Who cares about beauty? (Advertisers make girls feel ugly)

Source: lisapetrilli.com Are girls vain just because they feel pretty?
Source: lisapetrilli.com
Are girls vain just because they feel pretty?

I wrote a post a while ago about beauty and why I think society’s obsession with women achieving unrealistic standards of beauty is dangerous. This topic is fascinating to me, and I’ve realized that I could write more posts about the topic of beauty. It’s complex, subjective, and broad. Since I can’t write just one blog post on the topic of beauty, I’ve decided to break the topic into a series of blog posts.

I’ve created a new category on my blog, called Who Cares About Beauty. I’ll be covering topics that I’m interested in at the moment. The topic for this post was inspired by blogger Grace Curly and her post Pretty.

For this post, I wanted to focus on the problem with beauty in advertising.

Grace Curly’s post got me thinking: “Why are women told to be pretty by advertisers who make us feel ugly?”

First of all, let’s find a working definition for the rest of this post. According to dictionary.com‘s first definition, pretty means:

“Pleasing or attractive to the eye, as by delicacy or gracefulness.”

Throughout this post, I’m referring to this definition of pretty. I’m also mainly referring to America’s definitions of beauty, because beauty is subjective according to country we are studying.

After reading Grace Curly’s post, I realized that in our society, pretty girls hear mixed messages. Women in general are told by the media that we should be striving to be pretty, but advertisements widely highlight women’s “flaws” in hopes that women will buy their products to fix these “flaws.”

Source: galleryhip.com Problem with this ad: Perfection is unachievable. It sets us up for failure.
Source: galleryhip.com
Problem with this ad: Perfection is unachievable. It sets us up for failure.

However, what happens when a woman truly feels that she’s pretty?

Source: pinterest.com Women are called "vain" if they seem confident in their looks.
Source: pinterest.com
Women are called “vain” if they seem confident in their looks.

Mean Girls is the perfect example that highlights women verbalizing their insecurities and shaming girls who display confidence and contentment in their looks. I’ve noticed that even in real life, it’s become the norm for girls to tear themselves down, and girls do this in daily conversations with one another:

Source: buzzfeed.com Oh you know, just girl bonding time.
Source: buzzfeed.com
Oh you know, just girl bonding time.

In my opinion, discussing my insecurities in depth with friends is a waste of time. Sure, it’s healthy to admit to others that we’re not perfect (no one is), but what’s the point of complaining about what we dislike in ourselves? It solves nothing. We can’t change most of our features unless we go to drastic measures like plastic surgery, so why bother complaining?

Where did this vocal self-hatred in women even come from?

My belief? Advertising.

Think about it: Advertisers want to sell products. Companies want consumers to feel like they “lack” something because this will tell the consumers to go out and buy the product to “give” them something they don’t have. All companies use this technique.

With clothing, makeup, and other advertisements with women as the target audience, this technique is taken to a dangerous level. Women are told that they “lack” pretty hair, and so they need this shampoo:

Source: pixshark.com
Source: pixshark.com

Or that they need to buy all sorts of makeup to hide their “flaws”:

Source: nola.com
Source: nola.com

With advertisers everywhere telling women that they are not good enough and that they need their products in order to improve their looks, they are setting them up to feel insecure.

Keeping that in mind, it makes sense that women are labeled “vain” if they feel pretty. But is that fair?

Source: mrmen.wikia.com
Source: mrmen.wikia.com

First of all, what is the definition of “vain”? According to dictionary.com‘s definition, the term means:

“Excessively proud of or concerned about one’s own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.; conceited.”

While having an obsession with one’s appearance is unhealthy, and it’s frustrating to deal with a person who’s conceited, I believe that pretty girls are labeled “vain” not because they are actually showing signs of vanity, but simply because they are pretty.

Advertisers try to keep women feeling insecure because that is the way they are able to gain consumers. If all women were completely secure with themselves, they may not need the advertisers’ products to the excess that they buy them now.

Today, advertisers seem to have picked up on the fact that their tactics are often unhealthy and cause negative thoughts for some consumers. Some companies, like Dove, for example, have begun to use more positive messages in their ads.

Source: chippersengl.wordpress.com
Source: chippersengl.wordpress.com

Advertisers are finally starting to come around to the idea that women cannot all look the same. But more companies need to begin promoting more positive messages like this. Women are still widely being told by society that they are not “enough,” and so women are still made to believe that if they feel pretty, they are “vain.”

Source: southlemon.com
Source: southlemon.com

I believe that not only do advertisers have to continue to promote healthy self-esteem in women, but women also have to start becoming allies. Not just with each other, but with ourselves. Tearing ourselves down with negativity does nothing but make us feel worse. Why not celebrate what we love about ourselves? I believe that does a lot more good for ourselves, and for other women in the world.

We are enough. You are enough. Who cares what advertisers say? You should feel pretty without being ashamed of it. We are all pretty, and we shouldn’t listen to those who tell us otherwise.


    1. Hello;
      It gives me immense pleasure to read your views regarding this subject on REBECCA’s blog my good friend; yes, this issue needs serious consideration and proper attention; on the occasion of “International Women’s Day” I have written this post; whenever you have spare time please read it;it will give you some insight in to the subject.

  1. Reblogged this on Out From Under the Umbrella and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more! If I had all the money I’ve spent buying cellulite cream back…well…I’d have a lot more money! I’ve had it since I was ten, for crying out loud! How many of us have purchased products based on the promise that we’d get shinier hair, whiter teeth, an even complexion, flatter abs, no muffin tops, perkier, or bigger, or smaller breasts?

    If we take time on our appearance we’re vain. If we let ourselves go we’re lazy.

    It has taken me nearly all my forty-two years to get to a place where I’m comfortable in my own skin. I think I look better and I know I feel better than I ever have. Most of my life I’ve spent comparing myself to unrealistic, airbrushed, and photoshopped images of what it means to attain perfection. No longer!

    I’m inviting everyone – everyone – men included to comment here and tell us all one thing beautiful about yourself. Don’t be shy, now.

    1. Thank you so much for the reblog! I completely agree with everything you said here. Society gives us unrealistic and impossible standards of what we should look like, but when we appear confident in our appearance, we run the risk of being labeled “vain.” It’s quite unfair.

      I’m so glad to hear you are comfortable in your skin. I think it’s crucial for everyone, regardless of gender, to get to that point in life, because it makes us feel much happier and healthier when we have truly accepted ourselves, flaws and all. 🙂

    2. You’re awesome! Forty-two years is a long time, but some people never feel comfortable in their own skin. We get so accustomed to pointing out other people’s faults… mean-spirited culture. Tearing each other down, because… why? Is it to make ourselves feel better? Maybe. But I don’t think that we really truly feel better afterwards. Is it because we secretly hate something about ourselves… that we’re hungry, angry, lonely, tired?? We lash out for all sorts of reasons.
      Step one: We stop bagging on other people.
      Step two: We start taking a hard look about what we DO like about ourselves (like you’re suggesting).

      As we start learning how to highlight the things we like/love about ourselves, and understand that it’s O-freaking-K that we don’t have everything going for us!!!… then we’ll be able to accept and compliment others who have nice things, too! (Instead of just being ENVIOUS)

      SO… what do I find beautiful about myself? Hmmm… My calves are pretty strong, and I can get my abs to show when I flex 🙂 And I have nice dimples. 😀


      1. You’re right that we need to stop tearing others down. It would be wonderful to see us celebrating our differences and appreciating everyone for who they are, not what they look like.

        It’s unfortunate that our society still focuses so heavily on appearance, especially in women. We grow up learning that we have to look a certain way. Hopefully in the future we’ll start complimenting each other more and celebrating what makes us unique. 🙂

      2. I hated my appearance for most of my life. I never thought of myself as attractive. I spent a whole lot of time tearing myself down. My thighs were too big, my butt was too big, I had cellulite, I had too many freckles, my hair was too flat, too brown, too straight. Every time I looked in the mirror or, god forbid, saw a picture of myself all I saw was the flaws.

        Then one day I woke up and looked in the mirror and began to like what I saw. Those big thighs give me strong legs. My butt isn’t nearly as big as I thought it was. In my mirror everything seemed bigger than it was. I still have cellulite, but who the hell cares? I still have freckles, but they’re my calling card. My hair started turning gray so I colored it, still brown, though. And with my changing hormones my hair can’t decide if it wants to be curly or straight so it does both. At the same time. So what? It’s me. And I like me even if no one else does.

        I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m outgoing and I’m shy. I’m a walking contradiction. And I’m good with that.

        I wish everyone could get to that place. I think there would be less criticism of others because when you’re satisfied with yourself you don’t see the need to tear everyone else down. Though I’ve never really understood that concept. I’ve always hated to hear people ripping each other apart.

        Do I still see things about myself I’d like to change? Of course I do, but I don’t dwell on them. I’d rather spend ten minutes snuggling my husband and my dogs than do one more mile jogging. Balance. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t.

      3. I’m so glad to hear you got to a place where you accepted yourself. I also wish everyone could get there, too. But a lot of people spend their whole lives feeling insecure and tearing themselves down. Our society almost encourages us to tear not only ourselves down, but others as well. It helps companies make money, and tearing each other down creates competition.

        I think it’s awesome that even though you still have things you want to change, you don’t dwell on those things anymore. It’s all about our thoughts. As long as we look at ourselves from a realistic perspective instead of a negative one, we will be much happier. 🙂

    1. Exactly. It’s so sad. It frustrates me so much because as time goes on, there is so much emphasis on youth and superficial beauty. Everything is marketed to “reverse” or “slow” aging, as if we are trying to defy nature. Aging is unavoidable, no matter how much we try to slow it, stop it, or reverse it. This obsession with youthfulness is almost 100% directed towards women as well. We are supposed to be pretty, stay pretty, and stay young for as long as possible, kicking and screaming into old age if we have to. It’s ridiculous. Society seems to believe that once women have lost their youth, they’ve lost it all.

      I’m thinking this sounds like another good blog post in my near future… 🙂

      1. Yes, and it’s not just pretty, it’s sexy too. I was mortified a while back when I saw an ad in the Metro (free newsweekly) basically shaming women who’d recently given birth by offering special treatments to “lose that baby fat” and get sexy again (that was the gist of it). All about being sexy, nothing about what’s inside. Yes, keep on with these posts!

      2. You’re exactly right. It’s all about a woman’s sex appeal and what she can give sexually to a man. It’s ridiculous. Wow, that’s depressing! It makes me so angry that women are shamed for anything and everything. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’d like to see a day when women are valued for their brains, talents, unique personalities, and accomplishments rather than “She’s pretty or “She’s hot.”

        Thank you, I feel like I’m riled up and ready to write a ton of new posts! 🙂

      3. Exactly, it’s always the “hotness” factor. What pressure young girls are under these days! Thankfully it’s less (at least overtly) sex-oriented in some Western European countries, But here in the U.S. not so.

      4. Yes, it’s so sad. I also think that social media causes even more insecurities for women in new ways. Just another way for women to feel bad about themselves. Something has to change.

  2. Ooh you and I could discuss this topic for a loooooong time, I’m sure 🙂
    I found this interesting to see it from a young woman’s perspective, but I’m not sure I agree that advertisers make women feel ugly. Rather I think they have recognized that women, and in particular, YOUNG WOMEN in our society are more susceptible to feeling insecure about their appearance, and they shape their marketing approach to capitalize on this.
    Simply put the conerstone of advertising is to tap into our insecurities about our flaws, inadequacies and imperfections, and convince us mere mortals that the product or service being offered will somehow elevate us.
    Advertisers spend millions on research to find out which of our buttons they need to push and #1 on the list is our need for acceptance/approval; it’s in our DNA. Don’t we all want to feel attractive to others?
    Advertisers don’t set norms or societal trends. Do they influence or prolong those trends? Yes, perhaps a bit, but what they really do best is identify and exploit them for profit.
    As individuals the only thing we can do is to not buy in to those norms and make our purchasing decisions based on our values, not our insecurities, and THAT is not always easy.
    *Stepping down from soapbox*

    1. Thanks, Norm! I was thinking similar thoughts, but you worded them out well. Nobody can make us feel something … they do something, and we feel something in response. It’s a subtle, but important difference. Someone can say, “Tim, you’re worthless!” and I can believe that and feel worthless. Or, I can smile and know that their opinion of me, thankfully, doesn’t dictate my worth. Clearly, it’s harder to hold to our own truths when we are repeatedly told the same message throughout our lives by many different people (including those who are closest to us).

      Who cares about beauty? Clearly, most of us do. This is why the advertising works so well, as Norm so keenly pointed out. But self-worth… that is something we ALL need more of, even more than beauty… and that new shampoo may smell nice, but it won’t make you whole. However, we can all help each other to like ourselves a little more.

      1. I agree that we react to how negative comments make us feel rather than the comments themselves. But I think it takes strong people to really ignore or brush off negative comments. Not everyone can do that, and there are, tragically, many people who commit suicide because of verbal abuse, often abuse online.

        I’m hoping that more companies start promoting more positive messages. I think the problem is that while when we’re older we know products won’t make us happier, younger people may not be able to be as critical and skeptical of advertisements. It’s easier for companies to get younger people to believe that beauty is really the most important thing, and some grow up truly believe it if they aren’t taught differently. I think educating people is always the best step.

    2. Yes, it’s an interesting topic! You’re right that companies spend millions of dollars researching how to effectively use consumers’ insecurities in order to properly market their products. They play on our negative thoughts.

      I still do think that advertisers are, whether consciously or unconsciously, have been in a sense making women feel “ugly.” 24 million men and women in America suffer from eating disorders after all, and many of these people cite advertising and feeling the need to be thinner to look like what they see in magazines and elsewhere. While advertising isn’t the only outlet responsible, I do believe that it plays a huge part. A lot of our insecurities are in fact insecurities in the first place because somewhere along the way, we were told (often through ads) that certain features were not desirable, while other features were more favorable.

      It’s so true that in order to be happier and healthier, we have to buy products that we need, not products that we hope will make us feel better about ourselves.

  3. Good idea to make the topic of Beauty a whole category here, Rebecca. It’s certainly a deep pool in which to dive. Advertisers do what they do because they hope to come up with a premise and a small bunch of images and words that appeal to a wide demographic they’re wooing. I think that’s one reason why they prey on the concept of fixing flaws, which of course are universal. Beauty, on the other hand, truly is measured individually, in the eye of the beholder, as the cliche goes. The positive side is a much harder sell because of this.

    Anyway, I think confidence is very beautiful. As you say, self-assuredness is not vain nor negative … up to a certain line that goes to self-centered and pompous. That’s vain and not so attractive to me. Great post today.

    1. Thank you, I’m glad you appreciated it. 🙂 I thought it would make sense to do more specific posts on particular aspects on the topic of beauty, since it’s such a huge topic. I completely agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve always liked that phrase. I’m with you that self-confidence is attractive.

  4. I think advertisers deliberately poke at our insecurities to make us by their products. Look at ads aimed at men. We’re not manly enough unless we drive a big truck or expensive car. If we want women to even look at us, we’ve got to smell good, dress right, and use the perfect razor.

    It’s all about poking at our insecurities, Becky. Everyone has them, and advertisers know how to find them…

      1. I’m going to take you to a taping one of these days. There are two in April, so there will be double the fun for me. 🙂

  5. Beauty is in everyone. The most beautiful people may be what is considered “average” on the outside but have a beautiful heart and mind. To me there is much more of an attraction to someone that has inner beauty. Flaws and imperfections are what makes someone real, more attractive and relatable.

      1. “What is essential is invisible to the eye”. It is the person inside that does count. Eyes, however, are important. When you look into a person’s eyes, you see the one physical thing that does not change. Find eyes that you can fall in love with on a true and honest person and you have found the world

  6. On a (slight) sidenote.
    Do you know the work of Carol J. Adams ‘The sexual politics of meat’?
    It deals with the intersections of sexism and speciesism. And how women are depicted in popular culture as pieces of meat (to be consumed). Very interesting!

    1. Interesting! I’ll have to check her out. I believe her theory makes perfect sense. Women always seem to be depicted as meat, even today. It’s insane, and totally unfair.

      Thank you for letting me know about her work. I’ll look her up!

  7. I once read a study arguing that, for all species, symmetry was a deciding factor in determining whom to mate with. We are all slightly asymmetrical, but some more so than others. Apparently the causes for asymmetry can be genetic “flaws,” and hence symmetry is considered attractive.

    On another note, where you aware of possible legislation to ban modeling agencies in France from using women whose BMI is unhealthy? Check out “French Modeling Agencies Could Face Jail Time If They Hire Models With A BMI Of Less Than 18”: http://thkpr.gs/3636119. I’ll be interested to find out what happens with the proposed legislation.

    1. I’ve heard about those studies, too. It’s true that people who have more symmetry are usually considered more physically attractive.

      I’m glad to hear about the possible legislation in France. I know that a lot of modeling agencies worldwide have begun issuing more rules saying they will not hire runway models who are under a certain BMI. I’m glad there are more legislative laws like this coming up in the world recently.

      1. Having been anorexic in my teen years, I have to say that, at least in my case, it had less to do with following fashion trends (I preferred hand-me-downs from my sisters) and more to do with being in control of some aspect of my life. Having had OCD behaviors as a young child, in retrospect I look at anorexia as a particular type of OCD. In both cases, the goal is to reduce anxiety by exerting control in a ritualized fashion that doesn’t make sense to anyone else. After the advent of Prozac and theories about the role of serotonin in OCD and depression, I realized that I’d gone from generalized OCD as a child to a form of OCD that revolved around food and my weight, and subsequently depression. Serotonin, however, is only one biochemical in the brain that affects mood and behavior. We have so much more to learn. Ultimately, I have learned to accept myself as I am. I still have what’s called “body dysmorphic disorder, meaning that I don’t have a clue what I look like; but I feel good doing what I do, sharing my love of reading with others and doing what little I can to practice mindfulness and compassion. When I’m living in the moment, sharing my passion for reading with others makes me feel beautiful.

      2. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Connie. I can’t even imagine how difficult those times must have been. I’m glad to hear that you have found things to make you feel beautiful, and that you’ve found things you’re passionate about. 🙂

  8. Thanks for publishing this post, very well said and very well written. You are completely right; it has now become a bad thing to believe that you are beautiful, it apparently makes you vain and egotistical. And so we are now all expected to berate ourselves in order to be considered humble and modest. Everything is so backwards.

    1. You’re welcome. That’s completely true, and it’s sad. We should be confident enough to say we think we are beautiful, but sometimes people who do that are labeled as being vain.

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