Faculty of Philosophy
Department of English Language and Literature
Subject: Gender Studies
Feminist Critique of the Beauty Industry
Student Mentor Aida Hifzefendic dr.sc. Jasmina Husanovic, vanr.prof.
Tuzla, January 2011
Beauty is a part of our lives and philosophers argued for ages how to define it. Beauty should not be something harmful but in the last decades we witnessed that women's strive for perfection surpasses the threshold of normal. Through the media we are bombarded with images of celebrities that promote perfect beauty. This often leads ordinary women to take unnatural and unhealthy measures to achieve the ideal. The American research group Anorexia Nervosa & Related Eating Disorders, Inc. says that one out of every four college-aged women uses unhealthy methods of weight control—including fasting, skipping meals, excessive exercise, laxative abuse, and self-induced vomiting. The pressure to be thin is also affecting young girls: the Canadian Women's Health Network warns that weight control measures are now being taken by girls as young as 5 and 6. American statistics are similar. Several studies, such as one conducted by Marika Tiggemann and Levina Clark in 2006 titled "Appearance Culture in Nine- to 12-Year-Old Girls: Media and Peer Influences on Body Dissatisfaction," indicate that nearly half of all preadolescent girls wish to be thinner, and as a result have engaged in a diet or are aware of the concept of dieting. In 2003, Teen magazine reported that 35 per cent of girls 6 to 12 years old have been on at least one diet, and that 50 to 70 per cent of normal weight girls believe they are overweight. Overall research indicates that 90% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance in some way. Today the beauty industry is worth billions of pounds and its development can be traced back over hundreds of years. In this paper I will present the opinions about beauty industry of feminist critiques such as Paula Black, Betty Friedan, Sheila Jeffereys and Naomi Wolf.
Historical Overview of the Development of the Beauty Industry
Prior to the mid-nineteenth century women did not generally wear visible make-up. What they were avidly interested in, however, were recipes for creams and preparations which would improve their complexion and provide the smooth, white complexion which signified the genteel lady. Recipes for skin creams and complexion lighteners could often be traced to folk remedies, the ingredients for which had been used for centuries. These preparations were used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as part of a generalised knowledge held by women concerning general housekeeping duties, the growth of herbs, treatment of the sick, and their own beauty routines. Preparations were used to combat the effects of illness such as smallpox or to reduce or promote colour in the complexion. In this sense the ‘cosmetic’ use of these preparations was clearly linked to a wider care of the body, and to general health care. By the Victorian era these types of self-remedy were well known and women distributed recipes for a variety of skin treatments. The market began to expand partly due to the availability in drugstores. What this early market focused on were urban women with access to disposable income, and to the ingredients or products desired. A small cosmetic industry developed and hair treatments were also popular. Similarly, perfumiers were important in this early development of the market. However, most sales focused around preparations for improving the complexion rather than the application of cosmetics. The Victorians feared that cosmetics were a paint which could be used as a mask. Also...