By Susan A. Resheq
Let’s face it: it’s tough being a woman, especially in times where women are objectified in and targeted by advertising. The constant quest for ‘young and beautiful’ has become an increasing obsession among most women around the globe simply because beauty industry has succeeded in changing the notion of women ‘being beautiful’ to ‘must be beautiful’.
Worth $50 billion in the United States alone, $60 billion in Europe, $60 billion in Australia and Asia, and another $10 billion in Africa, the $180 billion beauty industry continues to manipulate women’s minds by convincing us that our destiny depends on how we look, which depends on what we spend. ‘Ugliness,’ as society sees it, can be fixed, if you just spend enough. Refuse to consume? Then your face and looks are your own mistake!
The beauty myth was never easy to create. It took a hard work and lots of business between beauty industry and mainstream commercial media. Beauty products entered the market and proliferated in the 20th century. Women from this point on were often objectified in beauty advertising. The beauty myth was successfully implanted in the minds of millions of women through beauty industry and media’s creativity in manipulating representation, identity, regulation, consumption, and production, which are the five interacting loci of cultural practices.
Representation: I am beautiful… Only if
Enter the world of any department store in the world, and you encounter immediately one of the great conventions of all times: An array of glistening and well-lighted counters-all selling cosmetics loaded with promises of astonishing beauty and self-improvement. Images of beauty products signify the perfect body, which must be thin, renovated, sexy, and of course, young!
These have become the values upheld within our culture as crucial to the satisfaction of desirable femininity and beauty. Beauty products attempt to convince women that lips, eyes, eyelashes, nails, fingers, skin, teeth, cheeks, shoulders, arms, legs, feet — all these and many more have become areas that require work.
However, did you know that this construction of a woman’s body as a work-site was born with cosmetics advertising and was central to convincing women that cosmetics were a constitutive element of femininity and beauty?
If you closely examine beauty advertisements, you will realize that the identity that dominates beauty products discourse the skilled household manager, the guilty mother, the new woman, and the career woman. The new woman, who is a superwoman, manages to be successful in her career, to have a clean and shiny home, to be a great mother and wife, to cook delicious food, to be active and sexually attractive. She is playful, understanding, sexually informed, adventurous, beautiful, and flatters women into buying beauty products because it is her secret of who she is…Wink wink!
Beauty industry persists on providing certain images of beauty and how women should look like. Therefore, to follow up with the ‘beauty myth’ and the new identity, women need the ‘magical’ help of beauty products.
Regulation: Am I beautiful enough?
Beauty industry did a great job in making most women feel that their appearances are at all times scrutinized by friends, relatives, co-workers and strangers. The message is: Your worth depends on people’s judgments and assessments of your appearance. Eventually, women become attentive in monitoring their own appearances constantly. Cosmetics, fashion, diet, and fitness industries make huge profits out of reminding women of the necessity to improve their looks through the use of beauty products in order to gain desirable social attention and praise.
Consumption: You are what you shop
How many times have we encountered beauty ads that promote a set of culturally specific meanings and desires like, ‘we are what we shop,” or “I shop, therefore, I am”? Today’s advertising messages blurt out one promise: Buy this or that product and you will never be bored, instead, you will be happy and satisfied!
Unfortunately, in buying beauty products, especially expensive brands, a woman buys certain culturally constructed images of modernity, style, and sexual attractiveness. With a number of hedonistic themes — happiness, youth, status, success, fashion and beauty— the general message we receive is that solutions to women problems can be found in buying and consuming.
Production: Be Happy — It’s your choice!
The origins of beauty products lie primarily in local understanding of the scents and healing properties of herbs, flowers and plants, whose uses were bound to age-old cultural and religious beliefs. Hence, the concept of “natural & healing” became a core principal of a global beauty industry with uninterrupted growth that not even economic meltdowns and wars have been able to end.
Hence, beauty industry focuses on some key points to attract women’s hearts and minds. Most of the common points are provoking emotions, sparking a message to think about, creating messages that signify challenge, choice and individuality, and using images that worth thousands of words. Also, promoting simple and direct messages so women give themselves the permission to pamper themselves. These messages usually stay longer on women’s minds, like “Get Your Own,” or “Because You’re Worth It.”
The quest for beauty has changed women into objects of desire, objects of sex, objects to be toyed around with, and objects to be created and molded into “superwomen.” Conventional femininity and beauty values continue to prevail in our culture through the messages we receive from commercial media and beauty industry. Unfortunately, we let beauty industry and mainstream media define beauty standards for us, which are unrealistic and absurd. Most women’s role models have become twenty-something starlets and teenage fashion models whose photographs are carefully Photoshopped, airbrushed and drastically altered. This is ridiculous.
Don’t you think it’s time to change our perspective on corporate beauty? When are we going to believe that beauty is not about our appearances, but more about leading a healthy life style and celebrating who we really are as persons? Why is it that aging has become a nightmare to most women? And why can’t we just enjoy every stage in our life as we embrace aging gracefully? These are just some of the questions that we must ask ourselves and then look within to find the right answers.
About The Author: Susan A. Resheq is a freelance writer with 15 years of experience in media. She has written for elite newspapers, such as Jordan Times and Saudi Gazette, on children’s rights, education, youth empowerment, and general social features. Susan currently works as a media and public relations consultant at ALWATAN Center— a non-profit organization that seeks to empower Palestinian people through facilitating the development of social responsibility, building a civil society, and promoting popular resistance and nonviolent action to create a democratic Palestinian state. Susan can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.