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Wake the F*ck Up: How the Beauty Industry is Killing Us, Literally (& How You Can Fight Back)

There’s some sinister shit happening to us and we have the beauty industry to scorn for it.

For years, the beauty industry has gotten a lot of flak. Their ads, their ingredients, their whitewashing; but if there's anything the industry should get shit for it’s their brazen, inconsiderate dissemination of impossible beauty standards.

Maybe we can deal with a paraben here and there (okay, not really) but we cannot- will not- let this continue without at least calling out the harm that all of this bullshit is causing. Because if an industry can call out every cellulite and wrinkle, we’re sure they can take it as well as they dish it out.  

So, Here's The Thing

The beauty industry is killing us. This is not hyperbole and this is not a drill. We know that there are toxic body standards being imposed on us and that it’s a global phenomenon not specific to the West. In every corner of the world, images of “perfection” according to that culture are imposed, cultivating unrealistic expectations. So why exactly is this bad?

We’ve all seen that video of the woman getting retouched on Photoshop. If you haven’t seen this specific one, chances are, you’ve seen others like it.

When we see the final result without any context, as we do when we flip through magazines or see an ad on a billboard, we assume that it's possible to look that way. And if it’s possible to look that way, we just have to find out how. Then, the race begins to find that perfect body sculpting routine or the next skin care fad to minimize those unsightly fine lines. We prick, pluck, plump, and prime… and for what?

Once we fall into this rabbit hole of panic, we’re racing to meet certain expectations that even we know are pretty ridiculous. But just as we’re coming to our senses and putting the tweezers down, another ad pops up or another Instagram model shows up on our feed, and our social survival instincts kick in. Just like that, we’re back to plucking and bitching about our stretch marks.

This is magnified tenfold for minorities. There’s already minuscule representation for them and seeing little to no representation is an alienating factor. In the end, it’s easier to surrender to a status quo when you don’t see someone who looks like you breaking the mold. You think “that’s how it's supposed to be” and “that’s just what beauty is.” So, you reach for the skin bleaching products, the hair relaxers and straighteners, without thinking twice about the health risks.

Although we love to shout out the few brands using actual women of all shapes and backgrounds to showcase their products, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are some real consequences to this shit. Not just a dent in your bank account with all the personal training and manic consumption. Oh no, that’s just the PG stuff.

 

All Roads Lead to Destruction

When you give in to the standards and commit to the impossible mission, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to an increasing list of mental and physical health concerns.

Depression

When your worth is defined by something unattainable, you’re going to feel some sort of internal conflict. No matter how hard you try, you’re just not thin enough, pretty enough or white enough. This leads  to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and an increase in drug and alcohol abuse. The impact this has on self-image goes beyond our awkward teen years and can seep into our adult lives.

Depression occurs most frequently in women ages 25-44 and can be caused by a number of factors, including the roles and expectations placed on them. Although men suffer from depression at an alarming rate as well, women experience it at about twice the rate.

Our obsession with beauty means these topics are constantly filling our heads with negative inner dialogue and taking up a large chunk of mental energy. Quality of life sinks and it gets harder to dig yourself out of that hole.

Suicide rates

It’s easy to understand that deep depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. But there seems to be a disconnect between the beauty standards we’re living up to and the suicide rates. A study in 2013 found that  68% of teens expressing high demand and expectations committed suicide. Although these findings aren’t exactly revolutionary, they give us clear proof that ideas of perfectionism in regards to body image are harmful and inescapable.

Do you see the dilemma here? We’re telling young men and women that they’re fine just the way they are when we’re being bombarded constantly by Photoshopped goddesses and filtered beauties.  

If you or anyone you know needs confidential support, there are resources and hotlines available for free. Call 1-800-273-8255.

Social media as a catalyst

Speaking of filters, we need to talk about social media. No, it’s certainly not always the cause of destruction. It can be used for some pretty awesome awareness campaigns and activism, and connect people with similar interests instantly, regardless of location. What social media does is amplify messages; unfortunately, it doesn't discriminate. We might follow an account for fitness inspiration, only to find scantily clad women not really sharing any fitness tips but instead showing the final result, again, without the context. With 91% of 16-24 year olds using social network sites, it’s impossible to think that these effects exist in a vacuum.

These women (and men) appear manufactured, positioned like mannequins to capture the light at a certain angle and display effortless perfection. How are we not supposed to feel just a little fucked up about that?      

Social policing

From the moment we’re born, we are immediately socialized into our “supposed to’s.” Based on our gender alone, we’re told what color we’re supposed to wear, what toys to play with, what activities to take part in, how to present ourselves, etc. It’s exhausting but somehow a fixed part of every culture. Social policing plays a big role in this. From schools telling black girls how to wear their hair, to men expecting women to be shaved from their armpits down- it’s a constant reminder of what we’re supposed to look like and a way to keep everyone in line.

The beauty industry implements a standard, and the trends that follow act as a form of social policing, making sure everyone follows suit or perish into the forgotten abyss of last seasons fashions. This feeds depression and anxiety which further perpetuates feelings of worthlessness and being an outcast.

Rape culture

There’s a thing that happens when you display yourself a certain way- people, often men, feel entitled to you. Living up to beauty standards by way of “getting dolled up” has somehow become a sign of sexual availability. So while women are just trying to uphold a standard that’s been imposed by them and enforced socially (whether by peers or social media), they also have to deal with a very real and very dark reality that the more they align with these beauty standards, the more likely they are to be assaulted.

People between the ages of 12-34 are at the highest risk of being raped and these tragic events have long-term effects on victims, including suicide, PTSD, and severe distress. Let’s not forget that rape culture is not at all due to the beauty industry. Rape is an aggression of power, made to dominate and humiliate. All the bullshit we have to go through leaves us susceptible to being raped- and being blamed for it. The way you look, whether it’s casual or showing off some cleavage, never justifies rape. Nothing justifies rape. Ever.      

Confidential support is available by rainn.org 24/7, absolutely free. Call 800-656-HOPE.

Harmful ingredients

You’ve probably read our shit list already, and there’s a reason why we don’t use any of them in our products. Synthetic fragrances, sulfates, phthalates, and just about every ingredient you can find in your household beauty products are straight up toxic. With the average woman using up to 12 personal care products daily, you better believe there’s a long list of no-good ingredients being slathered on skin on a regular basis.

Harmful ingredients cause allergic reactions, disrupt hormones, generate formaldehyde, contain carcinogens, cause skin disease, disrupt the endocrine system, and so much more. Educating yourself on harmful ingredients can seem overwhelming but knowing what’s going on your skin is empowering and a big middle finger to the beauty industry. Raise ‘em up high!

What Can You Do About It?

Hold companies accountable

If you know a brand is using shitty ingredients, unsustainable methods, and testing on animals, you have the option to give them a piece of your mind. This is where social media can be used for good! Even if it’s just you acting alone, it’s better than staying quiet and being complicit. It’s important to always be an advocate for the things you believe in. Take a stand and call out the brands that are passing off their products as natural and safe, when in reality, they’re doing the opposite.

Make your dollars count

These days, it’s not only about the brand’s products. Millennials especially are conscious consumers, supporting independently owned brands with a cause. When you choose to buy cruelty-free, for example, you’re taking a stance against the act. It’s not hard to find a cause you can get on board with these days. There’s no shortage of beauty brands disrupting the industry and providing products that work without all the extra bullshit. Give them your money instead!

#StayWoke

It's easy to fall back into old habits and mentality, but it takes daily unlearning and self-awareness to understand what’s going on and what you can do to change it. When you make a conscious choice to shift your focus from meeting impossible standards to attaining positive self-image, your world will seem a lot less complicated. Don’t take part in the social policing and don’t give in to harmful fads. Just do you!

Make social media work for you

Are you using social media to consume or are you using it to create? Chances are that making social media work for you is mostly about taking control over what you see, who you share with, and who you let in. Be aware of which accounts make you feel like shit, and which ones inspire you. Use that as your threshold and we promise, you’ll see an improvement.  

Be a role model

It starts with the kids. We know, cliché right? But there’s no way we can stress how important it is to teach positive body image and acceptance to our children. Letting them in on life’s little secret that they will never look the the person in the magazine because not even the model looks like that in real life will put them ahead of the game and make them more conscious of harmful beauty standards being forced upon them.

Let them know that it’s okay to be themselves, whatever that looks like to them. Sure, they might not know what you’re talking about right then and there but as it seeps into their psyche, it can help form healthy perceptions about themselves and others. And when your mindset is strong, so is your will against external pressures.

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