Inventing Insecurities

For centuries, women have been persuaded that there is something wrong with their appearance. Although many are aware that the beauty industry intentionally creates blemishes, the products continue to be consumed. A background story to answer the question of why.

Story by Katja Pelic

The cosmetic and beauty sector has substantially changed since the beginning of the 20th century. What has remained the same, however, is that the beauty industry toys with insecurities to increase the profit. An industry that is mostly led by men (65%) according to a report published by the MBS Group.

The pressure to live up to a certain ideal is particularly apparent on social media. Women run the risk of being preoccupied with their appearance because social media continuously tells them that their self-worth is solely based on their appearance, and the beauty industry is constantly creating new blemishes, such as body hair for women. In 1917, nobody shaved their armpits. However, Gillette started advertising body hair as the solution to “an embarrassing personal problem”. But the problem has actually been created by the company in the first place.

This marketing strategy has remained successful until today. Martha Laham is a business professor at Diablo Valley College and author of the book Made Up: How the Beauty Industry Manipulates Consumers, Preys on Women’s Insecurities, and Promotes Unattainable Beauty Standards. According to her it is the primary aim of the beauty industry to make women feel dissatisfied and insecure. Thus, they will be made to consume the much-coveted beauty products. Martha Laham explains that there are a few billion-dollar beauty conglomerates who dominate the industry. These companies heavily invest in traditional media, therefore repeatedly exposing women to beauty ads.“Beauty brands tap into consumers’ fear of appearance-based rejection. They play on consumers’ insecurities about their physical appearance to sell products”, Laham is concerned.

Not only does the beauty industry profit from insecurities but the diet and anti-aging industries also solely rely on the failure of their consumers. Holding women accountable for their weight and appearance has positive implications for the economy in general. As reported by Research and Markets the weight loss industry in the U.S. alone is worth $72,6 billion. If women were to stop focusing on their appearance, there would be detrimental financial consequences for the industry.

The changing beauty ideals show how oppressed women are in society because they define personal freedom. In all cultures, changing one’s appearance is accepted and even encouraged, if not required, to conform to beauty standards.The beauty industry adds even more pressure,
as women who do not meet beauty standards are seen as not enough.

Beauty brands tap into consumers’ fear of appearances-based rejection.

Martha Laham points out that beauty brands have a long tradition of deploying persuasive messages designed to motivate and convince consumers to buy their products. For example, beauty companies often link their products to an affective state, such as happiness, love, fear, confidence, passion, disgust, and so on, which makes good marketing sense as consumers primarily buy beauty products for emotional reasons. Martha Laham states: ”The irony is that for the brand to elicit a positive response from consumers, it must first provoke an unpleasant emotional state, such as dissatisfaction with or concern over their appearance. As appearance anxiety increases, women may be more inclined to turn to beauty products to alleviate it.“ Because of the constant pressure to conform to the norms, enormous amounts of money are invested in products and services that could be used for educational or professional purposes. According to a study conducted by OnePoll for Groupon, women who routinely spend money on their appearance approximately spend $313 per month.

The turnover of the beauty industry is increasing. Again and again, new blemishes are invented, which encourage especially young girls to change their appearance or improve through their products. In her book Martha Laham states: “Beauty brands should celebrate our individuality, embrace the beauty in diversity, and speak to us honestly and authentically. Because we are worth it.”