Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder

What Culture Wants From Us

Why are some people considered “more attractive than others”? There has been a significant amount of research done on the effect that advertising in the fashion and beauty industry has on women. By creating advertisements with unrealistic images of beauty, it has resulted in anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-confidence in many women. Most of these negative emotions come from unhappiness among body and appearance when they do not look like the girls in the magazines. Who sets these beauty standards and how far will we go to become “beautiful” in society’s eyes?

Women young and old are constantly being reminded of what is considered beautiful. There are so many advertisements that promote this beautiful image to women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. By placing photo-shopped and computer-enhanced models in advertisements, society has built up impossible standards of beauty, which has led to feelings of inadequacy among women. The YWCA USA developed a report in 2008 called Beauty at Any Cost, which discussed the consequences and what society has created because of the beauty obsession in America. The report shows that not only does the beauty obsession result in decreased levels of self-esteem, but it is also causing Americans to spend money on beauty products that they do not really need. The YWCA reported that $7 billion is spent each year on cosmetics (Beauty at Any Cost, 2008, p. 7). If we go beyond just buying cosmetics to more drastic measures, the amount of cosmetic surgeries is also increasing. In 2007, there were nearly 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and non-surgical produces performed in the United States. That is a huge increase of 500% in the number of surgeries performed over the last ten years (Beauty at Any Cost, 2008, p. 3). This beauty obsession has created a billion dollar industry, which holds the power to shape and change women’s perceptions of beauty.

Beauty Industry’s Effect on Women

We could almost all agree that the media is negatively influencing our world. Many studies have been done that show the effects of media on women today. Most of the results show that the media negatively affects self-image. Research has been done specifically on the cosmetic industry and how it affects consumer’s self-image. Based on the fact that $7 million is spent on cosmetics each year, it is glaring obvious that the cosmetic industry influences consumers in some way. One of the first studies that involved the effect of cosmetics on women was done by Marsha L. Richins along with Peter H. Bloch. This study focused on enhancements items used to increase attractiveness. Items could range from a pair of clothing, makeup, jewelry, anything that makes a person feel better about themselves and more attractive. This study found that consumers who believe they are unattractive will “rely heavily on adornments as compensatory tools” (Bloch & Richins, 1992, p. 9). The media has been been no help and cause women to feel unattractive. This directly causes women lacking in self-esteem to use adornments to make themselves feel better.

From a young age, girls are taught to experiment with makeup to look pretty. Different amounts of makeups can be applied as needed, and it works as a temporary boost in self-esteem. What is so appealing to most women about cosmetics is that it is a quick and easy way to temporarily solve beauty problems like breakouts, dark circles etc. Makeup can be applied fairly quickly and is relatively inexpensive compared to other more drastic measures such as diet, exercise, or cosmetic surgery. Cosmetics have become an easy way to measure up to the standards of beauty made up by society.

Assuming that female facial attractiveness is what women are looking for by applying cosmetics, the Cash study attempts to determine what exactly female facial attractiveness is attributed to, and as it turns out, it is more than just looking good.The study found that “images of women wearing makeup were judged to be healthier and more confident than the images of the same women without makeup.” (Cash and Cash). When wearing cosmetics, women were also “assigned greater earning potential and considered to have more prestigious jobs than when they were presented without makeup (Cash and Cash).”

The report also found that wearing cosmetics caused “ratings” of self-confidence within the females to be higher than ratings of women without makeup. Based on these results, it shows why women place such value on achieving attractiveness through using adornments. Along with being viewed as more confident, they are also viewed as healthier and more successful individuals, just because they look “put together. The research further suggests that women use cosmetics to manipulate their appearance to receive a boost in positive feedback from peers about their appearance.

Women are constantly comparing themselves to standards of beauty that society shoves in thei faces. It ranges from ads on tv, to billboards you see driving to work. The effect of cosmetic advertising on women consumers is a relatively new area of research, but it requires attention seeing as it is a large and growing industry. As previously stated, the YMCA reported that nearly $7 billion dollars was spent on cosmetics in 2008 alone.It has probably doubled since then. Thomas Cash stated that “a girl’s initial experimentation with cosmetics in early adolescent can be seen as a rite of passage as well as growth towards developing a feminine identity”. Seeing as cosmetics have become such an integral part of women’s lives, it is becoming more and more important to understand the effect that the industry is having on women today.

Like in the Twilight Zone episode, “The Eye of the Beholder’, we see Janet Tyler wrapped in bandages talking about how she hopes the surgery on her face worked. We can only assume that it is an indirect point as the booming industry of plastic surgery. She talks about how she has had multiple surgeries so she could look just like them in society. At the end of the episode, we see her bandages come off and are surprised by the plot twist as Janet is the attractive person and the doctors all have distorted pig faces. The question is why did she want to look like them? To us, they were ugly, and who would ever want to be ugly. This leads to the question, why would we want to change and be beautiful that society wants us to be?

Lily Papenfus
Lily Papenfus

18 year old college student at Lourdes University. My passions include photography, art things, and teaching young children. Follower of Jesus Christ and regular attender at CedarCreek Church. 

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Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder