The Beauty Industries

A multi-billion dollar economy is built on our insecurities about the size, shape and appearance of our bodies. The leading Beauty Industries--fashion, cosmetics, weight loss and cosmetic surgery--realize greater profits the more dissatisfied we are with our appearance. It is hardly surprising then that these industries spend millions of dollars promoting beauty ideals that are almost impossible to achieve. Our continued failure to live up to such ideals virtually guarantees that we will continue to invest our money (and our hopes) on the latest miracle diet, “slimming” garments, or “age-defying” creams and potions.

Ask yourself

Why is it okay for women to dress in mensware-style suits, but utterly unacceptable for men to dress in skirts, lace or anything considered “feminine”?

Which is more oppressive to women? Victorian era corsets, full skirts, bonnets and gloves OR the pressure to wear low-cut form-fitting shirts and tight ultra-low-rise jeans?

How much time do you spend each day on your clothing and makeup? Compare this with the amount of time you spend on significant social issues such as poverty or prejudice.

Have you ever noticed how many women’s cosmetics these days are made to look and smell like food? Women are encouraged to “nourish” our bodies with products such as vanilla sugar facial scrubs, chocolate mousse moisturizers, and coconut body butters. At the same time, women are encouraged to carefully limit our actual consumption of things like sugar, chocolate and butter. Is there a connection between these trends?

What are some arguments for and against cosmetic surgery?

Film picks

  • Killing Us Softly, Still Killing Us Softly, Killing Us Softly 3
  • Flatly Stacked
  • The Size of It
  • The Famine Within

Reading picks

  • Naomi Wolf (1990) The Beauty Myth
  • Jean Kilbourne (1999) Can’t Buy My Love
  • Alex Kuczynski (2006) Beauty Junkies
  • Lakoff, R.T. and R.L. Scherr (1984) Face Value: The Politics of Beauty, Boston, Routledge.
  • Summer, C. (1996) “Tracking the Junkie Chic Look."
  • Harrison, K. and Cantor, J. (1997). "The relationship between media consumption and eating disorders."