Oh, what women could have accomplished in the last 100 years if they weren’t obsessing over the shape of their thighs, the dimples on their rump and those tiny wrinkles at the corner of their eyes. The real question is what women could’ve been spending their money and hours on instead of unnecessary and time-consuming beauty rituals.
It’s time women start believing in, and demanding from advertisers, a more inclusive definition of beauty. The current definition has atrophied solely to the visual: a very narrowly defined physical appearance is now the salient feature of beauty. In 2011, Dove® released the findings of its largest global study to date on women’s relationship with beauty—The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited – which found that only 4 percent of women around the world consider themselves beautiful, and that anxiety about looks begins at an early age. This can and must change.
“Even after spending more than ten years researching and writing about ideal beauty, I’m not immune to the promise of perfection—it’s a powerful draw. When I think about the time wasted trying to attain ideal beauty by women around the world, I can’t help but to wonder what could we have done instead? It’s not only a question of personal achievement, it’s a question of economics,” says Denise Sutton, author of Globalizing Ideal Beauty.
Let’s be real, no one is suggesting that if women suddenly let go of their obsessive pursuit of beauty they could immediately cure cancer. But studies show that the time women spend trying to achieve an impossible beauty ideal works out to 3,276 hours over their lifetime, while men only devote 1,092 hours to looking their best. How could women have better put those hours to use?
First, there could be more time dedicated to study. More time for advances in science, technology, engineering and math—areas where men outnumber women three to one. If women just cut the time and money spent trying to be perfect in half, perhaps they might have served on more Fortune 500 boards, had a stronger presence in Congress, formed more organizations to fight poverty and helped further the education of girls both here and in developing countries.
So take some baby steps and start saving yourself some time, money and sanity:
1. Stretch regular manicures by asking for clear polish so when it starts to chip (the next day) one won’t feel compelled to get another so soon—or, skip them altogether!
2. Use dry shampoo to extend the life of your blow-out.
3. Instead of Botox, try the more affordable Retinol. Or embrace the idea that laugh lines are beautiful because they mean you have laughed, that your life has been filled with joy.
4. Wear sunscreen—just as “Kurt Vonnegut” said in his MIT commencement speech. This might be the single most important thing women can do to stay healthy and beautiful. It takes about ten seconds to apply it and many products now offer day moisturizer/sunblock and tint all in one. What a time saver!
5. Write to and/or call beauty companies and make demands upon advertisers to expand the image of what is beautiful—they will respond. Beautiful women come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s hard to remember this when we look at the beauty standards in advertising.
6. Teach your children well. Girls must be taught the value of their brain, their athletic ability and all of the gifts they possess that have nothing to do with looks- humor, kindness, creativity and so much more.
Forget the pursuit of perfect beauty—don’t waste time on something that isn’t unattainable. Instead, women should spend time defining their own idea of what is beautiful and give themselves the gift of time, peace of mind and the opportunity to accomplish something that is truly attainable and remarkable.
Finally, stop playing so much Candy Crush!
Denise H. Sutton, Ph.D., is the author of Globalizing Ideal Beauty: Women, Advertising, and the Power of Marketing. An expert on advertising beauty, Sutton has lectured widely on the subject at universities and at corporations such as Unilever. She developed and taught courses on advertising and gender at the New School University, New York City, and currently lectures at the Fashion Institute of Technology—SUNY.