From our earliest memories to the day we die, women and men are bombarded with society’s expectations, including and especially those involving beauty. As a seventeen year old girl, I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by so many different influences from so many different sources — and I still don’t know what to make of it.
On a daily basis, we are exposed to ads for makeup and hair products, style and clothing, diet and exercise; the list of companies trying to sell products to make women and girls look and feel better about themselves seems endless. Last year SmartMoney.com reported that “Americans spent a whopping $33.3 billion on cosmetics and other beauty products (in 2010).” Some of the sales, of course, are for ‘enhancement’ while others can be directly attributed to societal pressures and the need to conform.
There is no escape — save complete social isolation — as these ads are everywhere from television, radio, magazines, newspapers, the internet and billboards. It’s constant. These ads tell the public how they should look, and they dictate the very definition of beauty, at least how would like us to perceive it. The ideal woman is skinny, with a toned body, a symmetrical face, blemish-free skin, dark prominent eyes, full red lips and luscious, shiny hair. These ads feed women body and beauty images that are unobtainable, all in the hopes that consumers will buy their products in order to conform to this artificial image. But if the bodies and faces the companies use to advertise their products are as unrealistic as the claims that these products will transform users into beauties, why do they bother showing them?
The answer, of course, is that this is just business. These companies simply prey on the weak who buy into the ‘solutions’ no matter how absurd the claims they make that they can make women “beautiful”. The companies want money, and they obtain that money by preying on insecurities.
But why do so many women and girls have so many insecurities about themselves? Why do they let companies take advantage of them like this? And most important, what effects are these advertisements having on us?
The answer is not a very pretty one. Society’s standards of beauty have raised the bar so high that peoples’ perceptions of self-esteem and beauty are warped by superficiality and to the point that without beauty, self-esteem is often lacking. Girls see these images of perfect people, think that they’re real and, as a result, many desire to look like those people. But when they get older and start experimenting with makeup or try to get ‘buff’, they are criticized for being vain.
If the public grows up with ads such as these, they will be conditioned to accept them as normal. What adult is going to protest a bra campaign with seven gorgeous women without fear of being criticized for making too big of a deal of the way things are?
And then there is the side that is fighting against these messages. The result of this is that we receive mixed signals, which causes confusion for teens, especially girls. In a sense, this is all part of the right-wing’s War on Women, for if we are obsessed with our appearance, we will have little time for politics.
On one side there are people criticizing the way things are; that girls only wear makeup because society has set the standard for women so high that it’s all they can do to even feel close to that image. On the other side, there are girls saying that they like makeup, that it’s a form of self-expression and even an art.
So do women want to be beautiful because of society’s pressures and the persistent War onWomen — or is it simply because they feel that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful? In a way, it’s both. The most important thing to remember is not to take women for fools — for despite advertising’s effects, women are still independent, free-thinking individuals who vote with their wallets and at the voting booth.
Silhouette Lady Image by Sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net