I was introduced to the concept of collarbones being attractive at 13 – it was in a novel that I was reading online. I was perplexed because I saw them, simply, as body parts and didn’t think that they’re supposed to mean something. Then, I observed that every “beautiful” woman on my TV screen had prominent collarbones. Soon after, I had already internalised that idea.
Collarbones, also known as ‘beauty bones’, have largely been associated with thinness, and by extension attractiveness. I watched photoshoots with female models, ramp walks in the fashion industry and films on my television and sometimes even celebrities on their Instagram. They, too, fed me the idea that collarbones are beautiful while invisibilising the reason for it. They have become a part of an aesthetic that is normalised. Resultantly, women often imitate these media representations in their pictures at home.
While some women have naturally prominent collarbones, many, including me, don’t. I have rolled my shoulders back till it hurts, tightened my jaw and conformed my body in a state of deep discomfort, only so that my collarbones would appear in pictures. This enforced representation of ‘femininity’ on my smartphone adds to the mainstream narrative. These structures near the neck are, sometimes, criteria for people with eating disabilities to lose their weight. In a society that is obsessed with being thin, it is no surprise that the clavicle has been glorified. Also, this representation has been limited almost exclusively to female bodies.
The famous picture of Marilyn Monroe in the White Dress, Rekha with her extravagant femininity in Hindi songs, or even sculptures of Greek heroines, do not feature prominent collarbones. Thus, it is difficult to determine when exactly collarbones became a beauty standard in society. Some have pointed towards the “effortlessness” and “purity” of being born beautiful by having prominent collarbones. Defined collarbones are considered a sign of being skinny – a body type that many women have been accultured to achieve. These are deeply patriarchal, fatphobic and heteronormative notions. Glorified collarbones have created a gaze – one that is rampant in its usage. This normalisation has inevitably led to it becoming a beauty standard.
Every time I am in the trial room, I still look at myself from the eyes of a stranger (before checking whether the mirror is two-way). My perception of my body was initially formed by everyone else around me. This was difficult to understand and manoeuvre as a young girl. I unconsciously learnt problematic biases. I would immediately start feeling inadequate every time my weight increased even by a kilogram. These are issues that I still face in some ways; however, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself over the years.
When collarbones become objective markers of a person’s beauty because they indicate thinness, it lends new factors for body monitoring. I experienced the same. Still young and unaware of this gaze, I often took selfies and photographs that only highlighted my collarbones. They gave me confidence and I considered those pictures pretty. However, when I would pass by mirrors or reflective glasses every day, I would be instantly disappointed to not find that prominence near my neck. My prettiness was attached to a very specific factor. I even Googled “How to make my collarbones prominent” and surprisingly found articles with many tips. I now realise that my confidence was a substitute for the inadequacy I felt, created by a fatphobic beauty standard.
Collarbones are also markers for femininity. Wattpad, a website for readers and writers that publishes user-generated stories, is used by teenagers more than other age groups. This problematic notion is blatantly propagated on it—intersecting gender roles and performative femininity. Every female protagonist is beautiful; but not outright, instead unknowingly and “innocently”. The website even has an entire category – “collarbones”– which loads stories that mainly deal with that topic. Most of those stories have heteronormative plots with the collarbones being associated with the female protagonist. Also, “skinny” shows up as the suggested category when one clicks on “collarbones”.
It is important to note that collarbones or any body part, itself, is not the problem. It is its association with thinness or a “trendy” body type that should be criticised. Structures in society fetishise, objectify and/or glorify bodies without facing any repercussions. It is us, individuals, that gaze at our bodies from the webcams of our minds in private and public spheres. We correct, change and morph ourselves as per what they tell us is beautiful and what is not.
In his book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green’s character, April May, says, “We don’t get to decide if we are beautiful.” The decision of what is and is not beautiful has never been a democratic process. It has been dictated in one way or another and is most likely to always be. Perhaps that is why it is so empowering to unlearn these markers of “beauty”.
- The Collarbone’s Connected to Slimness – NYT, 2007
- 5 Ways to Get Sexy, Defined Collarbones – The Health Life, 2015
- A visible collarbone is now one of the most sough-after body features – The Daily Mail, 2015
- How to Have Prominent Collarbones – WikiHow, 2020
- Shocking new social media craze sees women balancing lipsticks on their collarbones to prove how skinny they are – The Sun, 2020
Neha studies media and works around grief, trauma and personal experiences. She is inspired by elephants and tries looking at the sky as many times as she can. You can find her on Instagram.