Let’s talk about the beauty industry

Interested in some basic statistics on how much money and business the beauty industry makes? Aw yea, you are.

Why exactly are we buying all this stuff?

  • The average US resident is exposed to almost 5,000 advertising messages each day.
  • A study in 1992 (so it’s outdated and very possibly much worse now, sorry I can’t find anything more recent) found that 1 out of every 3.8 television commercials sends some kind of “attractiveness message” commenting on what is/is not attractive
  • The purpose of beauty advertisements is only to convince you to buy a product. Because of this, advertisers will often play on your emotions. They’ll use phrases like this 

oh, that’s lovely

They’ll publish an ad that they know will only make you feel bad about your body. Something like this

another keeper

You might feel bad, but that will ensure that you buy their product. They’ll emphasize looks and beauty over everything else. They’ll photoshop  unrealistic images and tell you that anyone can look like that.

Oh don’t worry, it isn’t just advertisements. Companies are selling our kids crap like this, and this, and this, and this. What a terrible childhood. Also, messages about beauty are fucking everywhere. In advertisements, in movies, in television, in books. The beautiful princess marries the beautiful prince and they live happily ever after. The evil stepmother is ugly. The unpopular girl becomes popular when she gets a makeover. Even when they don’t outright say things like that, they subtly slip it in there. The successful, happy, popular people in media always seem to fit our standards of beauty. Next time you watch television or a movie, pay attention to how the villain/annoying character/outcast is portrayed. More often than not you’ll find that they’re the ones that don’t fit standards of beauty while the “popular people” always do. And we internalize all of this shit.


Some things that beauty product marketers often try to tell you that probs aren’t exactly 100% true.

  • Our product WILL fix this. Lots of companies that cite research backing up their product have either sponsored the researchers or they use their own researchers. Sound biased? It probably is. They also sometimes take the studies they have done on animals and extrapolate them to humans. Because that’s how science works. Human=sad bunny. Beauty companies spend only 2-3% of their sales on research and development of products, compared to the 20-25% that they spend on advertising. 
  • Anyone can do it. We see this ALL the time with weight loss advertisements. It’s also extremely common with things such as makeover shows. And this king of advertising is a problem. It results in shaming and blaming people that don’t fit societal standards of beauty. It creates this false idea that anyone can change anything about their body if they just have enough willpower. Advertisements tell us that everyone is perfectly capable of fitting into the mold of what is considered beautiful, why aren’t they doing it? Oh, obviously it’s because they’re lazy/are a slob/don’t care about themselves/don’t care about others/etc. We question why people aren’t taking the time to fit our idea of what beautiful is, because they should be. Anyone can do it.
  • It’s not about changing how you look; it’s about changing how you feel about yourself. It’s about gaining self confidence. This one is all the rage right now, especially since so many people are promoting self-confidence. Advertisers are just disguising their products under this veil of “it’s about confidence.” Sure, you can have confidence, as long as you still buy their product. I personally really think that our problems with body image are often just symptoms of bigger problems with ourselves. We aren’t confident and self-loving so we try to have the body/car/job/insert whatever you want here that we’re “supposed to have.” If you don’t have confidence in the body you have now, you aren’t going to have real confidence in a different, more socially acceptable body. Meeting their standards of beauty isn’t the same as having confidence. Sure, you’ll feel better because you’re fitting their narrow standards, but that isn’t the same as having confidence. That “confidence” is based entirely on outside sources, rather than coming from within. And when you’re letting other people determine how confident you can be, you’re letting them be in charge of when that confidence disappears. These ads create the idea that people “earn” confidence. That you can feel good about yourself because you’re doing what they want you to do, because you earned it. People that don’t meet the narrow standard of beauty are just as deserving of experiencing confidence and self-love. Those are not privileges that we have to “earn” by changing ourselves. You have the right to love yourself no matter what. Bottom line: you can’t trust the people selling you beauty products to tell you how to gain confidence. As a side note, this is kind of like the story about the girl that was bullied because of her ears and received free plastic surgery to “fix” her flaws. She didn’t need to “fix” herself. Someone needed to tell those bullies to stop being assholes.

I have news for you. Changing whatever part of your body that doesn’t meet society’s standards doesn’t fix the problem for several reasons (I love bulleted lists!)

  • Self-acceptance doesn’t sell anything. If you love yourself just the way that you are, and don’t try to change everything, these big companies aren’t making any money off of you. And they can’t have that, can they? Companies are just going to keep making up things that are wrong with our bodies in order to get us to spend money. You could change everything about your body to meet the expectations that are given to us, and someone would just come up with something new that was wrong. And the moment you think you’re getting close to finishing up that checklist of beauty standards, the tables will turn. Pale skin will be back in right after you get that tan, curves will be in just after you lose those last few pounds. It will never end. This is about money.
  • YOU’RE just going to keep making up things that are wrong with your body. As soon as you “fix” one thing, you’ll find something else that you don’t like. There is no possible way to be satisfied in this quest for perfection because it is not realistic and it will not happen. This isn’t about not liking one part of your body, this is about a bigger issue with self confidence and self-love. Also, 33% of potential nose job patients have moderate to severe symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. I mean obviously I can’t speak for them, but I’m fairly confident that a nose job did not make their mental illness go away overnight.
  • It perpetuates the idea that there is an ideal standard of beauty and it is ok to expect everyone to meet that standard. When we mold ourselves to fit what other people want us to be, we are giving them permission to mold others into what they want them to be. We are supporting the culture of telling people what to be and how to look and how to act. We are supporting ostracizing certain people. We are supporting telling people to change themselves. And if this culture keeps on going, they’re just going to throw more and more ideals for us to meet and we’re never going to be happy with ourselves.

The bottom line is that it is not your job to change your body so that people will respect you. People should be respecting you regardless of what you look like. They should be respecting you simply because you are a being and a soul and that is enough to make you completely deserving of love and respect, just like every other being out there.


Trusting My Body

I’ve been stuck for a while now, in a place that I think a lot people can relate to-eating disorder or no eating disorder. I’m definitely moving forward with the mental aspect of my recovery, I’m slowly learning to like myself more, I’m letting myself enjoy life. But I’m still having some trouble with the physical aspect of it. And by that I mean the weight gain, the eating foods outside of my “safe list,” eating more calories than I allowed myself to in previous years, giving up “punishing” myself for eating by exercising or restricting. I haven’t worn jeans in months. Or been swimsuit shopping without having a meltdown. I’m eating a relatively normal amount of calories now, but I still feel so restricted and limited in what/when/how I am allowed to eat. And I KNOW all of these are things that people without eating disorders struggle with too.
The biggest hurdle for me to overcome is learning to trust my body. Learning to let it decide what is right for it and NOT letting my eating disorder decide that. I’m scared that if I eat what I want, I’ll just never quit eating. I’ll become enormous and society will label me with all of their derogatory labels for fat people. That I won’t be able to control myself at all. And from what I hear other people say, this is not really an “eating disorder fear” at all. So many other people are too afraid of their bodies to give them any trust. Years of having dieting, exercising just to look a certain way, plastic surgery, photoshop, wearing makeup, whatever thrown at us has taught people that we CAN’T trust our bodies. That all bodies are naturally wrong.
But I think I’m getting to a point now where I’m realizing that all these years I’ve been trusting the media, advertising, the public, etc. and they really have shown me no reason to. I’m starting to understand that I would much rather trust myself and my body than other people. And seriously, where did all those years of not trusting my body get me? Sure, I guess I technically met a lot of the beauty standards, but even then, I still thought I was ugly. So I couldn’t even see the results of all of my effort. There was always just something else to fix.
So I’m getting there. But it’s a process. And it isn’t going to happen overnight. I know I tell people all the time to just let their body do what it wants, but it really is harder than just “letting” that happen. I would love to just let myself love my body. But it takes a lot of effort. And I think it makes it even harder when it seems like the whole world is against you. I’m trying to feed my body what it wants, but at the same time I’m constantly bombarded with messages that tell me otherwise.
And a lot of the work is really actually motivating yourself. My treatment team calls it “faking it until you make it” and it is really helping me. I’ve been surrounding myself with body-positive images, reading books about self-love, bombarding my brain with the opposite messages from what it was previously bombarded with. I read this book when I was in a pretty bad place, and it pretty much did nothing for me then. I think probably because the book is targeted more at compulsive dieters than eating disordered individuals.  But I think that in the motivated mindset where I’m actually willing to try loving my body, it could be a lot more helpful.
Body love has to start with someone. Just like you won’t wake up one day and love your body, the rest of the world won’t either. It has to be taught and practiced. But at the same time, people do have to take some responsibility and actually make the effort to change their self image. But I don’t think it’s a completely lost cause. I mean, some people love their bodies right? They couldn’t have all always been that way. And maybe a year ago I would have told you that I would never, ever love my body. But now I’m at least almost apathetic towards it. I don’t sit all day thinking only about how I hate my body. I can at least only have those thoughts a few times a day now. The hatred has significantly decreased. And right now, I don’t plan to stop until it goes away. I’m determined to actually like myself.