Steve Craig of the University of North Texas presented a paper in 1997 called Madison Avenue Vs the Feminine Mystique: How the Advertising Industry Responded to the Onset of the Modern Women’s Movement
The Abstract of this paper states: “In her now-classic 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, feminist author and activist Betty Friedan charged the advertising industry with perpetuating and exploiting the oppression of women through the use of negative stereotypes. Her book and its charges gave impetus to the growing women’s movement and led to an all-out campaign of political action against advertisers in 1970. Madison Avenue at first responded with protestations and denials, but the threat of product boycotts and pressure from many women within the industry itself led to at least superficial changes. Companies also realized that changing their approach made good business sense and began creating products and marketing strategies that exploited the idea of the “new woman.”"
This “New Woman”, though liberated from many of the inequalities of past generations, now faced a beauty industry that led them to believe that a women could only be accepted in this new world if they met rigid new standards of slimness, beauty, and fashion. As Naomi Wolf explained in The Beauty Myth: “An ideology that makes women feel “worth less” was urgently needed to counteract the way feminism had begun to make us feel worth more.”
This idealogy is called “The Beauty Industry”. It is a multi billion dollar one, aimed at making people feel they are not good enough looking. It is aimed predominantly at women, but men, children and ageing people are increasingly being targeted. In many parts of North America, a Cult of Youth not only predominates, it demeans and derides.
On the laundry list of supposed unattractiveness, any signs of ageing are at the top. Grey hair (and wrinkles) are the prime offenders.The Hair Coloring industry is fueled in large part by consumers wishing to camouflage their gray hair. The industry promotes the idea that in order to be successful, people should look “vigorous and youthful”. Appearing “older and more experienced” is deemed undesirable. Not so long ago, people said grey hair made a man look distinguished, but it made a woman look old. But today, even men are being targeted by this industry.
Clairol has a product called Nice ‘n Easy Grey Solution that ”uses a breakthrough Gray Retexturizer Pretreatment to soften coarse colour resistant grey hair.” Brown Betty sells a product that colours pubic hair . The product received a positive review from the online edition of The Oprah Magazine. SanoTint advertises that “SanoTint hair color is one of the only “green” products available that creates a deep, rich, permanent hair color that will cover grey hair.” Restorias message clearly states what their attitude is towards gray hair: “Unfortunately there is no cure for gray hair, however there are many products on the market to help you deal with your gray hair problem.” A salon owner, Louis Licari, sums up gray hair on women by saying, ” Very few women look more beautiful and vital with their gray hair showing. You have to have the perfect shade of silver hair combined with a flawless complexion to wear your gray hair successfully. When your hair is gray, your face must look perfect every day. Any stress or fatigue is magnified when hair is worn gray. To allow hair to go gray creates a huge burden for most people trying to look their best.”
It is estimated that before the 1950′s, a minority of women over the age of 40 dyed their hair. Today, it is the vast majority of women, according to Anne Kreamer, author of Going Gray. “One reason people dye their hair is that when they look in the mirror they feel they aren’t seeing their authentic selves. And what they mean by “authentic self” is that period in life where they thought they looked their best. So they try to recreate that moment through hair color. But it might be helpful for people to know they don’t have to. No one pays attention to anyone else! We have far more latitude to be comfortably what we want to be than we think we do. We should all be more tolerant about aging, no matter what choices people make.”
For men, grey hair has traditionally been a badge of authority and experience. But the hair colour industry would like to change this, probably because they have nearly saturated the market for womens hair colour. Clairol Natural Instincts for Men claims, “Look like yourself again – Natural Instincts for Men fights grey in 10 minutes…” Then there is Touch of Grey. Men who use it will “show your experience and your energy.” Restoria states that “Going grey isn’t anything to worry about. With Express for Men you can eliminate grey hair in a few easy steps and be on your way to feeling more confident and look even younger.”
Hair dye isn’t the only product that is sold with the express purpose of making people think they are “worth less” unless they use them. There are industries for cosmetics, diets, plastic surgery, clothing, shoes, spas, films, TV… all designed to reinforce an impossible ideal of what women should look like.
- Anti-Ageing products offer the promise of a ”Cloak of Youth”. Youth is beauty. Age isn’t. Most of these products are targeted at women. Women are not young enough looking, slim enough or sexy enough. Women should use these products to be acceptable, desireable and valuable. This generates a fear of the natural process of ageing.
- TV, Magazine and Internet advertising promotes youth over age. It sells vanity product through advertisements of ”ideals” that are impossible to achieve. Examples on the internet: “ Discover Anti Aging Information For Looking Younger And Feeling Great!” “Learn how to look younger by getting rid of grey hair with hair color in this free hair care series of anti-aging videos.” These advertisements are at the very least offensive in their Ageist Attitudes. They are dangerous messages for young girls and women because they erode self confidence. They are demeaning to women in general because they objectify them.
- In the Entertainment Industry, it is not uncommon to have an older leading men in the movies or on TV, but most of the leading ladies are younger, or have to appear to be a lot younger.
If a society is preoccupied with looking young, how can they see ageing as a positive process?
If a women is preoccupied with making herself look different, how does it make women seem real and genuine?
My Similar Women’s Story: Work, Play and In-between – my journey as a stay at home mom