Tortoise Festival of ThinkIns – The beauty myth: what's the price we pay to be pretty?

Friday 28 June 2019

Duration: 6:30PM - 7:30PM

16-19 Eastcastle Street, London, W1W 8DY

Status: Completed

The beauty myth: what’s the price we pay to be pretty? There’s a straightforward answer: the beauty and personal care market in the UK is worth well over £10bn. Then there’s a more interesting one: the cost to our happiness and mental health from our obsession with female and male beauty is incalculable; the environmental cost is too great, whatever it is; and the wages we pay to workers in developing countries who service this industry are shameful. When it comes to the beauty industry, we’re all accountants. Let’s do the maths.

Our special guests for this ThinkIn included:

Hannah Betts, feature writer, interviewer, and columnist. 

Hannah Morgan, Global Brand Director at Walgreens Boots Alliance.

Joe Sutherland, comedian, actor, writer and former model. 

The Readout 

The beauty and care industry in the UK was estimated to be worth £10.2bn in 2017. We debated what we are getting for our money and how happy it is leaving us. 

Influencers may now be upholding the photoshopped model of beauty that the younger generation aspires to, and the beauty industry itself is attempting to leave behind. One speaker said “the power that these influencers have is very similar to the Barbie dolls we had growing up a generation ago.” Another spoke of the pervasive images of Instagrammers advocating serious mental health messages to “love yourself whatever you look like” while posting pictures of themselves “half-naked and with six-packs”. Living dolls are now re-selling the beauty myth.

A report into the consumer habits of Generation Z found that this under-25s age group was ideologically split into “extreme polar opposites” – the ‘me’ generation who love the Kardashians, Love Island, and “get their lips done when they are 16”; and the ‘we’ generation who are socially conscious, politically active, and more concerned with community and the planet than their hair. 

At the other end of the age spectrum, there are pressures on older people to stay looking young. One speaker, and anti-ageing activist, said that when she had an allergic reaction to dyeing her hair, she was inundated with suggestions of alternative ways to colour it so she would not look grey. “It struck me what a lot of people face. I do think there is a dread of age. It’s insidious,” she said. 

An expert also spoke of the social divide of beauty being written on our faces. How much we spend on treatments that fend off ageing and give us more social and erotic capital was summed up by her as “rich face, poor face.”

What next?