The Real Cost of Beauty

In “Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” Adorno and Horkheimer argue that the culture industry has affected everything with ‘sameness’. The masses, under monopoly, no longer address issues affecting humanity, but are geared more towards generating profit. An important issue they bring up is the willingness of consumers to consciously fall trap to this mass deception. The masses (especially TV) bombard us with “reality” shows and educational TV programs are on the verge of extinction. We are presented with the likes of “Jersey Shore,” “16 and Pregnant,” “Rich and Famous,” etc. and as a result we are conditioned to think this could be “reality” to us as well. We effortlessly compete for this “sameness” whether it is by having the same cellphones, clothes, same nails, same hair texture, same body weight, etc. Go to a beauty salon and the concept of ‘sameness’ is evident.

Based on some readings I’ve done and Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle,” I decided to base my project on the concept of beauty. What makes a person beautiful? Is it the shape of her body? Is it the texture of her hair? Is it the alignment of her eyebrows? Etc.  We obviously live in a world where representation matters; to make sense of ‘reality’ we construct meaning based on the signs present to us. We are immersed in a world dominated by images. Going back to Debord’s work, he wrote, “In a consumer society, social life is not about living, but about having; the spectacle uses the image to convey what people need and must have. Consequently, social life moves further, leaving a state of “having” and proceeding into a state of “appearing”; namely the appearance of the image.”

In “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Freire talks about “real consciousness” and “potential consciousness” and according to him, the former is basically the limits of what we are aware of and the latter goes beyond the limitations of our awareness and is what we can potentially grow into once we’ve gone a step further beyond our “real consciousness”. In order to achieve this state of “potential consciousness,” dialog is crucial. Until we can get to a certain point where we question and critically assess our “real consciousness” can we move into the “potential consciousness” state and take action. Freire believes that there is a crucial need for social dialogue. Although his model targets education reform, I think it is also applicable to consumer culture.

My project revolves around the concept of beauty and representation of women. This is not an intervention to stop people from going to the beauty salon, but to raise awareness and encourage critical thinking from consumers of beauty products. This is an intervention to urge people to become active participants and critics rather than mere consumers of beauty products. I want the participants to critically think about the health implications and costs of beauty maintenance. Why is beauty-maintenance so important? Do women tailor their looks to fit society’s standard definition of beauty? Can we redefine beauty? This will require research from my side, but some of the health issues I want to touch base on include:

  • Animal testing on beauty products,
  • Original source of weaves/hair extensions,
  • Long-term cost effects,
  • And future generations’ definition of beauty.

To get a sense of the community where I plan to intervene, I went out to beauty salons over the past weekend and asked women the following questions: (1) How often do you come to the beauty salon? (2) Why do you come to the beauty salon? (3) On a beauty scale of 1-10 what number would you rate yourself and why? This is what they had to say…

Before this, I asked them to rate celebrity pictures on a scale of 1-10 and provide a rationale for their ratings. I just wanted to get a sense of how beauty is perceived by women and if images portrayed in the media have any sort of effect on women’s perception of beauty. Here are the ratings…

Pictures of the community!

Categories: Reflective Posts


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3 Comments on “The Real Cost of Beauty”

  1. miranda shafer
    April 18, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    I saw this article and it made me think of your project:

    • unathimahlati
      April 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

      Thanks for sharing, Miranda! I recently came across an article that was discussed carcinogens found in lipstick. smh! Wouldn’t the world be a safer place if we all took the time to make our own beauty products? 🙂

      • miranda shafer
        April 19, 2012 at 9:46 pm #


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