Is the beauty/fashion industry to blame for self-image issues?


Fact Box

  • Throughout history, beauty standards for women have varied, from the plump form preferred of women in Ancient Greece to the ultra-skinny form seen throughout 90s sitcoms. 
  • According to a 2013 Dove study, only 4% of women considered themselves beautiful. 
  • As of 2017, these seven major beauty corporations reportedly owned 182 beauty companies, controlling most beauty products and advertising on the market worldwide: L’Oreal (owns Garnier, Redken, NYX, Lancôme, etc.), Johnson & Johnson (owns Neutrogena, RoC, Clean & Clear, Aveno, etc.), Estée Lauder (owns Aveda, Clinique, MAC, etc.), Shiseido (owns Laura Mercier, Avène, etc.), Unilever (owns Dove, Vaseline, St. Ives, Suave, Nexus, etc.), Procter & Gamble (owns Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Aussie, Herbal Essences, Olay, Gillette, etc.), and Coty (owns Playboy, Guess, Clairol, OPI, Covergirl, Rimmel London, Clairol, Sally Hanson, etc.).

Maha (No)

Holding the beauty and fashion industry for self-image issues is truly a case of judging a book by its cover. Or, in this case, by its cover model.

First off, there are other culprits causing body image concerns and their consequences. According to 'Body Image: How We Think and Feel About Our Bodies,' body image can be influenced by family and friends and the way they speak about their appearance. Even well-meaning campaigns that promote weight loss are listed as contributors to negative body image. This is what triggered a backlash following a Cancer Research UK campaign that linked obesity with 13 types of cancer. 

Moreover, individuals may believe 'more is bad' long before skimming through their first fashion magazine. For instance, in James and the Giant Peach (1996), Roald Dahl described mean Aunt Sponge as 'enormously fat and very short .' Another reason the industry isn't solely to blame stems from the fact that its organizations are for profit. Therefore, they cater to the demand of their consumers. While 50% may welcome non-models promoting fashion products, the remaining 50% hesitate to click on inclusive advertising.  

Despite this, the fashion industry is slowly yet steadily moving towards greater visibility of different body types. Plus-size models such as Ashley Graham have been part of Paris Fashion Week and similar star-studded events. Even fashion leaders such as Dior and Gucci have taken steps such as banning models below a UK size six from walking in their shows. Therefore, before blaming the beauty and fashion industry for promoting distorted feminine ideals, it's important to face more immediate culprits. 

Amna (Yes)

Various studies have analyzed body dissatisfaction caused by fashion industry showcases, advertisements, and product classifications. These studies conclude that exposure to such images causes increased irritation, body dissatisfaction, lowered self-esteem, increased depression, excessive dieting, eating disorders, and internalized social comparison in the viewers. The sociocultural theory also postulates that a warped view of the individual self can be attributed to unattainable beauty standards.

The fashion brands designing for and portraying only a specific type of body type also aggravates this problem. When a size 0 or 2 Model with flawless skin is glamorized and airbrushed, it makes the products on display look luxurious. The designers do not actively seek to make their brand inclusive of different body types. This results in every model being skinny and conventionally attractive, which is not an accurate representation that the average size of the US consumer is a size 16, nor is it realistically attainable.

These images and proportions are circulated on social media and mass media, which subconsciously conditions the viewers into accepting it as their own ideals. They look at these images and find themselves deficient, leading to body anxiety. Filters on photo apps such as Snapchat and Instagram distort features to hide ethnic influences and make all faces fit the Eurocentric beauty standards. This abets the users to resent their natural features and seek drastic changes like plastic surgery, which is on the rise, especially in teens. Not conforming to these beauty standards can also lead to social ostracization and bullying, according to ChildLine. It can be assuredly stated that prevalent fashion industry trends have led to an exacerbated body-image issued by conforming to already-toxic social standards.

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