The Beauty Myth
The impact of the booming market for make-up is far from pretty says Simon Birch.
Putting on make-up is part of the daily routine for increasing numbers of young women and girls. Research has revealed that, in fact, almost 60% of girls and young women between the ages of eight and eighteen now wear make-up.
What’s more, 65% of these girls started to wear make-up between the ages of eight and thirteen. So what’s driving the move for this made-up conformity? Two words: social media.
Thanks to smartphones, teens can learn all about the benefits of bronzers, blushers and mascara from the comfort and privacy of their bedrooms. Leading the way in this social media revolution are the video bloggers, or vloggers as they’re known, who post films of themselves online reviewing cosmetics to an ever growing audience of young women and girls.
Queen of these vloggers is 26-year-old Zoella, who has a whopping 12 million subscribers on YouTube and a staggering 10 million followers on Instagram as well as her own booming beauty brand.
Not surprisingly, global cosmetic companies can’t get enough of these vloggers. Crucially, the likes of Zoella and other improbably named vlogger stars, such as Pixiwoo, speak directly to millions of teens and their disposable income in a way that companies can only dream of. These canny corporates know that if they can get their latest product reviewed online then a sale is only a click away. Kerching.
There’s something almost creepy about the way in which giant cosmetic companies now circle and swoop around these young and enthusiastic vloggers, most of whom don’t make much money but who are unwittingly providing both free advertising for corporates and revenue drivers for YouTube.
This agressive marketing sees children even under the age of 10 as fair game, with Disney now targeting these children with their Tinkerbell range of make-up. And brace yourselves as Mintel, one of the UK’s leading consumer research organisations, has even suggested that cosmetic companies could intensify their targeting of young girls to buy their products by placing vending machines in schools and cinemas. Grim.
If you think, however, that mucking about with make-up is what young girls have always done and is nothing but harmless fun, then think again.
A major study into mental health in England, published last autumn, found alarming evidence that more young women aged from 16 to 24 are now experiencing mental health problems than ever before.
Charities believe that social media is a key factor for this worrying trend, with young women coming under intense peer group pressure to look a certain way as a consequence of their continual habit of posting photos of themselves online.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Lauren Chakkalackal, senior research officer at the Mental Health Foundation, said girls seemed particularly vulnerable to a social media culture which encouraged them to compete with apparently ‘perfect’ lives.
“On social media, they are seeing these edited versions of lives, bikinis, beaches and not seeing the reality.”
The charity said girls were more likely to fall victim to online bullying, which often left girls feeling that their whole identity was under attack.
Hanna Betts, CEO of Fearless Futures, an organisation that seeks to empower young women to become leaders in society, is critical of the inherent sexist attitudes of cosmetic companies.
“The problem is that the targeting of girls is rooted in upholding sexist assumptions and gender norms”.
“Where is the ‘targeting’ of young boys? Ultimately, the message young people receive in the consistent messages from cosmetic companies is that girls’ and young women’s value is linked to their ability to look like models and meet impossible aesthetic standards.”
So, what can parents of young girls do to protect their children from the aggressive marketing of cosmetic companies?
“Set an age at which your daughter is allowed to wear makeup and stick to it. You will be teaching your daughters to be comfortable in their own skin, both literally and figuratively,” advises Barbara Greenberg writing on the Huffington Post website.
“Focus on other aspects of how your teenage daughters can feel good about themselves such as their hobbies and sports,” concludes Greenberg.
Everything is not about appearance.”
See our ethical shopping guide to Make-up which we have just updated.