Beauty Is Strange, Isn't It?

Text by Sarah Al Atiyat

Beauty, is the quality of being pleasing, especially to look at 1 but this quality has changed and altered along the years. In fact, the female standard of beauty has gone through  many drastic changes over the last few centuries and with those changes, many questions were raised. Questions like: can people agree on a certain standard of beauty or is it purely subjective? Is our concept of beauty based on golden ratios and perfect proportions or is it constructed by the society we live in? There are many more questions and debates and this standard of beauty is related to nations, generations and even politics. An interesting question to raise is how beauty rituals react to such changes within women’s standards.

Beauty rituals were inherited long before social media and advertising. In ancient Egyptian and Greek civilizations, beauty rituals were dictated by the canons of beauty and what men found desirable. For example, ancient Egyptians, both men and women, wore makeup like heavy black eyeliner and signs of beauty were slim waists and wearing braided wigs.2 Generations later, these beauty standards are almost forgotten and new standards emerged.  At a certain age, a girl would start paying attention to what her mother would put on her face and then the mother teaches the girls all about make up products and skincare. Think of how Elizabeth Taylor passed down the artistry of applying eye makeup and lipstick to her granddaughter, and how the latter remembers her grandmother always having a comb, a mirror, and a facial moisturizer by her night-stand.3  Of course, such rituals were affected by advertisements women saw in glossy magazines, TV,  department stores, etc. In the 1940s and 1950s, the main source of advertisements was the TV, after WWII, people felt the urge to spend a lot of money on whatever products they saw on the TV. 4 Before advertisements and TV these rituals were somewhat personal, more intimate and unaffected by a third invisible hand that influenced women through witty marketing techniques. Mothers taught their daughters their tips and tricks and showed them what products they used simply because those beauty products worked for them and their mothers before them. 

Fast forward to recent years, what we put on our face and the ritual we go through to achieve perfect skin has definitely been affected by social media. All the giant skincare and makeup brands use social media as a platform to advertise their products and it is a very successful marketing tactic. So much so that  the beauty industry has become a $5.5 trillion industry! 5  However, things got even more interesting when regular people like you and me started establishing a career on social media and after securing a good followers base, companies start reaching out for those "influencers" (just like they reach out for celebrities) and pay them to advertise their products and of course the followers are swayed to buy and use such products because their favorite social media "influencer" uses them. Simply put, an influencer, in our modern day, is “someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave, for example through their use of social media.” 6 Since they affect how people behave, they also affect their daily rituals, including beauty rituals. If we think about it, we have let complete strangers meddle in our beauty rituals and affect our purchasing habits, it’s rarely about a mother teaching her daughter anymore but rather the daughter basing her entire beauty routine on that of an influencer or a model. Not everyone is influenced by these new influencers’ trends but if we take Facebook, for example, it is the most influential social media site in which 19% of consumer purchase decisions are influenced by Facebook posts. 7

It has become such a habit that people are obsessed with what celebrities and influencers put on their face. Big names such as Vogue resolved to YouTube to put videos of daytime and night-time skincare routines of such celebrities. You’d see the likes of supermodels Cindy Crawford and Candice Swanepoel in silk robes in a nice looking bathroom of a hotel applying expensive products on their faces in front of a mirror. You’d be shocked by the transformation that you would most definitely want to buy their products thinking you’ll get the same dashing result, but you often forget the editing processes and Photoshop these videos go through, you often forget the $1000 dollar facials and extensive dermatologist appointments. You and I are the regular consumers that such videos and posts are targeted at, because we are swayed to change more traditional beauty rituals for those of supermodels and celebrities hoping to get acne-free glowing-to-the-gods kind of skin because these supermodels and celebrities have set the current standard of beauty. 

In an era of consumerism and social media, we are constantly tempted to buy certain products and alter our beauty routines to be in sync with the trend, to be more beautiful, to be just like “them”. We often forget that our skins and bodies aren’t like them and we most definitely do not have top notch dermatologists at our disposal  24/7. It should be more about being mindful of what we put on your skin because that’s the kind of beauty ritual that will last. Maybe we need to take a step back and reconnect with old beauty habits and incorporate the new ones in a mindful way. On a final note, we must always remind ourselves that beauty ideals are ever-changing and nothing stays the same and so beauty is strange, isn’t it?

1. “BEAUTY | Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary, Accessed 8 Apr. 2019.

2. Caseley, Laura. "Learn How Our Standards Of Beauty Have Changed Throughout History." N.p., 13 Feb. 2016. Web. 13 Sept. 2019.

3. "The Timeless Beauty Tips Elizabeth Taylor Passed Down to Her Granddaughter." Southern Living. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2019

4. Thomas, Christopher & Jensen, Ricard. (2009). A Brief Overview of American Advertising and Posters during World War II. Advertising & Society Review. 10.

5. "How Social Media Is Shaping the Beauty Industry (+5 Social Media Strategies for Beauty Brands)." Influencer Marketing Hub. N.p., 25 June 2019. Web. 13 Sept. 2019.

6. “INFLUENCER | Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary, Accessed 7 May 2019.