The Truth About the Beauty Industry
Beauty trends are constantly changing, but the idea of whether or not something is beautiful is no accident. Body size, shape, physical appearance, ethnicity, height, and hair color are all examples of things that we as a society have viewed should look a certain way. The beauty standard is created by big corporations such as cosmetic companies, trying to sell the idea of beauty to profitable customers through shame. Cosmetic brands specifically target and pressure females of all ages, to achieve this standard of beauty given that the way their self-esteem, or the way they view and value themselves, is influenced a lot more by outside factors than men’s self-esteem tends to be. They know that women will spend any amount of money to achieve the impossible standard of beauty that only about 5% of women achieve.
According to Beauty in Mind: The Effects of Physical Attractiveness on Psychological Well-Being and Distress, a study conducted by psychologists Nabanita Datta Gupta, Nancy L. Etcoff, and Mads M. Jaeger proves how physical attractiveness, directly and indirectly, impacts an individual’s mental health. “We find that greater facial attractiveness, lower BMI, and greater height are associated with higher psychological well-being and lower rates of depression”. All of those attributes are just some examples of the beauty standard that millions of women around the world aim to achieve. The state of someone’s mental health, which is connected with one’s self-esteem relating to how one person feels about themselves and how they can cope with it, is directly coordinated with how they appear to themselves and others. What has been promoted by the beauty industry to be the beauty standard, are the same people who have positive emotions toward themselves as well as lower stress levels and abilities to retaliate to negative situations in their lives. If you look better, you feel better. Therefore it can be assumed by the reader that once they achieve the beauty standard, they will automatically live a better lifestyle.
Now, all of this may not matter to the average person, but to marketers of cosmetic products this information is extremely valuable considering that a lot of our buying decisions are made through our subconscious, which is also where our emotions come from. If people who are physically attractive automatically have higher self-esteem without even realizing it, then marketers want to create something for people to achieve this greater feeling so they keep coming back for more, which in turn creates a profit for the business. The major goal of a business is to make profits to keep the business alive, so by doing this they purposely body shame their target market into thinking that the only way they will be beautiful is to buy their product. The average person does not automatically look in the mirror and think that there is something wrong with the way they look, this behavior is learned.
The article titled “The Most Famous Beauty Campaigns in History” goes over how some of the most successful advertisements for cosmetics came to be, and the psychology of why they were so successful. For example, Deodorant was seen as a medical item back then that not many women felt they needed. All it took was one high school girl who decided to run a deodorant business that changed society’s mindset. She created an advertisement that sold the idea that every woman smelled bad whether they realized it or not. If they smell bad, then it could jeopardize something that they care about a lot, ruining their chances with the man of their dreams.
After the advertisement hit the papers, women everywhere had new insecurity that they had to worry about, and the “only solution” was to buy the deodorant that they were selling. Now, we all know that deodorant is not technically a need for survival, and if someone has a slight odor it is not the end of the world, but once women saw that the way they smell can affect how others view them, it severely impacts the way they view themselves. The advertisement put this anxiety inside of their heads which is why sales of that company’s deodorant increased by 112% because they believed that it was the only way they could become beautiful to others. Now, deodorant is used as an everyday item.
For this exact reason is why cosmetic companies also use photoshop in their advertisements. They use it to digitally alter a photo to make the person appear more attractive, which gives the impression that the product will make the customer more attractive. They rid the models featured in beauty campaigns of any natural skin texture, smoothing hair, whitening teeth, as well as enlarging and shrinking other features. They create a look that is unrealistic and unattainable for the average person. Companies want their products to appear as if it works better than it does, by using photoshop, a person will see how a model looks in an advertisement and then, without realizing, automatically compare the way they look with how the model looks. Companies try to make photoshop look as “natural” as possible so customers believe if they buy the product, then they can achieve the same results the advertisement promises.
Once consumers start comparing how they look with how the model looks, their self-esteem starts to lower and the need for the product starts to grow. Which in turn creates profit for the company, which is what the company wants to happen. They have started to take notice of this and began to create insecurities out of normal parts of life to deliberately make customers feel insecure about themselves. “Anti-aging” products are a perfect example of this, aging is the natural process of growing older and no matter who you are, you get older. Society and marketers put this view on women, especially that once you get older, you are getting uglier. There are millions of anti-aging products on the market that claim to make you look younger, but what is wrong with getting older? Once women see that there are all these products to prevent aging, they will start to feel bad about themselves because they are getting older. Overall, brands should start to be more inclusive and promote that the image of beauty is the way that you naturally look.
We are all aware as consumers that cosmetic products are an expensive luxury that we are all capable of living without. Marketers, whose job it is to create needs for products, figured out a way to persuade us to spend money that could go to essentials such as groceries because they want that money to go towards their products. When a new product is about to be released in the market, what happens next is companies need to find a way to put that product into the mind of the consumers while creating a need for said product. Cosmetic advertisers have come up with a way to target consumers’ self-esteem to get them to think that they need their products to become “less ugly” and fit more into the beauty standard, therefore resulting in purchasing their products.
This unethical practice originated back in the year 1912, with one of the most famous beauty advertisements titled “The Curve of a Woman’s Arm” which was an advertisement for a staple everyday product, deodorant. This was not always the case, back then deodorant was used only as a medical item and their solution to smelling good was showering regularly and wearing intense amounts of perfume. As all Marketers do, Edna Murphey, a high schooler who wanted to sell the deodorant that her father invented, knew that she needed to reposition deodorant in the consumers’ minds to get her product into their everyday routine. She decided to put the idea of fear in every woman’s mind specifically, and make them think that they do smell bad enough where they needed deodorant by going after their social status and love life
The advertisement goes on to say that perspiration is “A frank discussion of a subject too often avoided” which implies to the readers that when they do smell, others are aware of it but instead of telling you, they will gossip behind your back about it. Men everywhere will be disgusted by it as well. This style of advertising is known as shame advertising. The main purpose is to make the reader feel bad about themselves to make it appear that the only solution to feeling better is using their product. Although this advertisement was created over 100 years ago, shame advertisements are still prominent in today’s media, just not as obvious. For example, an anti-aging advertisement from 2014 from L’oreal promoting their Youth Code Serum, stated that “now you can instantly improve skin quality while revealing the new youth of your skin” which is still shameful advertising. This advertisement is implying that when your skin is at its highest quality is when you look young. Older women seeing this advertisement will start to feel like their mature skin isn’t good-looking and therefore be more persuaded to purchase the product, which is what companies want.
Feeling like you need to look like the models in the advertisement who fit into the beauty standard is the “ultimate goal” of the Social Comparison Theory. This was founded by American psychologist Leon Festinger. This theory states “the idea that there is a drive within individuals to look to outside images to evaluate their own opinions and abilities” which explains how advertisements affect our self-esteem. It is in human nature to constantly compare ourselves to other people, typically those who are “above us” because we believe that the way they look is realistic and attainable. Once we look like those to who we compare ourselves, then we fit into the elite status they hold as well as feel better about ourselves.
When women view shameful advertisements for cosmetic products, they begin to get the message that the way that they naturally look is considered an imperfection. The human need to compare themselves to others, to please society happens in the subconscious. This is where 95% of all buying decisions are made, Marketers use this to their advantage because humans don’t even realize that they think this way so it comes automatically to them. They started comparing themselves to those who have the “perfect results” and believed that if they bought the product, they would fit in with the higher status that they hold. They then develop a need for the product and unless they have it, they will have this ongoing thought that they are not good enough for society. Once they purchase the product, the unmet need for fitting in and having high self-esteem would be satisfied, and therefore the marketers would complete their goal by creating and satisfying an unmet need that satisfies their target demographic.
For years advertisements have shown tall, thin, fair-skinned women with a virtually clear skin which leaves those who do not look like that to compare themselves with the people they see in the advertisements and believe that look to be the standard of beauty. For those who do have low self-esteem, it is more likely that it can develop into something more serious. The University College of London did a study on how your brain maps out self-esteem, starting from the time you were a child, the study resulted in finding that “Low self-esteem is a vulnerability factor for numerous psychiatric problems including eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and depression.” When women or young girls, in particular, are exposed to these advertisements that purposely try and make them feel worse about themselves, it can affect their self-esteem as a child, and that can then carry on into adulthood. When there is cosmetic advertising aimed at women of any age, there is a higher chance that more women will grow up dealing with mental health issues and eating disorders than ever before. It is a company’s job as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility to try and always make ethical decisions to enhance society as a whole while making a profit. These forms of advertisements need to change as making customers feel worse about themselves to get them to spend their money is not ethical. Businesses should consider their consumers’ feelings and begin to create advertisements that send the message that everyone is beautiful and that the “beauty standard” does not exist. If more brands begin to adopt this practice then women everywhere will stop comparing themselves to the models that have unrealistically airbrushed skin and start to appreciate their natural beauty.
The Societal Marketing concept as described by Roger A. Kerin and Steven W. Hartley, Authors of “McGraw Hill Marketing: The Core” is the view that “organizations should satisfy the needs of consumers in a way that provides for society’s well-being.” Companies that apply the concept of societal marketing hold themselves to a high standard where they are making ethical decisions that benefit the world at large. Their relationship with their consumers benefits both parties; companies make a profit, the consumers can get their needs met, and everyone lives in a better world. It is reported that 80% of consumers will switch to a brand that supports a good cause, which means it is in a company’s best interest to always act ethically to promote a socially responsible brand image.
For cosmetic companies, a way that they can benefit society is by promoting the message of self-love, and not deliberately shaming their customers. Even though companies can bring in a lot more customers by promoting a positive message that aligns with the societal marketing concept, a lot of companies completely violate this concept just to gain extra profits. When a company releases an advertisement, its three main objectives are to inform, remind, and persuade customers about products a company is putting out. Instead, cosmetic companies use advertisements to remind customers how unattractive they appear to be without the use of cosmetics.
One of the main problems that society faces today is millions of individuals having prior body image issues. Dr. Jake Linardon is a Research Fellow and Lecturer of Psychology at Deakin University, Melbourne Australia. He studies the causes, consequences, and treatments for eating disorders. According to a multinational study conducted, he reports that body image was listed as the top 4 concerns for women worldwide, and “around 50% of young 13-year-old American girls reported being unhappy with their body. This number grew to nearly 80% by the time girls reached 17 years of age”. In American adult women, it was reported through a large study that around 50% of women of any race felt that they were dissatisfied with their bodies.
With body issues being such a big problem, one would think that companies are pushing the image of body positivity even more on their consumers. Instead, cosmetic marketers are the ones who are creating this problem. A phobia around imperfections to exploit their consumers’ insecurities, for the money. When companies are purposely making their consumers feel bad about the way that they naturally look, they are creating new insecurities for people who see these advertisements. When they begin to have low self-esteem because of these advertisements, it typically leads to depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and overall lack of confidence. Companies are not benefiting the world by causing mental health issues to consumers, therefore violating their social responsibility.
However, One socially responsible cosmetic brand owner and celebrity, Rhianna, decides to go against the norm of preying off on customers’ self-hate by launching her brand Fenty Beauty. She stated that her mission for creating her projects is so “people everywhere would be included.” Fenty Beauty debuted in 2017, with a wide range of shades for their foundations with almost 40, now upgraded to 50 shades. She made sure to include shade ranges for every skin color. It didn’t just stop at the foundation, her contour sticks, bronzers, concealers, blush included colors that will look good on any skin tone which is rare to find for the majority of brands out there. Their advertisements featured women of all skin tones, and those who don’t typically fit the beauty standard to show that no matter what color you are, and who you look like, you are beautiful.
Immediately, this brand became a success, but not because it was founded by Rhianna, a well-known celebrity. Raking in about 550 million dollars in its first year and being named one of the best inventions of 2017 by Time magazine, in 2022 Fenty Beauty is now a billion-dollar brand. It is clear to see that brands that prioritize inclusiveness rake in a lot of praise from the media and consumers. Typically the media is quick to call out any hypocrisy or faults that brands may commit, so for a brand to get this much attention and good press it means they are doing something right. With Fenty beauty being such a success, it must make sense for other brands to hop on the inclusion bandwagon so they too can become a hit by consumers.
This sadly is not the case for most other brands out there. Cosmetic pushers still rely on insulting their customers to drive up sales because it seems like the thought of being inclusive will convince customers that they do not need makeup, which will drive them out of business. There are still millions of advertisements out there promoting cosmetic products in such a way that women will be guilted into purchasing them because they feel as if they will not look good without them. Despite popular belief, this is no accident. It takes millions of dollars as well as hundreds of people to approve and sign off on an advertisement before it is released to the public. The odds that someone could spot if an ad can be taken in any way is extremely high, and the fact that there are advertisements out there that are deliberately making women feel bad about themselves to buy a product is alarming. Following the success of Fenty beauty, as well as adhering to their social responsibility, brands need to start promoting products using the message of body positivity and letting their consumers know they are beautiful no matter what to overall benefit society, with fewer body-shaming ads come less negative body images.
Kerin, Roger A., and Steven W. Hartley. Marketing: The Core. McGraw-Hill LLC, 2022.
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Linardon, Dr Jake. “Body Image Statistics 2022: 47+ Shocking Facts & Stats.” Break Binge Eating, Break Binge Eating, 27 Feb. 2022,
Fenty, Robyn. “About Fenty Beauty: Fenty Beauty.” Fenty Beauty + Fenty Skin, Kendo Publishings, 2017,
University College London. (2017, October 24). Self-esteem is mapped in the human brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from
Magazine, Smithsonian. “How Advertisers Convinced Americans They Smelled Bad.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 2 Aug. 2012,
Staff, the Premerger Notification Office. “L’Oréal Settles FTC Charges Alleging Deceptive Advertising for Anti-Aging Cosmetics.” Federal Trade Commission, 3 July 2014,
Beauty in Mind: The Effects of Physical Attractiveness on …
Generally strong but repetitive and very much burdened by both actual grammar errors and bad syntax. Violates the ban on 2nd person repeatedly. Belabors the point of “to make a profit, which was their goal” too many times. Repeats the story of deodorant in two places.