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Does beauty really come from within?

The Western world has in many ways shaped a global idea of what it means to be beautiful. Molly Catterall aims to explore and critically analyse how globalisation has impacted upon the beauty industry, hegemony, ideals of beauty and Western messages.

BY Molly Catterall

Ideas of globalisation effects how we define beauty and the influence beauty poses to the rest of the world. Thus, the Western world has in many ways shaped a global idea of what it means to be beautiful.

“As the first wave of modern globalization started in the nineteenth century, there began a massive homogenization of beauty ideals around the world that has, to some extent, continued until the present day”

Geoffrey Jones

Globalisation is the way in which society is becoming interlinked due to trade and cultural experience. Though globalisation in many ways has always existed, the increasing digitalisation of our world has allowed for globalisation to grow in prominence. Within the modern world, it is essential to understand how globalisation links people culturally, politically and socially. The concept of beauty is something which developed over time, influencing different cultures and societies, traditionally varied across generations. Often defined by a characteristic, beauty provides visual pleasure, built up of a combination of qualities such as colour, form and structure. Geoffrey Jones, author of Globalization and Beauty: A Historical and Firm Perspective, notes “As the first wave of modern globalization started in the nineteenth century, there began a massive homogenization of beauty ideals around the world that has, to some extent, continued until the present day”.

Over the years there has been a push and pressure on society by the media and the beauty industry to aspire to look a certain way. We often see in advertisements, media and even pornography this idea of the ‘perfect body’. The beauty industry heavily relies on stereotypes, enforcing women to aspire towards a constructed ideal. Media theory developed by Antonio Gramsci of cultural hegemony draws upon the idea of domination or rule achieved through ideological and cultural means, which is particularly relevant when talking about beauty globalisation. This term is used to describe the dominant group of society and how they hold power over social values, ideas, norms and behaviour of the rest of rest of society. It is by looking at the dominant ideology of society and how they reflected the beliefs and interests of the ruling class, we can begin to understand how the beauty industry of Western ideals impacts the world. Problematically Western beauty has control and rules over others in society. Therefore, the ruling class are referred to as being the white, upper-class people of society; spreading their dominant ideologies of power. Beauty advertisements today project the dominance of women with lighter skin, implying their power and importance and in turn defining what they believe to be beautiful.

Photo by @1eemingwell

Throughout advertisements we continuously see the same type of model; communicating there is one idea of beautiful women or man. Though the desire to look beautiful is something humans have an instinct towards, often seen in mating, is it a surprise that the beauty industry uses this concept to sell products? Beauty is a concept which has always interlinked countries and cultures in one common ground – to feel and be beautiful. Though, it is argued that the West has changed universal views upon what is deemed beautiful; drawing upon this idea, it could be argued that beauty industries are using our emotions to increase sales. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar states: “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons”. From this we can understand how using beauty ideals globally, draws upon emotions to gain interest and sales. Western ideas imply the unrealistic beauty is to appear having white skin, which encourages people to adapt their appearance to fit in. Many campaigns which celebrate the ‘power’ of outward beauty that awards one with confidence, love and youth, imply that happiness cannot be achieved unless outer beauty is achieved. The beauty industry heavily relies on stereotypes to enforce the idea of what a woman should look like, implementing the idea that beauty is socially constructed and perpetuated worldwide. We live in a world of technology and social media, continually impacting the spread of Western ideals of beauty across the globe. Photoshop is a platform heavily used in the beauty industry to alter and change images, resulting in adverse effects. Photoshop creates an unattainable vision of beauty. Along with Western ideas that white equals power, Photoshop creates unrealistic expectations of perfect beauty which people can’t reach.

“At its heart, the global economy of beauty is both shaped by and shaping intimate practices and imaginations, leading to unexpected outcomes and transformations”

Angela B McCracken

The success and financial gain from the beauty industry is reliant upon globalised ideals of beauty portrayed by Western society. Angela B McCracken, author of The Beauty Trade: Youth, Gender, and Fashion Globalization notes, “At its heart, the global economy of beauty is both shaped by and shaping intimate practices and imaginations, leading to unexpected outcomes and transformations“. Globalisation of beauty continues to be an ongoing issue, as the beauty industry rapidly is growing. But is there a way of undoing the harm created by the Western society, or is the damage already done. Many would argue the harmful effects of globalisation and beauty is an outdated theory. L’Oréal is one of many to start campaigning against old ideas of beauty and question the industry ideals. With a lack of diversity provided from make-up shades, L’Oréal Paris created a new line True Match, highlighting a range of skin tones other than white. Although it’s admirable to see beauty industry’s arguing against the Western ideal perpetuated globally for many years, it’s clear the dominant message is hard to adjust.

For years we have been fed the message that beauty is defined in how we look via advertisements within the media. ‘White’ has been the sole focus of beauty industry message, along with the representation of thin, tall, blonde, big boobs and blue eyes, visible in figures such as Barbie. We are taught that your life will be better and more successful, you will have more power and more money if you are ‘white’ and ‘beautiful’. The emotional and physical response to the message is the spending of more money as we continue to aspire to be what we are told is beautiful. In turn, the profits of beauty industries grow as they continue to represent unrealistic expectations of beauty. As humans, we strive for this ‘beauty’ as we have programmed within us perfection and will do anything to reach this ideal of beauty. The beauty industry shows us a solution to be beautiful which was a non-existent problem; and this concept goes beyond the products on sale to the consumer, it has caused more profound psychological implications across the globe, and that is difficult to reverse.