue to do so. Today, people face certain expectations, stereotypes, and standards which prevents individuals from embracing their uniqueness. In particular, I am going to focus on Harnaam Kaur’s talk. She is a British model, anti-bullying and body positive activist, as well as, a life coach and motivational speaker. As a woman with a full-grown beard and a turban, she has taken it upon herself to defy and alter society’s stereotypes and standards of beauty.

In today’s society, women specially feel the need to conform to society’s norms and expected standards of beauty to be considered attractive. Social norms have been defined as standards which are formed through our group interactions and which individuals consequently follow (Sherif & Sherif, 1953). The social norm is that society defines what others find attractive. Hence, it seems reasonable that women would want to conform to these social norms, specially as attractive individuals are more positively evaluated; as kinder, smarter, healthier, and more successful (Bar-Tal & Saxe, 1976; Cialdini, 2007). This phenomenon is known as the ‘halo effect.’

Related imageWomen are under extreme amounts of pressure to fulfil and maintain the standards of beauty which are portrayed in social media, advertisement campaigns, films, and magazines. These include images of photo shopped models, which convey that women should want and be thinner and more attractive (Cash & Brown, 1989). This relates to the availability heuristic, which suggests that the easier something comes to mind, the more frequent and important we think it is (Schwarz, Bless, Strack, Klumpp, Rittenauer-Schatka, & Simons, 1991). In this case, as women’s eyes are consumed by that one body image which is promoted in their day-to-day lives, ‘ideal bodies’, they believe everyone that is attractive has this appearance. Therefore, they experience the necessity to attain these unrealistic standards to be accepted by others. However, individuals are unaware that these beauty standards, which are promoted by campaigns such as, Victoria Secret’s “Love my body”, are unrepresentative of the general population, but rather limited to a minority, models.

Image result for Harnaam Kaur london fashion weekBeauty is one of the most powerful social constructs: validating those who society perceives as attractive but simultaneously forcing people to constantly self-improve to meet other’s expectations. Therefore, insecurities about one’s appearance can lead to anxiety, loneliness, and sometimes to self-harm. Harnaam as many other individuals was bullied and tormented in school as her body-image deviated from society’s norms. The constant taunting led Harnaam to make several attempts to end her life. She felt depressed. When she turned 16, she decided to embrace her appearance, “my body, my rules”, deciding to live life for herself instead of depending on other’s acceptance. Although she still feels like many members of society judge her appearance, she decided to accept her uniqueness.

Thus, Harnaam has embarked on a journey to redefine beauty all over the world. From being featured in Teen Vogue to walking London Fashion Week, she has challenged gender stereotypes, influencing the modern concept of beauty. With her statement “my body, my rules”, she encourages individuals across the world to accept their body-image and fight against cyberbullying and mental health issues. As she believes, “beauty must serve to empower all.” Therefore, we need to preserve the diversity of beauty by defying society’s expectations, stereotypes, and standards.


Bar-Tal, D., & Saxe, L. (1976). Physical attractiveness and its relationship to sex-role stereotyping. Sex Roles, 2, 123-133.

Cash, T. F., & Brown, T. A. (1989). Gender and body images: Stereotypes and realities. Sex Roles, 21, 361-373.

Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York: Collins.

Schwarz, N., Bless, H., Strack, F., Klumpp, G., Rittenauer-Schatka, H., & Simons, A. (1991). Ease of retrieval as information: Another look at the availability heuristic. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 195-202.

Sherif, M. & Sherif, C. W. (1953). Groups in harmony and tension. New York: Harper.

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