Striving for Perfection? How the Beauty Industry is Affecting Teens Through Advertising


Emma Brady-Wright, Editor

You know those ads? Those ads that are centered around a woman’s beauty, usually taking the form of perfume, makeup, clothes or other beauty products? Those ads that try to tell you who and what is beautiful? Those ads that leave you feeling that you’re not enough? 


Well, of course, you have. On average, the beauty industry spends 20 billion a year on advertisements. Their primary target: young women. That translates to each woman seeing about 250,000 advertisements annually, each ad causing their viewers to feel even more insecure than the last. But that’s exactly what these companies want. They want you to believe that you are not enough. How else would they profit? Their job isn’t to sell products people need, their job is to convince people they need their product. 


Because of this message, women around the world are feeling insecure about their bodies every single day. This can lead to negative views about their appearance, which can turn into mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders.


But perhaps the most troubling aspect of this issue is how common it is, especially among teens and young adults. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 girls ages 8-18 have negative views about their appearance when they’re not wearing makeup; as reported by press release site, Mintel, 42% of teen girls use makeup as a way to boost their confidence. 


As one of the biggest industries in the world, the beauty industry feeds the 90% of US teen girls who use makeup on a regular basis according to Mintel, a London-based market research firm. 


“Most people don’t tell you to wear makeup, they just wear it and it becomes an expectation,” junior Zoe Carver said. Carver is a frequent makeup user who uses multiple makeup products on a daily basis. “And then once you’ve started wearing makeup, it’s like weird if you don’t.”


The beauty industry is estimated to have a $532 billion global economy with most of that inflow coming from women ages 14-24. So it may come as no surprise to find out that 56% of women feel insecure about their appearance according to Psychology Today. The biggest reason why? Images in the media. Models, actors/actresses, musicians, social media stars and influencers, etc. In short, celebrities. 


When looking through a magazine such as Cosmopolitan or Vogue, you can see a trend right from the first page: successful, beautiful and thin. These media images promote this lifestyle to be the standard for all women. But that standard isn’t even achievable, even for the celebrities themselves. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, actor and model Blake Lively said, “It’s our job as actors and/or models to be in shape. We have access to top gyms and trainers and healthy food. And then on top of that, 99.9 percent of the time the images are Photoshopped.” She even went on to say that she’s been guilty of it too, having a lot of photographers saying “we’ll fix it” after a shoot. 


Even on social media, it’s reported that 68% of teens and adults Photoshop their pictures before posting them on their page according to Fstoppers, an online community focused on educating young adults on photography and videography, and the standards surrounding it. Teens can easily fall into the habit of comparing themselves to a digitally perfected image, whether it’s from a friend, celebrity or other source. 


Unfortunately, whether or not a woman is aware of the unrealistic standards set by the beauty industry and the media, 80% of women report that they feel negatively about their appearance after seeing a beauty advertisement as reported by Medium. And with the average woman seeing 68 beauty commercials every day, that poses a great cost to a woman’s self-esteem and body image. Those feelings of lack of self-worth can become a bigger problem when issues such as mental health and eating disorders are involved.


Due to this exposure, it’s reported by Mirror-Mirror, a center for education on eating disorders, that 80% of American 10-year-olds have either tried or successfully dieted in one way or another. Yet only 18% of adolescents are actually overweight. 


The negative impact of media portrayals of “ideal beauty” doesn’t just affect girls and women though. Some boys in grades 9-10 note they have considered/taken anabolic steroids in order to gain muscle mass as stated in Mirror-Mirror’s article on body image. This is because the common image of an “attractive man” is one with rock hard abs and bulging biceps. 


It’s a common misconception that many young boys and men fall for. Many report that they feel like that’s all that women want, so they feel the need to meet that standard. Meanwhile, women and teen girls are feeling that same pressure to do daily makeup, be thin and fit and eat healthy. 


“They are profiting off people’s insecurities, and that’s not okay,” Carver said. 


So, what can be done? How can such a long-established, seemingly insurmountable beast like the beauty industry be changed, so that instead of one ideal of perfection, their ads promote diversity, beauty in all shapes and sizes, a plain face or a painted one. It’s not an easy road ahead, but it’s one that we all must start to pave.


Junior Ella Brown, believes that advertising is the first thing to go. “If I could do one thing regardless of money or power, I’d buy out all makeup brands and then just stop the advertising.” Brown brings up a good point. If companies don’t advertise, people’s insecurities drop, and their health esteem grows. 


Carver agrees, saying how the “ideal” body image should become a thing of the past, mentioning the negative impacts of Photoshopping in the media too. 


But in reality, this billionaire industry, created and maintained by the perpetual advertisements – images of the ideal woman – tall, thin, lustrous perfectly styled hair and a perfectly painted face – cannot simply be stopped. So how do we combat the pervasive and extremely negative effects of the beauty industry and its ads? 


One step at a time. For instance, a person can stop buying beauty magazines. A person can stop watching make-up tutorials on YouTube. A person can support another’s choice to wear make-up, or stop wearing makeup. People can remind each other that the beauty industry sells fantasy, not reality. If more people share that message, in their words and their actions, change can occur. Together we’re stronger than alone. And a shared message will hopefully pave a path to more happiness and stronger self-esteem for all.


Brown and Carver offer some final words of guidance. Brown said, “Don’t feel pressured to wear makeup because you can do whatever you want. Life should be about finding your own happiness.” With Carver adding, “The most attractive thing in the whole world is confidence, and that’s all you need. So be confident babes!”