Women and Vanity: The Societal Pressures to Look "Perfect"

By Rachel Martin

November 14, 2011 Updated Nov 14, 2011 at 10:17 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – Some women go to great lengths to look “perfect,” but is it for themselves or is it pressure from society? Indiana’s NewsCenter’s Rachel Martin explores those answers in this special report.

There are several ways to define beauty. Some say it’s about what is inside that counts, but society says it’s about what is outside.

“The days of Barbie are not over and here it is 2011,” said Donna Holland, Assistant Professor at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne (IPFW).

Beauty is a $50 billion industry in the United States and women are its biggest consumers. A woman’s biggest concerns: hair and makeup.

“Some women are socialized to think that makeup’s going to enhance our natural beauties or cover up our natural flaws,” Holland said.

Holland said the mass media is responsible for idolizing how women should look in society.

“There are pressures for women to have that perfect image all the time,” Holland said. “But even prior to mass media being so ever-present in our lives, in the 1920s even, there were still efforts to control how a woman appears. Clear back to the days of Cleopatra, makeup and perfumes have been an aspect of what it means to be a woman.”

Heather Wood is a hair stylist at Coach House Day Spa in Huntington, Ind. She said hundreds of women come through the salon every week and spend money on their hair. She has clients that set appointments ranging from once a month to once a week.

“I would say anywhere from $25 to $70 just depending on what they’re getting done that day,” Wood said.

Wood said the most common requests are highlights and hair color.

“They want to cover gray so they’ll look younger. When you look younger you feel better about yourself,” Wood said. “And everybody wants to feel better about them self, everybody wants to look younger.”

Society makes women think younger equals prettier, and therefore being pretty equals happiness. But why do women spend so much time in the mirror pursuing something that is so fleeting?

“Women who do pursue that may be pursuing some stereotype of an idolized version of a woman,” Holland said.

“I think for some it could be self esteem. So they want to look good all the time so they feel better about themselves. But it also depends on what job they have,” Wood said. “If you’re always around a lot of people, you always want to look good.”

Wood also said money could play a large part into how good a woman can look or how often she may get her hair done.

“Not saying you have to be wealthy to get your hair done all the time, but I think that some people that do make a good living are opt to get their hair done a lot more. It also just depends on what you want to spend your money on,” Wood said.

Holland said in some cases women go to the extreme and will hundreds or thousands of dollars to undergo harmful procedures like botox and plastic surgery to try and achieve societal “perfection.”

“Some of that comes from how we define ourselves, our self-identity,” Holland said. “If this is who we think we are, whether we do choose to wear makeup or we don’t choose to wear makeup, or pursue some other kind of cosmetic changes, if this is how we define ourselves we are going to pursue that.”

But even in today’s economy, the hair and makeup industry is booming. But does society really dictate who women really are? Is it really worth all the time and money?

“I think that sense of ‘is it worth it?’ has to come from each individual person. Some women don’t feel compelled to pursue these things at all,” Holland said. “But we also pick and choose. We don’t have to absolutely comply with all the guidelines. It comes from the individual way a woman is defining herself.”

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