The Industry

marketing ads body image

“Every woman dreams of having longer, fuller, thicker lashes.”

So proclaimed a voice that echoed forth from the mondo flatscreen as I bounced along on my stair climber at the gym. And I thought, “Not true. I don’t dream of having longer, fuller, thicker lashes. And I’m a woman.”

And then I thought, “Hm. But maybe I should consider mascara. Would I look better if I learned to apply and wear it? Do I look like a stumpy-lashed weirdo now, and not even realize it?”

And then I though, “Shit. I fell for it again.”

There are countless products available to us as women that can boost our confidence, help us accentuate our best features, and allow us to present our best selves to the viewing world. Beauty products, health regimens, clothing and accessories, books, procedures, and gadgetry. And each of us has the right to pick and chose which of these we will pay for and utilize, and that’s fine. Good, even. We are actually quite lucky to have such a wealth of options at hand to help us explore how we want to look, and how we prefer to be shaped, and which aspects of our physical selves we’d like to accentuate.

But there is a giant, merciless, highly effective industry built up around making us feel horrible about how we ALREADY look, and are shaped, and which aspects of our physical selves are “imperfect” in their natural states.

This industry – this mega marketing machine – feeds on our fears. It can target a physical aspect, body part, color, shape, or texture that we’d never given a single moment’s thought, and turn it into a focal point of body-related self-loathing. The implication is seldom, “This will make you look and feel even better than you already do.” Far more frequently it is, “You are definitely not good enough on your own. Better start using this product so you’ll at least be up to par.” And while very few of us are paragons of physical perfection from birth to death, none of us should feel coerced into purchasing product after product merely to alleviate feelings of physical inadequacy.

When I automatically questioned the satisfactory length of my mascara-free eyelashes after being informed that “ALL WOMEN” dream of longer lashes, I felt dirty. A little sick. And angry at how easily I’d been manipulated.

This is one of those yelling-into-a-well issues for me. I feel like there’s relatively little we can do to inject more carefully-phrased and positively-themed messages into advertisements and marketing campaigns. But, as always, we can attempt to change how we react to them. When ads and marketing messages trigger the “buy for betterment” response, we can pause, breathe, and ask ourselves, “WILL this help me feel better? Look better? Be more confident? Or did I feel perfectly good about this part of me before I saw this confidence-destroying ad?”

Easier said than done, but well worth trying. After all, we tend to feel crappy enough about ourselves just from wrangling with stress, hormones, seasonal weight fluctuation, and breakouts … not to mention the equally toxic body-and-weight-related messages we get from Hollywood. Fighting back against malicious marketing messages that exist solely to make us feel like hideous lepers so that we’ll spend, spend, spend may not be the magical key to self-acceptance, but it sure can’t hurt.

Image courtesy !Just In Time!.

Originally posted 2009-01-09 07:12:00.

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34 Responses to “The Industry”


    Agree…the industry is quite merciless…That green eye photo-
    how can that gorgeouss color be possible??? 😉 Great post darling!

  2. Sarah R

    The pretty eye color is possible. My daughter has eyes that color, and I’m pretty sure genetics rules it out. I have blue eyes, and my husband is hazel…how in the world did my 13 yr old daughter get magnificent gold/green eyes?

  3. May

    I’m not sure if this ad was shown in the US, but the Johnson’s Holiday Skin ad in the UK asked women if they were “ashamed” of their pale skin, then prompted them to use their product so they would want to leave the house.

    I was horrified. Yes, I’m pale. Yes, I’m a woman. No, I don’t feel “ashamed” of my natural skin colour.

    Imagine the uproar if they were trying to get darker women to feel ashamed of their skin colour.

    These advertisers really need to get a grip and stop trying to shame women into buying products.

    Dammit, now I’m enraged.

    And sweetie – don’t bother with mascara. I have pale eyelashes and jumped on the mascara train years ago, now I can’t get off!

  4. Alison

    I have always liked the look of mascara on most people that wear it, but I can’t stand it. I hate the way it feels and I hate removing it. I do love makeup and am always on the search for eye makeup that will bring out the green in my other-wise brown eyes. I guess i have a more brownish hazel. But I just hate that advertisers can make you feel like you are less of a beautiful person if you don’t use their product. Sally, I’m so glad you were able to resist, good job!

  5. Emily

    for one month, i stayed away from as much media as possible (fashion magazines, websites, tv etc.) to see how i would feel afterward. not surprisingly, i was way easier on myself on not as critical after staying away from the media’s notions of how i “should” look. more power to you for not needing that mascara!

  6. Anne (in Reno)

    My allergies are so bad that it is a huge leap for me to wear ANY eye makeup at all. I am going to stick with it, despite what the ads say. Long lustrous lashes are not worth the weepy red eyes that accompany them. I shake a metaphorical fist at you, beauty industry!

    Although I still contemplate eyeliner.

  7. Kelly

    The bottom lashes in that picture kind of creep me out. They are kind of TOO prominent.

    May – I am pale as pale can be, and I agree! While I can’t claim to be immune to *all* the sneakiness in the industry, I just laugh in the “face” of the ads that are trying to make me feel inadequate for being pale. Pale isn’t a disease! It’s my SKIN! It’s not even something generally considered unattractive, so I’m not sure what leg those ads are trying to stand on.

  8. K.Line

    You know, I have nice eyes whether I wear makeup on them or not – pleased to say. In fact, lots of people tell me, when I wear eye makeup, that it’s too much. My eyes are already big – do I really need tons of stuff on them making them that much more looming? Point is, if I wear eye makeup, it’s more to experiment and have fun than because I feel inadequate without it. Now concealer, on the other hand…

  9. poodletail

    I can’t stand that type of malicious marketing but I love makeup. That kind of advertising is old-fashioned and demeaning.
    Could you try a more playful attitude about cosmetics? (Think MAC, Too Faced, SmashBox.) After all it’s only paint.

  10. Sal

    poodletail: It’s not makeup specifically that gets to me … it’s ANY ad/message that aims to make women feel unacceptable as-we-are.

    I don’t imagine I’ll ever get into cosmetics, as I’m pushing 32 and have never bothered. But I know TONS of women who love them, and have so much fun seeing them play with eyeshadow and lipstick and the whole gorgeous lot! I also know tons of women who feel they have to wear makeup or, basically, be ugly. And that ain’t right.

    Neither is being made to feel that we MUST dye our gray hair or wear jiggly-arm-girdles or diet till we drop in order to be acceptable human beings. That’s the underlying rant, here! 😉

  11. momo

    I was one of those girls who never learned how to put on makeup (too many pimples! glasses and shame!) despite relentless peer programming (I had a friend who got up half an hour early so she could put on her make-up before high school “to get a boyfriend”).I was very happy when being a feminist hippy in the seventies meant I found other women who cheered NOT wearing make-up! But when I started ballroom dancing for fun, much later in life, some folks helped me think about it as theatrical face-painting, for projecting to the audience. I still almost never wear the stuff, but now I feel more comfortable with having fun with it. I’ve also noticed that when i DO wear it, people usually say something to me about how I look different. As I age, I’m aware that a touch of make-up DOES change the way I look, but most days I can’t be bothered. I do use it now in situations where I want to create a certain impression at work.

  12. Kate Coveny Hood

    I couldn’t agree more. But I do like a little mascara. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful (with my made up eyes).

  13. The Seeker

    Oh Sal, my dear I’m so sorry if I made you think that my Bday is today. The Bday is the 10th, tomorrow, but I had to go to the hairdresser today because tomorrow I got no apointement.
    Thank you so much for your words, my dear you’re a sweet, kind and thoughtful friend.

  14. lisa

    Great post! There’s one makeup commercial that always gets my goat when I see it; I think it’s the one that Jessica Alba does for L’Oreal foundation. She says something along the lines of “What women want more than anything else is a foundation that matches their skin perfectly.” Um, really? Who are you to speak on my behalf about what I want? I want the economy to fix itself. I want to pursue more writing opportunities. I want to travel, save money, own my own home someday, maybe buy a Chanel clutch in the near future. I’ll worry about perfectly matching foundation later. The commercial didn’t make me feel bad about myself, but its rhetoric irritated me to no end.

  15. lopi

    You said it all, Sal. And you said it perfectly.
    I have nothing more to add except YOU GO GIRL!

  16. La Belette Rouge

    I do have a knee jerk reaction to commercials making assumptions about me and what I want. Now, I do like some mascara but I still don’t want a company telling me that I do.;-)

  17. valerie

    alright, i know where you are getting at with this lash article, but i really do have NO eyelashes. i have much less than the average girl, which, i think, entitles me to feel okay about using length and volumizing mascara!

  18. Heather

    Here Here! I wear makeup because I love it, but you couldn’t pay me to wear shapewear. And that’s just another way they make you feel like crap- a little jiggle never killed anybody. As for sunless “tanner”, I won’t feel better about myself when I’m ORANGE! They never work on me. Of course I’ve bought into the media countless times and tried things to tan up my white legs, but they never work as they should. I just turn orange. I can all but guarantee that I’ll do it again because I’m not immune to things like this. But they make me mad too.

  19. Sal

    valerie: You should TOTALLY feel OK about using volumizing mascara!! My best friend from high school was a redhead, and without mascara, she looks positively lash-free. I know that stuff is a life-saver for many women.

    Sounds like you know what I’m driving at, but just to clarify: I believe we should be able to pick and choose the products we use, not made to feel inadequate or abnormal for NOT using certain ones. It’s a marketing tactic that just plain rankles me.

  20. Imogen Lamport

    Marketing 101

    Find the problem (create the problem)

    Excasserbate the pain

    Give the solution

    The biggest issue I have is with those who flog ‘feminine hygiene products’ especially deoderants for ‘down there’ like smelling like a woman is something disgusting and horrifying.

    I do LOVE mascara though! But it wasn’t the advertising that made me want it, it was what a difference it makes to my face and how much more you notice my eyes (which are the window to my soul).

  21. fashion herald

    there are times I’m totally vulnerable to advertising, but not with print mascara ads where they all wear false eyelashes!

  22. pretty face

    In other words, ALREADY PRETTY! 😉

    I absolutely love your already pretty ethos, and find it really inspirational xx

  23. AsianCajuns

    Yup! Your lashes are gorgeous! And I love this post!
    I’m constantly pulled into this marketing crap too! I actually toyed with the idea of lash extensions (sheesh! that is sick!) because my asian lashes stick straight down. Your post helped remind me that I was being played.
    Thanks, Sal!

  24. Abby

    I will be 32 this year and have never worn makeup despite sometimes feeling like I should try it and despite my step mom slipping a mascara into my Christmas stocking every year . . . I used to play around with it but it was either looking like too much or not enough to bother. Plus, I absolutely hate putting parabens on/in my system – ESPECIALLY near my eyes. I think it’s just not for me. I’m glad I’m not the only non-makeup-er.

  25. fleur_delicious

    I actually laugh every time I hear those ads. I do own and occasionally use mascara or other cosmetics, but honestly, it’s not a matter of NEED when it comes to that little black wand: my eyelashes get caught in my eyebrows, and I’m constantly pulling them out – when one gets turned around and pokes me in the eye, I grab that offending hair and PULL. Nope, no more length or fullness really needed here, thanks.

    And I’m with you, May! I was 20 when I decided that I’d rather have beautiful skin at 60 than a tan. I’ve slathered on the sunscreen every summer of my life since. I am Pretty Darn Pale, and I flash my whitey white legs any ol’ time of year. I actually think porcelain skin is beautiful; I wish mine were lighter.

  26. Hot Bot

    Agreed! Which is why when my Aunt suggested I’d be great in an advertising career, I was a little…I don’t know. But I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be one of the masterminds behind ads that manipulate the average Jane and Joe. Essentially that’s what all ads do right?

    How funny, my word verification is “dumed”. Read that phonetically.

  27. Shannon (A beautiful Dream)

    I am happy to say I like the way mascara looks and that is the only reason I buy it.

    I also think its ridiculous how many new products come out – Ad campaigns should really say “When we told you last month that this mascara would make all your dreams come true, we were wrong! This one, with a slightly different formula and catchy name that we paid some advertising guru a million dollars to come up is the real one that will change your life!! Buy it now or your eyelashes will all fall out.”

    The fact that people actually buy into that alarms me..

  28. miss cavendish

    Your eyelashes *are* just fine. Personally, I despise mascara, bceause no matter how carefully I apply and blot it, I end up with raccoon eyes in a matter of hours. I wore it in my early twenties and am so pleased to have banished it from my life.

  29. Anonymous

    I am jealous – my lashes are so light a to be invisible. Mascara is a must (I have light red/strawberry blonde hair) I would love to not have to deal with it.

    They always sell us a bill of goods – and something to “fix” whatever. What I love is that they keep coming up with stuff to make us feel bad about – new terms – like cellulite which in my Mother and Grandmothers time wasn’t a problem/no one cared/didn’t exist, and now “cankles” which I still don’t get. If someone has them – so what?


  30. enc

    I love laughing at ads that tell us we can’t live without the product on offer. Mascara, though beautiful, is not necessary for life, and though I love it, I feel just fine without it.

  31. mbbored

    I do rely on mascara as a girl with auburn hair and blonde lashes. However, I wish they made it in true brown, not just black or “brownish black.” I prefer natural make-up and jet black lashes just don’t look natural.

  32. futurelint

    cultural beauty standards are so funny to me… shave your legs, shave your armpits, but OH! that hair growing out of yours EYES? sexy! accentuate it! Buy fake hair to put around your eyes! make that eye hair the blackest and longest it can be! it’s SO ODD!

  33. K.L.R. (aka Kayleigh)

    THIS is one of the reasons I love you and your blog!!!

    If you aren't paying attention it's darned near subliminal, that difference between, "here, use our great stuff and it will enhance your already ok life" as compared to "you couldn't possibly be happy with BLANK, it's inadequate, use our stuff and magically you will be transformed"

    I have a daughter (a son too) and we discuss commercials & advertising ALOT — she's already pretty darned savvy at 7. I'm also very careful about my own language regarding style, my blog, my body, etc. Thankfully she appreciates pretty things without being obsessed, and she has a great sense of self esteem. I hope it stays that way as long as possible, forever in fact, if I have anything to do with it.

    Thanks for this….I'm printing it out I loved it so much. You are AWESOME!!!!!

  34. Anonymous

    I see your point here, but I really gotta say… I look so much better with mascara on =O