Women today are constantly being reminded of what is considered beautiful. There are thousands of advertisements that promote this elusive beautiful image to women of all ages, shapes, and sizes. By placing photo-shopped and computer-enhanced models in advertisements, society has built up impossible standards of beauty, which has led to feelings of inadequacy among women. In 2008, the YWCA USA developed a report, Beauty at Any Cost, which discussed the consequences of the beauty obsession on women and girls in America. This reportshowed that not only does this beauty obsession result in decreased levels of self-esteem, but it’s also putting a dent in the pocket of many Americans. The YWMCA reported that $7 billion is spent each year on cosmetics (Beauty at Any Cost, 2008, p. 7). If we go beyond just buying cosmetics to more drastic measures, the amount of cosmetic surgeries is also increasing. In 2007, there were “nearly 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and non-surgical produces performed in the United States” which is an increase of 500% in the number of surgeries performed over the last ten years (Beauty at Any Cost, 2008, p. 3). This beauty obsession has created a billion dollar industry, which holds the power to shape and change women’s perceptions of beauty.
Many studies have been done to show the effects of media on women today, and most of the results indicate that the media negatively affects self-image. Less research has been done specifically on the cosmetic industry and how it affects consumer’s self-image. Based on the $7 million that is spent on cosmetics each year, it’s evident that the cosmetic industry influences consumers in some way.
One of the first studies that involved the effect of cosmetics on women was done by Marsha L. Richins along with Peter H. Bloch, “You Look ‘Marvelous’: The Pursuit of Beauty and the Marketing Concept.” This study focused on understanding adornments, items “used to increase attractiveness and to obtain accompanying social benefits,” and how they are related to assessments about attractiveness (Bloch & Rich’s, 1992, p. 4). Adornments could range from a pair of clothing, makeup, jewellery, etc., anything that makes a person feel better and more attractive.
This study found that consumers who believe they are unattractive will “rely heavily on adornments as compensatory tools” (Bloch ; Ricgien, 1992, p. 9). Because the media has been found to cause women to feel unattractive, it correlates that these women lacking in self-esteemed are going to use adornments. This is also supported by Cash ; Cash’s (1982) study; “Women’s Use of Cosmetics,” which found that public self-consciousness is positively related with cosmetic use. Because many women who lack self-esteem are also self-conscious, it makes sense that adornments are used to blend into a world of beauty these self-conscious women do not fit into (Cash & Cash, 1982).As stated before, there is much less information on the direct effect of cosmetic advertisement on consumers, but much of the previous research discussed has implications for the cosmetic industry as well. From a young age, girls are taught to experiment with makeup to increase their attractiveness. Different amounts can be applied as needed, and it works as a temporary boost in self-esteem. What is so appealing to most women about cosmetics is that it can be a quick an easy way to temporarily solve beauty problems.
“Makeup in Everyday Life: An Inquiry into the Practices of Urban American Women of Diverse Backgrounds”, he states that “many women report having different makeup routines depending on what they expect to do during the day” (Beausoleil, 1992, p. 33). Because it can be applied so quickly and is relatively easy and inexpensive compared to other more drastic measures such as diet, exercise, or cosmetic surgery, cosmetics have become an easy way to measure up to the standards of beauty enforced by society. Thomas Cash performed much of the early research on the influence of cosmetics on selfesteem. One of his studies, “Effects of Cosmetics Use on the Physical Attractiveness and Body Image of American College Women,” reported “individuals often actively control and modify their physical appearance and physical aesthetics across situations within relatively brief periods of time” (Cash, Dawson, & Davis, 1989, p. 249). In other words, makeup is used differently in different situations because it makes women feel more self-confident. This idea has been a theme for many other studies done on the use of cosmetics. To further support this idea, Cash argues “cosmetics use and grooming behaviors, in general, function to manage and control not only social impressions but also self-image” (Cash et al., 1989, p. 350).
To further support the idea that makeup is used in all types of situations to increase self-image, this particular study required that volunteers take photos with and without makeup and then rank their attractiveness based on these photos. The results of this study confirmed that “facial cosmetics, as typically self applied, influence both social perceptions of college women’s physical attractiveness and the women’s own self-perceptions (i.e. body image)” (Cash et al., 1989, p. 353). In summary, this study found that both women and their peers viewed the women as more attractive with makeup than without. The women themselves felt that they were more physically attractive with makeup, and often overestimated their attractiveness with the makeup, while underestimating their attractiveness without makeup. Although not proven by this study, this overestimation of attractiveness while wearing cosmetics could very possibly lead to confidence and increased self-image of the women.
Nash, Fieldman, Hussey, Lévêque, and Pineau also conducted a study, “Cosmetics: they Influence More than Caucasian Female Facial Attractiveness”, which focused on whether or not women would be evaluated differently on four different social measures depending on if they were viewed with or without makeup. The authors believed that “cosmetics could play a significant part in increasing attractiveness because they may, in part, enhance facial symmetry” (Nash, Fieldman, Hussey, Lévêque, & Pineau 2006, p. 493).
This is probably no secret to most of the women who use cosmetics.It’s commonly accepted that makeup can cover up blemishes,enhance eye color, or brighten up features. In a previous report done by Fieldman, and Hussy, along with Mulhern, Leveque, and Pineau, it was found that female faces were viewed as more attractive when wearing makeup, and “eye makeup and foundation were the most significant contributors to the enhancement of female facial attractiveness” (Nash et al., 2006, p. 493). Assuming that female facial attractiveness is what women are looking for by applying cosmetics, this study attempts to determine what exactly female facial attractiveness is attributed to, and it turns out it is more than just looking good.
The study found that “images of women wearing makeup were judged to be healthier and more confident than the images of the same women without makeup. When wearing cosmetics women were also assigned greater earning potential and considered to have more prestigious jobs than when they were presented without makeup” (Nash et al., 2006, p. 501). Similar to other studies the report also found that wearing cosmetics caused ratings of self-confidence within the females to be higher than ratings of women without makeup. Based on these results, it is no wonder that women place such value on achieving facial attractiveness through using cosmetics. Along with being viewed as more confident, they are also viewed as healthier and more successful individuals.
The research further suggests, “women therefore employ cosmetics to manipulate their appearance and in so doing, may also benefit from a boost in positive selfperception and well-being that appears to be associated with wearing makeup” (Nash et al., 2006, p. 503). By using these cosmetics as a tool to control social situations, consumers have the ability to influence how others perceive them and how at ease they feel in different situations. It would be useful to look into the possibility that makeup can be used to create a malleable self in order to gain benefits from different situations.
In 2008, Fieldman and Hussey along with Robertson conducted another study, “‘Who wears cosmetics?’ Individual Differences and Their Relationship with Cosmetic Usage,” which sought to determine if different personality variables predicted rates of cosmetic usage. The research found that positive relationships were established between cosmetic usage and “anxiety, self-consciousness, introversion, conformity, and self-presentation” and that negative relationships were found between cosmetic usage and “extroversion, social confidence, emotional stability, self-esteem, physical attractiveness, and intellectual complexity” (Robertson, Fieldman, & Hussey, 2008, p. 41). Much of the previous research has not focused on factors that create a negative relationship between cosmetics.
The results fit into the reasonable assumption that if people are comfortable with themselves, they do not have as much desire to use cosmetics as a person who had low self-esteem. The results for the positive relationships are also very reasonably assumed; if people have low self-esteem, they will find it practical to seek out cosmetics to enhance themselves. Although beyond the scope of the current research, another interesting research question would be to determine how much of this anxiety, selfconsciousness, etc., is caused by advertising. Although this study does not prove a link between advertising and these elements, it can be sensibly hypothesized that advertising might play a part in causing consumers to have these “negative” traits It was also shown in this study that there isa positive relationship between using cosmetics and conformity. This relates to the previous idea that consumers use makeup as a way to create a malleable self. By using makeup, it can allow consumers to favorably alter their appearance for any type of situation.