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Caught in a trap – women and the beauty industry

By Alison Sweeney - posted Wednesday, 19 January 2005


In the world of modern consumerism, females are a key player and a prime target.

Inundated with mass marketing and advertising for every type of product or service imaginable, the message being conveyed today is a clear and dangerous one - that physical appearance and body image are paramount to achieving optimum wellbeing, success and happiness.

Sunday papers have articles about 15-year-olds on diets, the growing trend for plastic surgery and the emergence of something called “Botox parties”. Research studies tell us we have become increasingly materialistic, spending more of our disposable income on beauty, fashion, leisure goods and services than ever before. The “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon is alive and well, as young women aggressively embrace the latest brands and trends. Look at any bestseller list and you will find a self - help book extolling women to improve some aspect of their life. There are more and more magazines saturating the female market, showing women how to obtain the perfect body, the perfect man, the perfect job, the perfect life.

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This environment can be a daunting one to navigate. Through every possible medium, the female consumer is urged to improve her image, enhance her beauty, change her look, develop herself in some way for the better. The message is always the same - buy this product and you will feel happier and consequently your life will be better. Nonsense? Yes, and we fall for it every day. 

Ask anyone in the beauty industry and they will say theirs is an industry that makes women feel good about themselves. In reality it is just the opposite. The beauty industry exposes our flaws for the world to see, makes us question some aspect of our being and then subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) entices us to buy something designed to make us a feel better.

Females need to have a healthy self-esteem and be fairly comfortable with both their physical and mental health so as not to fall prey to the beauty industries whims and fancies. Otherwise it is a vicious and dangerous circle.

If the beauty industry wants to make people feel good about themselves, they need to start with the industry marketers. 

Let me share a recent shopping experience when I ventured into a newly refurbished cosmetics department.

The sheer whiteness of the lights and decor was blinding. I’m sure they are deliberately designed this way to show every facial flaw, resulting in what cosmetic salespeople probably gleefully refer to as “female panic and purchase syndrome”.

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Under a bright fluorescent light, a blemish free 19-year-old sales assistant examined my skin. The sales assistants must have been specially cloned, they were like an army - identical shiny red lips, immaculate in white, marching through clouds of perfume.

With a lot of “hmms” and “oh dears” she finished her inspection and beaming a happy “I’m here to help you, all is not lost smile”, advised me that my skin had a slight leathery and rough texture. Giving (I managed to glance at my smiling assassins name tag) Misty a steely glare I was about to defend my 40-year-old skin when, without hesitation, Misty launched into her sales pitch. I was cornered.

Thanks to mass advertising, most women know more about collagen, elastin and ceramide than Australian history. From the way she spoke, Misty had a Masters Degree in Elasticity with a major in UVA rays.

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About the Author

Alison Sweeney is a Professional Human Resources consultant. Writing is her hobby and keeps her sane in a sometimes mad and frenzied corporate world. She has previously been published in the Heckler column in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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