What drives women’s perceptions of their own appearance? With the current controversy surrounding celebrity airbrushing and excessive media-driven ideals on female self-image, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the modern woman constantly judges herself against these unrealistic standards of perfection.
We conducted an extensive beauty study that reveals while it’s true how women look is inextricably bound up with how they feel inside, the majority are far more inwardly focused than popular perception would have us believe. The standards women drive themselves to live up to are internal ones – not forced upon them by others, but springing from the fact that women are their own harshest critics.
Our findings suggest that women in the UK and US don’t want to think of beauty as hard work. They are likely to describe their personal style as “casual” and to see beautifying themselves as an integral part of life, to be woven around the rest of their day-to-day activities. For most women, there simply isn’t time to do otherwise. The overwhelming feeling coming from the women we surveyed, particularly in the UK, is one of chaos, over-work and “burn-out”. With such busy schedules, personal appearance inevitably slips down the list of priorities, and again, it’s women’s own self-perceptions that suffer as a result. Weight is an enduring issue, and one that many express a desire to address. Although, with so little time to do so, it’s easy for them to end up feeling impotent and frustrated.
With this in mind, it makes sense that the ultimate beauty goal for modern women isn’t a perfectly proportioned figure or a head-turning look that attracts the admiration of others, but to feel content and comfortable in their own skin. To achieve this, physical appearance has to work hand in hand with mental – and, particularly in the US, even spiritual – satisfaction. In order to maintain a relaxed and healthy attitude towards their appearance, it’s crucial for women to avoid obsessing and to recognize its place in their lives, which comes way down the list after factors such as health, family and relationships. In China, our survey reveals a slightly different picture. Chinese women, it seems, tend to have a stricter and more rigorous approach to beauty which is more externally focused than their Western equivalents. They care more about the public face they present, and want to appear elegant and groomed. The way they see beauty as a whole is less physical than holistic. For them, being beautiful on the outside showcases their determination to integrate mind, body and soul – all these elements working together to create happiness.
How a woman feels about beauty can have a huge impact on how she thinks and feels – and often negatively. Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that the central function that beauty brands must perform in order to correspond to what these women want is to make them feel better about themselves. Women today don’t expect miracles, or dramatic transformation, from their beauty products. They want efficient, effective and convenient ways to optimize their potential. In a way, beauty products themselves are subordinate – women’s self-perceptions being determined largely by how they feel they look, rather than how they actually look on an objective scale – but the purchasing of them represents a woman’s dedication and effort to the cause.
Suffering to be beautiful? Maybe – but for women today, it seems the rewards are worth the effort.
Click here for more information on our Exploring Beauty study.