When I googled, "how to get rid of laugh lines," over 18 million results appeared on my laptop screen within half a second. Laugh lines are arguably the least egregious type of wrinkle, couched as they are in whimsy and mirth. Google produced countless remedies to erase laugh lines, including: collagen serums, oils, sunscreens, facial manipulation, botox, surgeries, injections, essential oils, lighting treatments, and so. much. more.
I'm 26, and I have tiny, fine lines around my eyes. I have a wrinkle in my forehead from years of concentrating in front of computer screens attempting to write interesting, insightful, factually correct content. I have the ability to purchase any of the aforementioned products and services to reduce my fine lines or rid myself of my forehead wrinkle, but I don't. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with an eye serum, facial manipulation, or even botox. If you want to rid yourself of your lines, be my guest. I'm here to tell you (and myself) that there is nothing inherently wrong with a wrinkle. Despite what you read or hear or internalize from the media, the beauty industry, or other people, there is nothing inherently ugly about your wrinkles either.
According to THIS report, the global cosmetic products market was valued at around 532 billion USD in 2017 and is expected to reach approximately 863 billion USD in 2024. According to the research firm NPD, millennials (ages 23-38) are purchasing 25% more cosmetics than they did just two years ago.
A few factors are contributing to the beauty industry boom: the rise of social media; the ability to individualize products more than ever before; the recent trend toward natural products (charcoal anyone?); and the increased connectivity brands are able to build with their buyers. Consumers feel as if brands are speaking directly to them and whatever niche they're into, building brand loyalty and sparking the rise of hundreds of new products.
Professor Renee Engeln, author of the book Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women,
defines "beauty sickness" as "what happens when women’s emotional energy gets so bound up with what they see in the mirror that it becomes harder for them to see other aspects of their lives.”
Engeln cites numerous studies that illustrate how women and girls who engage in social media report higher rates of eating disorders, increased symptoms of depression, and a heightened desire to have plastic surgery. Engeln, a professor of psychology and director of the Body and Media Lab at Northwestern University, also found through her own research that 82% of college-aged women report comparing their body unfavorably to a model’s body, and 70% say they believe they’d be treated better by others if they looked more like the beauty ideal they see in the media. The beauty industry thrives on these insecurities.
I cannot argue that beauty products are universally negative or wrong. I have a drawer full of makeup, serums, and hair products. Beauty products can make us feel confident and good in our skin, ready to take on the world with confidence and grace. However, they can also become a hindrance. The average woman spends about 55 minutes getting ready each day, while more than half of men say they use no product getting ready in the morning. Think of how much extra time women could gain if we were to shun (or shorten) our beauty routines.
It is prudent to recognize that youth cannot and does not last, in spite of botox, fillers, makeup, and surgeries. We all age, and doing so gracefully is incredibly beautiful in and of itself. It is also worth noting that appearance is social capital. Physically beautiful people are more likely to be viewed as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good. And, good-looking people are more confident, a self-fulfilling prophesy that likely begins as children; adults prefer and favor cute kids to homely ones. Beauty standards differ by culture, but life is simply easier for those of us who are considered pretty, hot, desirable, et cetera, even though our genetic makeup is entirely out of our control.
Given that beautiful people live arguably easier lives, "beauty sickness" is completely understandable. The problem with beauty and the beauty industry is not it's existence but the perpetuation of a one-size-fits-all beauty ideal. We do not all fit into the same clothing, nor do we all look the same, nor should we. The pressure women feel to look, dress, and act a certain way is often deeply harmful because we internalize the message that we are not good enough as we are.
I have no good solution for this conundrum. It seems logical that people like people they consider pretty or attractive. But beautiful exteriors can have incredibly ugly interiors, and vice versa. More important than physical beauty is the fact that people like people who are kind, caring, interesting, audacious, funny, smart, and engaging. Far too often, we consider physical beauty paramount instead of inconsequential. Too, we are surprised when someone contradicts the socially contrived idea that pretty=smart=worthwhile. The usurpation of a construct we've inherited as truth can be extremely disarming.
Through her research, Engeln has found that even very educated and accomplished women feel insecure in their own skin, because they've internalized the message that there's something wrong with them that needs to be fixed. Therein lies the root of perfectionism that serves no one. Beauty can be a barrier in a lot of ways: in the workforce, because we're judged for being too pretty, or not pretty enough. And in life, because all our beauty regimes come with a cost, often a high one. Men are not entirely free of these concerns either, but women are disproportionately affected: in 2017, 86% of the 1.5 million botox recipients nationwide were women. Clearly, the pressure to be beautiful is different for women.
The simplest, though not easiest, way to combat this pressure is to accept (or at the very least, stop denigrating) our bodies and appearances. I was not born learning to dislike my appearance. I learned to dislike my appearance from media, culture, and most egregiously, other women. I've spoken with women of various ages, from various ethnic and socio-economic background, and a safe subject always seems to be our bodies and appearances, or the bodies and appearances of others.
Think how powerful it would be to speak with a woman who, instead of complaining about her wrinkles, exuded confidence and smiled freely. Think how disgruntled the patriarchy would be if women spent less time nipping, tucking, and hating ourselves, and more time loving each other. Think how incredibly uplifting it is when someone appreciates you not for your appearance, but for who you are. Think how amazing it would be to have the strength and grace to love each other as women, simply for our shared humanity.
P.S. Order Professor Engeln's book, Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.