Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. All recommendations and opinions posted are my own and are not associated with any institutions I am affiliated with.
The make-up and beauty industry survive on our insecurities. These insecurities themselves are created by our social surroundings from a very young age. Especially in the 21st century, there are so many social ‘norms’ that are hard to break as a habit. For example: the idolisation of youth. We all want to be youthful, we all want to find the illusive ‘fountain of youth’, what is the reason for this? Decade after decade of beautiful young, vibrant actresses on the silver screen; magazines filled to the brim with coercive advertising; praising women who ‘look 30 even though they are 50!’ and other insulting headlines often found in weekly rags are just some of the material we unconsciously receive on a daily basis.
The really disappointing factor in this, is that the perpetrators are almost always women. Being unsupportive and showing when a celebrity puts on or loses weight. Judging them on how they dress or do their makeup, this makes their entire worth about how skinny they are or aren’t. Then, after filling their heads with nonsense, these same magazines have the arrogance to tell their readers to be body confident. This is so confusing, and thus promotes the damaging cycle of low self-esteem.
Advertising and the creation of new products that no one really needs is taken from playing off these unpredictable emotions. For example: the huge boom in cosmetic products recently. Every beauty business capitalises on trend after trend. There are hundreds of thousands of lipsticks to choose from in 2016. The choice in itself can be daunting. Which one is best? The reality is, none of them are. So we turn to online advertising to help us choose, which in turn promotes more products to us, and the dangerous spending cycle continues.
Social media’s role in beauty advertising is enormous. Youtube and Instagram especially are vital in pushing products to an audience who are more easy to influence than ever. However this does not mean they deserve to be influenced in this way. Just because someone is vulnerable, it does not mean that they deserve harm. Unfortunately, there is basically no protection for consumers in the cosmetic industry, any company can make any item and as long as it doesn’t kill you, they can market, advertise and push it in any way they want.
Representation across all demographics in the media is so incredibly important, and yet, in 2016 we are still seeing the major advertiser of beauty and fashion products ‘young thin white girl age 18-25’. Oh but they’re quirky! One of them has a gap in their teeth! Nepotism is also a huge factor, as many current models are the daughters of former models or other people with their families rooted in celebrity culture.
The buzzwords used in the food industry often spill over to the beauty industry. ‘Natural’, ‘organic’, and even ‘vegan’ have become popular for selling products to a malleable public. The reality is that these products are rarely natural and are full of alcohol, fillers, colours and dyes, harmful chemicals, synthesisers and more. ‘Organic’ can simple mean ‘less chemicals than other companies’ without actually including any organic ingredients. Things advertised as vegan can often have chemical composites that were synthesised using animal products, even though they may or may not appear in the final product. These issues are important to people, and the industry knows that, and most companies exploit this compassionate side of human nature for a profit.
The beauty industry captures every part of a woman (and sometimes a man’s) body. From our forehead to our little toe, it’s not perfect, it should be, and here’s a product for it. Screaming for equality has seemed to go in the wrong direction, as instead of encouraging women to be more comfortable with themselves, we are encouraging men to be more uncomfortable with themselves, as the beauty industry burrows into the male market. We are starting to hear the words ‘manscaping’, ‘metrosexual’ and other imaginative descriptions to basically describe the same thing: Men, you too can care too much about your appearance and be judged if you don’t!
We want these products, we want the makeup, the hair, the perfect skin, the bright eyes, but we see our own individualities as ‘flaws’, and we don’t want to improve ourselves, we want to completely change who we are. We are conditioned to feel like this. Marketers work incredibly hard to make sure the ideas they implant in us become so ingrained it feels like we we are making our own decisions.
As previously mentioned, it begins from a young age. Kids magazines for girls contain play makeup and baby-sized combs, making them aware that their appearance is something that’s worth of them, however it just stops there, they aren’t given cars or electronics like the boys, they aren’t given encouragement of what they want to do when they grow up. Then society blames them when they are older for not having a job, blaming their generation for being ‘lazy’ (which happens to every generation, you think we would have learned from history by now). The fact that there is a magazine for every generation of girl from about 5 years old onwards is also telling. There are no specifically ‘male’ oriented teen magazines (equivalent of Girlfriend or Dolly etc). These magazines have certainly improved over the past few years but it is thanks to the outrage and ‘awakening’ of women to tell the media something they themselves have always known: we are more than just a pretty face.
The creation of needs has become simplified in the digital era. Either a trend is growing – usually online, and a gap in the market is identified, or the company creates the gap itself. When this happens, often, other companies are not far behind with their own versions. So choices become more and more difficult and overwhelming for the consumer, we head online to see what popular youtubers have to say, and become enamoured with other products in the process, thus the company indirectly creates even more profit for themselves.
The problem here lies not in the fact that women and men enjoy makeup. Make-up is fun and exciting, we can become whoever we want to be. It is in the creation of unnecessary needs to fill gaps that don’t exist, that are then perpetuated by celebrities and trickle down to the general public. These trends often come from the black community and they are rarely credited for it. They are often overlooked as a viable market in cosmetic advertising as well, and in countries such as Australia, products for non-white members of our community are incredibly difficult to find. Marketing and advertising in the 21st century should target actual needs (such as a wider range of foundation for ethnic skin, rather than ‘tan’ being the darkest most foundations go to), rather than fake ones (anti-wrinkle cream, almost all do not work and is made from stuff that is so bad for your skin), and create profit bases from ethical standards, rather than exploitative ones.