You and I are damsels in distress- rejected, helpless and waiting for our knights- wrapped in the shining armours of ‘guaranteed fair skin’, ‘promised weight loss’ and what not. This is just another tale- of beauty and its beasts.
The concept of beauty is a tricky one because of the subjectivity it involves, yet the societal standards confine it to such an extent that it results in heightened insecurities among people for looking a certain way. It is this self- hatred, born out of societal conventions, that the ever- growing beauty industry feeds on to churn out products that provide ‘the only way out’ from ‘imperfections’ like dark skins, aging and heavy bodies. The products are marketed as the one true ‘solution’ to the problem of not being able to fit into the beauty standards of the society. The problem, however, is less about the emergence of products aimed at the needs of the people, but more at its effectiveness. The results of products like Fair and Lovely have long been debated, yet it remains a marketable product, with a profit of ₹1,529 crores in June 2018. Such cases are common especially in products related to fairness, weight loss and anti-aging- the profits remain as steady as the targeting of insecurities, which makes the consumers keep coming back to the product despite questions surrounding its effectiveness. This is known as ‘Targeted Marketing’, and the beauty industry is at the forefront of this practice.
A teenage college student, on being asked about the portrayal of dark-skinned people in advertisements of beauty products by this writer, talked about a sense of self doubt that arose due to the negative portrayal of such people. “Especially if you’re exposed to such portrayals early on in life, it makes you feel as if there’s something wrong with you. Growing up, I was made to believe that my dark skin was a defect, which affected my self-esteem in a terrible sense”, she responded.
This strategy of internalisation used by the beauty industry has drilled, into the minds of its consumers, the idea that they are incomplete without the product. The widespread use of audio-visual mediums plays a huge role in this process of internalisation. Several advertisements, product placements and campaigns are aimed that convincing the consumers about the irreplaceable nature of the products. The products related to body hair removal, for instance, are especially targeted at women and are marketed in a way that women themselves find it unacceptable to not use those products, driving the sales of these products. This strategy of internalisation is also used for several anti- aging creams, tanning agents as well as fairness creams- where the usage of certain products is transformed into ‘norms’ that ought to be followed by different sections of the society despite their disagreement with it.
On being interviewed about the internalised need of body hair removal by this writer, a student stated her opinion of feeling ‘unacceptable’ on not fitting into the norm of body hair removal. She said, “I always feel that this is something I need to do, as if I have no choice. My discomfort or the pain that’s involved never feel like excuses to get away from it, I believed as if I had to deal with this. And I somehow always feel that getting rid of body hair makes me more likable in the eyes of other people”.
The ideas of being ‘acceptable’ or ‘likable’ that the beauty industry plants into the minds of its consumers, along with their products, is one of the core product marketing strategies of Targeted Marketing. In this sense, the products are sold not only as a solution to their ‘problems’, but also as a way to seek social validation that they’ve been deprived off because of their ‘imperfections’. What makes these even more attractive is that they are often sold as a key to getting more opportunities, love and acceptance. In these cases, people don’t buy the product itself, but rather the validation that’s supposed to come with it.
The social validation that these beauty products sell has made an impact on a lot of people and forced them to buy products just to be accepted. Another college student, when interviewed by this writer, expressed his experiences of being compelled to use beauty products as a means of gaining validation. He said, “Advertisements of weight gaining products portray people like me- who are very skinny, to be incapable because of which my family and I, for the longest time, felt ashamed of how I looked. I used weight gaining products and started going to the gym as they seemed like the only options for me to get back into the society that I felt disconnected to because I didn’t look like other people of my gender.”
The beauty industry has massively affected its consumers in a negative sense and yet remains a booming space. Thousands of products churn out every second; targeting the deepest insecurities of consumers- compelling people to buy products to ‘fix’ themselves- this industry is monetising the insecurities and self-hatred of the consumers who, stricken by fear and often desperate for acceptance, fall for these tactics. Thus, we stay stuck- in the tale of beauty and its beasts, as this industry creates the illusion of being the saviour of ‘damsels’ like you and me.