This essay will explore the beauty industry in relation to this statement “Advertising doesn't sell things all advertising does is change the way people think or feel” – Jeremy Bullmore. It will look at how advertising affects women from all ages, colours and how it moulds their thoughts and feelings about themselves and the world around them. It will concentrate on facial beauty advertising and how the industry sells an ideal.
In our consumerist society we are bombarded by advertising wherever we turn, from billboards, transport, magazines, television and the Internet. The industries goal is to manipulate the consumer into a continuous spiral of trying to find happiness and security within one’s self. Kilbourne(1990) argues women are made to feel guilty for not being more beautiful and their desirability is based upon physical perfection. She goes on to say that advertising sell values, images and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy.
Advertising in the cosmetic industry works by using various techniques to encourage women to buy its products. It aims to convince people that the products will enhance their appearance and that these enhancements are essential. Women are aware that their appearance can affect how they are perceived and treated by others. Beauty advertising plays upon these concerns to encourage women to buy their products for example, to be more attractive to the opposite sex or to combating signs of aging. Solomon (2007,136) discusses how consumers purchase products that will aid them in reaching a certain goal and these goals are based on the individual’s value or belief system. If you have a belief system that looking younger is more preferable than looking old then you will be more inclined to buy products that combat the signs of aging. According to Kotler and Keller (2009, 194), core values affect consumer’s choices and purchases over the long term. This changes the consumer’s thoughts and feelings towards advertising and the products on offer.
The beauty industry changes the way we think and feel and uses human behaviour theory to manipulate women into following an ideal. ‘The advertisers depend on consumer behaviour in women that can be brought about only through threats and compulsion’ (Wolf,1991,84). The idea of not looking attractive or desirable is a threat to women and this threat is what advertisers target to manipulate the way they feel. One of these theories is Social comparison theory which was proposed by Leon Festinger in 1954 who believed that we make comparisons to evaluate ourselves (Mooler, 2009). In order to be successful and attractive in society it changes the way women psychological feel. Wolf (1991,11) proposes that ‘- the gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood’. Suggesting that in order for women to be acknowledged and acceptable in society they must look like what they see in the media.
The dominant ideology created by the industry poses a threat to how women feel about themselves physically regarding, size, race, age, appearance and clothing. In reality there are a lot of elements combined to portray a model as a superior beauty from extra make up, lighting, and digital image manipulation. ‘- altering, enhancing, or editing images and photographs – a wide variety of cropping, line, airbrush and colour tools. This process is now used for almost every image seen in professional print’ (Clark et al, 2007, 57). Models air brushed features creates a false perception that these women aspire to follow and advertisers propose that one product is needed to make them look that way. Although this ideal is questionable, it is displayed through an array of images and products that are thrust upon the neck of society’s women, who then compare themselves.
In regards to the beauty industry, women look at models and celebrities who promote the products as a gateway of conforming. An example of this is portrayed in fig 1 where the advertisement uses A list actress Natalie Portman who is evidently beautiful and plays the girl next door roles. The advertising industry extremely benefits from celebrity endorsements as it creates an attached stigma of elitism, reliability and power for the brand, which are also the qualities, posed in the star. More importantly it grabs the consumer’s wants and unobtainable needs of wanting to be just like them. According to Solomon et al. (2006, 186) consumers are lured into buying different products by famous models and spokeswomen. They not only try to sell the brand but the image that contains certain qualities and characteristics.
The Advert exudes sexuality due to her open mouth and bold eye contact that looks directly at the consumer. The blue, black and white colours within the advert work consistently and the dark blue and black connotes a sense of sophistication and class. Natalie Portman’s face outweighs the mascara and text on the advert, showcasing her importance in persuading the consumers to invest in the product. The advert also says “New Look” implying that product is cutting-edge and contemporary changing the consumer’s thoughts on the brand compared to others. ‘Hovland and colleagues suggested that recipients of a persuasive message – will only accept the recommended attitudal response if the incentives associated – are greater than those associated with their own original position’ (Fennis & Stroebe, 2010, 154), known as the Yale reinforcement approach.
This suggests that audiences will respond to adverts more successfully if they see it offering a higher potential than what they posses in themselves, in this case longer eyelashes that will create a new, more desirable you. Natalie Portman’s face has evidently been digitally rendered, due to her porcelain like skin and lightened eyes. This advert shows no faults in the star and every aspect of her appearance is exemplary. The aspects within the advert bring anchorage to the ‘New Look’ tag line as the image of Natalie Portman, creates a positive cognitive response through the doctoring of the image. This is a powerful way how the industry manipulates the thoughts of its consumer. Although it falsely suggests that by using this one product, it can help elevate their whole appearance.
Furthermore the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who intends that adverts are credible and not misleading or offensive in anyway, in particular later banned this advert. The advert promoted the mascara as being ‘Lash-multiplying effect volume and care mascara. … It delivers spectacular volume-multiplying effect, lash by lash.’ (Cheeseman, 2012). When in reality Natalie Portman was wearing fake eyelashes, ‘Dior admitted that Portman’s eyelashes were digitally retouched in post-production using Photoshop, but said this was primarily to separate and increase the length and curve of a number of her lashes and to replace a number of missing or damaged lashes’. (Battersby, 2012). The idea that the consumers were lead to believe that this product alone let Natalie Portman look this way creates an unfair and untrustworthy view on how women should see themselves. Not only were her eyelashes fake but it is evident that more of her features were also tampered with. ‘The Church of Beauty is, like an Iron Maiden, a two sided symbol. Women have embraced it eagerly from below as a means to fulfil the spiritual void that grew as their traditional relations to religious authority eroded. The social order it imposes it as eagerly to supplant religious authority as a policing force over women’s lives’ (Wolf, 1991, 86).
Advertising not only sells you an ideal but a gateway to a lifestyle of those in the glossy magazines and that by obtaining their products you can also be in this cult of beauty and power. Often women compare themselves to who they see in advertisements and look up to them as prolific gods and idolise their ways. Solomon et al (2006,94) discusses that there are two types of human need, biogenic and psychogenic. Biogenic are basic needs such as food, shelter and water. Psychogenic needs are needs relating to status, power and affiliation. The buying of facial skin care products are related to psychogenic needs. Advertising creates problems to lure consumers to buy their products. They do this by trying to convince the consumer that there is something they need to correct and the product will achieve this.
However their self of esteem digresses when they can’t reach these ideals that are purposed, ‘The contemporary ravages of the beauty backlash are destroying women physically and depleting us psychologically’ (Wolf, 1990,19). People also start to identify themselves through the materialistic things that they buy, compared to the person they are and what they do. High-end beauty brands, such as Olay and Dior prose and sense of eliteness and symbolic power through labels reputation, built upon the ideal of beauty. It also highlights to the consumer what the latest beauty trends are, perpetuating that in order to be acceptable you must be willing to change yourself continually.
A major factor of the beauty industry is targeted at the older woman, and the goal to look forever youthful. A study by CGI magazine said ‘Regardless of age or ethnicity, 69% of American women have used anti aging skin care or makeup products on their faces or bodies in the past 12 months.’ (Beyer, 2010)
Fig 2 displays the 60’s iconic model Twiggy in an Olay age defying cream advert. The advert displays Twiggy as happy and ethereal due to the warm greys and yellows in the advert. Her smile connotes that she is happy and confident about her appearance and the results of the product. The advert also has a personal quote from the model saying ‘it’s my secret’ suggesting she is sharing her beauty tips with the consumer creating a relationship. ‘The Rites of beauty are skilfully adapting standard cult techniques to inculcate women into them’ (wolf, 1991,106)
The advert was again reported to the ASA for misleading results on what the product could achieve. A combination of the digital retouching under the eyes and the quotes ‘Olay is my secret for drop dead gorgeous eyes’ – (Twiggy) was what made the advertisement so scandalous. There had been evident retouching under the models eyes and face, although the products main goal is to combat these signs of aging. ‘-when they feature celebrities who are over sixty, ‘retouching artists’ conspire to ‘help’ beautiful women look more beautiful; i.e., less their age’ (Wolf,1991,82). Originally the ASA discredited the claims of false advertisement ‘We concluded that, in the context of an ad that featured a mature model likely to appeal to women of an older age group, the image was unlikely to have a negative impact on perceptions of body image among the target audience and was not socially irresponsible.’ (Sweeny,2009). However accoring to Wolf (1991, 83) women have no idea of what a real sixty year old woman looks like in print media because they are made to look ten years younger. Readers look at themselves and think they are too old due to them comparing themselves to the airbrushed images smiling back at them. This idea of beauty portrayed in advertisements has made women question not only their appearance but if they are in fact normal. According to the Daily Mail ‘The advertisement generated 700 complaints’ from consumers (Poulter,2009).
“To airbrush age off a women’s face is to erase women’s identity, power and history’ (Wolf,1990,83). This suggests that the industry is taking away a women’s individuality, her strength in self-esteem and confidence, and putting the value of beauty above the story behind her and what she has achieved in her life. The advert tries to sell a life style of everlasting beauty but in reality it’s just a clever use of digital manipulation and persuasive writing.
The core of the beauty advertising industry is to indoctrinate and manipulate the mind of the consumer into thinking what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. It poses a false pretence and an exaggerated ideal that affects the way women think and feel not only within themselves, but the life around them. A survey conducted by YouGov suggested that women blamed the beauty industry for creating unrealistic images of women which then impacts on women’s self esteem when it cannot be achieved (Pittman, 2006,).
The beauty industry not only manipulates and plays upon women’s insecurities about beauty and ages but also race.
In fig 3, the Singer Beyonce is in an L’oreal Feria hair colour advert with perfectly straight hair and a very light, clear-faced complexion. The singer is also an A list celebrity and similarly with fig1 her debut on the advert creates symbolic power for the brand. The use of eye contact and her subtle smile makes the singer look as though she is happy with the products results. The use of white and grey creates a clinical and clean aesthetic to the advert making it look trustworthy and professional. The advert states ‘I want colour so deep conditioning it shimmers from the inside out.’ The use of adjectives like ‘deep colour’ and ‘shimmers’ creates a persuasive cognitive response to the consumers as it makes the product sound as though it can offer bright and everlasting results. ‘Advertisements in print must now approach the potential cult member with more sophistication. For decades they have used mysterious language the way Catholicism use Latin’ (Wolf ,1991,108). The advert also uses words like ‘prismatic’ and ‘multifaceted colour’, to impress the consumer and make out that they are professionals in that region.
Beyonce has been a spokesperson for L’oreal Feria hair colour and the contract was worth approximately 2.3 million, however there has been a shift in her image in order to sell the cosmetic products. How does an afro-American woman appear so fair in L’oreal advertising with long blond straight hair? It does not represent the natural African American beauty such as kinky, curly black hair. According to Memmi (2003, 164) black women use cosmetics with the intention of altering the nature of their skin or hair. The beauty and fashion industry largely focus on white and fair skinned beauty leaving the ethnic minorities out. According to an online report from the guardian ‘-The industry spent £150,000 on advertising ethnic products last year. But in 2005 advertising expenditure in the UK on make-up alone was worth £45m, suggesting the ethnic market is under-represented’ (Smithers, 2007). Although Beyonce is black, her light skin provokes many connotations of the way black women should look in order to obtain sex appeal, beauty, power and success. Alverado (1987, 153) explores four key themes in racial representation, the exotic, dangerous, pitied and humorous. Beyonce in this case is represented as the exotic, by looking beautiful and would be idolised by the consumers attracted to the advert. The black consumers will look at the brand and aspire to be like Beyonce, however the hair dye box has a white model on it and is catered to western hair types, this known as the colour complex. “I knew how deeply embedded was the cultures obsession with white-defined beauty; weather it was manifested in the icon status of Marilyn Monroe or the light skinned , “good-haired” black women smiling from the front cover of Jet or Ebony”(Golden, 2005). According to the Daily Mail online (2008) the L’oreal brand had been accused of whitewashing the singer’s skin, suggesting that they are trying to stick to the dominant ideology of a beautiful woman. The brand is supposed to sell a hair colour, not a loss of skin colour or heritage. The advert also created wide spread debates on the Perez Hilton website ‘People joke about the forever "brightening" of Beyonce, but this is just ridiculous. L'Oreal went out of control and unnecessarily so, considering she is unrecognizable.' (Daily Mail, 2008). The idea that women are starting to question their culture due to the popular demand of an ideal look is outrageous.
The beauty industry is so persuasive even with the economic downfall in 2011 they were still able to persuade people to buy into their products. “The average family is expected to be £10 a week worse-off than last year, but spending on premium beauty products, including skincare, cosmetics and perfume, is increasing 11% year on year, according to figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research.” (Jones,2011). Also according to an online article by Triple Pundit “Airbrushing sure does create unrealistic expectations, and U.S. women are shelling out money to meet those expectations. A 2009 report by YMCA, Beauty At Any Cost, found that U.S. women spent about $7 billion a year, or an average of about $100 each on cosmetics. The report notes that saving and investing $100 a month for five years would pay for a year of tuition and fees at a public college.” (Cheeseman,2012). This confirms how women in society have indulged in buying frivolous material goods through the persuasion in advertising, which has changed the way they feel or think about themselves. The goal to fitting into a prescribed and unrealistic ideal is more important than gaining an education, inspiring others through work and building a healthy state of mind. Consumerism has taken over and the consumer in some sense has lost hindsight of what is important.
The industry not only manipulates the consumer but also the censorship of magazine firms, as a colossal part of their profit comes from advertising. ‘- grows even more influential and persuasive because of what is now conscious market manipulation – the $33-billion-a-year diet industry, the $20-billion cosmetics industry, -the $300 million cosmetic surgery industry- have arisen from the capital made out of the unconscious anxieties – influence on mass culture- and reinforce the hallucination in a rising economical spiral’ (Wolf,1990,17).
In conclusion this essay has presented the way the beauty advertising industry has changed the way women feel and think about themselves, through consumer’s habits and values, the false perception of the ideal beauty and trivial insecurities that adverts propose, such as anti aging. Kilbourne (1990) writes ‘There is the real tragedy, that many women internalize these stereotypes and learn their "limitations," thus establishing a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one accepts these mythical and degrading images, to some extent one actualizes them. By remaining unaware of the profound seriousness of the ubiquitous influence, the redundant message and the subliminal impact of advertisements, we ignore one of the most powerful "educational" forces in the culture -- one that greatly affects our self-images, our ability to relate to each other, and effectively destroys any awareness and action that might help to change that climate’. Arguably we can criticise the beauty advertising industry. But the consumers that they are trying to appeal to, continue to buy into and aspire to poses society’s ideal of beauty, and like the French proverb ‘One must suffer to be beautiful’.
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( Fig 1: Natalie Portman in Diorshow New Look Mascara Advert, 2012)
(Fig 2. Twiggy in Olay Definity Cream Advert, 2009)
(Fig 3. Beyonce in L’oreal Feria Hair Dye Advert, 2008)