The Hidden Messages in the Beauty Industry

Words: Beth Fuller
Featured Image: Audrey Manlot

Health and happiness are the fundamental concepts that advertisements capitalise on to sell products. Typically, these subjective terms are defined for us in order to tell women that to be healthy and happy is to be slim, and so, uphold the beauty standard of a thin female body in society. Beyond the messaging, however, there are other elements of narrative that reinforce beauty standards. For instance, Boots, the UK’s leading pharmacy-led health and beauty retailer, has a section online titled ‘Diet and Weight Management’ and on the cover page of this section sits three products: Slim Body Shake, Slim Fast and Celebrity Slim. Hence, being slim is communicated as being the first priority of a consumers diet and weight management.

Narrative is therefore a crucial aspect in understanding how beauty standards are sustained; it is not just the message being shared but how the message is presented. Lubaina Himid, the 2017 Turner Prize winner, displayed how concealed messages are conveyed in the way News is presented to us. As part of her Turner Prize exhibition, Himid had rearranged pages of the Guardian to highlight the implied racist narrative linking the text and image on a page. In an interview with the Guardian, Himid explained that the newspaper “has this extraordinary habit of placing negative texts, about something else entirely, next to images of black people” and that “the juxtapositions are always to do with either violence, prisons, or theft”. By seeing a page of a newspaper as a object, these pieces of artwork demonstrate the importance to criticise the hidden messages that are implied through the curation of text and image.

Relating to the beauty and health industry, it can then be understood how the term ‘diet’ has been shaped over time to mean that a person is eating less food in order lose weight rather than the correct definition of simply the food that a person eats. An example of how our perception is influenced is the narrative of weight-loss. A weight-loss ad will typically feature a white female with long hair, perfect teeth shown with her doll-like smile, glowing, tanned skin shown as she is wearing a bikini and placed to the right or left hand side of the text of the advert reading something along the lines of “I lost [said amount of weight] and now I feel great!”. The whiteness of the models teeth, the quality of her shiny hair and the tanned radiance of her skin has no connection whatsoever to her weight, but, these factors are used to mislead a woman’s overall understanding of body mass. Happiness is also brought into the physical depiction of the model and she may not have smiled due to the fact her weight was lesser (if she had lost weight for the advert and a model with a naturally slim figure wasn’t used), and there is no text on the image saying: ‘she is smiling because she has lost weight’ but nonetheless that is what we read. The narrative allows consumers to have hidden messaging reinforce the ideas of happiness and health is the equivalent of  physical ‘perfection’.

It’s important to critise further into the narrative of the Beauty industry in order to read deeper into their use of curation, symbolism and editing.  By doing this, consumers will have the tools to look beyond the overt message and consider the effects of how terms like health and happiness are packaged to us in society. Women’s sacrifice of their actual health and happiness in order to meet the beauty standard of losing weight – which women are conditioned to think will make them feel healthy and happy – is a heartbreaking issue on a global scale in dire need of change.