The High Cost of Beauty: Giving Up Wealth, Health, and Happiness

The High Cost of Beauty: Giving up Wealth, Health, and Happiness

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Friday Musings…

In 7th grade, one of my best friends complained that she needed a nose job. “It’s too big!” I thought she was beautiful. But I’ll never forget what she told me; “Every time I look in the mirror, all I see is this nose. Beautiful people have little noses. Have you ever seen a model with a nose like mine?”

Seventh grade was my real induction into the world of “beauty.” Or shall I say, “manufacturing beauty” from natural beauty. Make-up, hair, tanning, shaving (thank goodness we didn’t know much about waxing during the preteen years), clothes and plastic surgery—it became apparent that scuffed up jeans, a t-shirt, and a little dirt on my face was no longer going to cut it. I had been a bit of a tomboy—having 2 older brothers who I wanted desperately to be like—and a tomboy wasn’t the best thing to be once you entered middle school.

We got a bit ridiculous. We’d put on our mother’s make-up and dress up like Madonna. We actually thought we looked good. We’d spend hours looking in the mirror brushing our teeth, pinching non-existent fat and searching for flaws to complain about. We bought trinkets and bobbles and fluorescent purses (mine was pink).

I remember saving up to buy at least 50 of those rubber bracelets—yes, I realize they were simply car parts and vacuum cleaner components now—but we all wanted them. I even remember my friends and myself slathering ourselves with tanning oil and literally lying down on tin foil to get that “natural glow.” Years later I realized that I could use the same procedure to cook shrimp.

As bad as we were, it’s worse these days. How much do girls and women spend on all those products that promises “more beauty than our creator could ever provide?”

It turns out, probably more than we care to know. The YMCA released a report on the Consequences of America’s Beauty Obsession on Women and Girls to illustrate that we’ve been buying into a “Beauty at Any Cost philosophy.

Economic Costs:

  1. 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedure in 2007
  2. A survey of young people showed that 69% of responders, 18 or older, are in favor of cosmetic surgery.
  3. ¼ of cosmetic surgery was performed on women of color, up 13% from the previous year.
  4. Workers with “below average looks tended to earn about 9% less money than those with “above average” looks

Beauty or brains?

One full year of college tuition and fees at a public instate college is $6,185. Five years of beauty products costs $6,423

Health Costs:

  1. 67% of women (excluding those with bulimia or anorexia) are trying to lose weight
  2. 53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight
  3. 37% of women are concerned about what they’re eating
  4. 13% of women actually smoke in order to lose weight!
  5. Smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer deaths in the US
  6. 40% of newly-diagnosed cases of eating disorders are in girls only 15-19 years old. Symptoms can start as early as kindergarten.
  7. Over ½ of teen girls engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors such as fasting, skipping meals, smoking, and taking laxative

What’s the real cost of all that make-up?

Several ingredients found in US cosmetics have been linked to damage to the liver and reproductive system in animals. Europe has banned these ingredients. The US has not. In fact, in Europe, substances that can be used currently in the US have been called “carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction and should be prohibited from use in cosmetic products.” –European Union Cosmetics Directive, 2003

Happiness Cost

  1. Studies have found that girls who watch TV commercials with underweight models in them lost self confidence and were dissatisfied with their own bodies.
  2. Sexualization of girls have been linked with eating disorders, low self esteem, and depression.
  3. Aggressive bullying between girls has been on the rise since the 1990s.
  4. Relational aggression, a form of bullying, is related to their roles in culture. Women want to be attractive and men want to have attractive partners.

In a study of women, 80% of interviewed participants said that they competed with other women over physical appearance. These women are driven by an unhealthy belief that winning the looks competition will somehow gain them a husband, “the” career, or the self they desire.

So, should we dare to think about it? How much are we paying for beauty? How much are our children—many of whom are going back to school—going to spend on clothes, make-up, hair, weight loss and skin to ensure that they look “their best?” And how is it that we’ve all been fooled to believe that “our best” means slathering ourselves with manufactured, unnatural products that are made in a factory?

So much for telling children and teens to just be themselves.

Please comment below. We’re really interested in what you have to say.

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4 Responses

  1. […] The High Cost of Beauty: Giving Up Wealth, Health, and Happiness […]

  2. […] and rejects people who deviate from the media’s thin ideal. This cultural issue has a high cost. It isn’t only a problem because it creates a breeding ground for disordered eating behavior […]

  3. […] great efforts of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty that teaches girls not to get sucked into the media hype about thinness as well as the importance of loving “the skin you’re in?” They do […]

  4. […] editor for the Dove Self Esteem Fund — a campaign that teaches girls how to deal with the media hype about body image as well as the importance of loving “the skin you’re in.” […]

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