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How Much Do Our Insecurities Cost Us? Dove Investigates

Published October 16, 2022
Published October 16, 2022
Troy Ayala

It is no secret that cosmetic companies have been known to push unachievable beauty standards and prey on consumers' insecurities to make a profit. As a result, millions of people are left feeling they are not good enough simply because they do not look the way society expects them to. Aiming to create a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety, The Dove Self-Esteem Project was established in 2004 in partnership with the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of West England. So far, the project has reached more than 82 million individuals across 150 countries, providing them with confidence education through academically validated tools. As part of the initiative, Dove has released “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals Report,” said to be the most comprehensive assessment ever conducted on beauty standards' pervasive and damaging impacts. The research concluded that America is facing a health crisis due to body image issues, costing the economy more than $501 billion annually, taking a toll specifically on women and girls.

The study was conducted in consultation with Dr. S. Bryn Austin, Founding Director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, alongside a diverse team at Deloitte Access Economics and a panel of subject matter professionals. The report states that commonly accepted US beauty standards predominantly reflect white standards that have been reinforced through social media, film, family, and other sociocultural channels. As a result, many who do not adhere to these standards have been deeply negatively impacted. Across America, body dissatisfaction rapidly leads to vast and dangerous consequences. These include depression, anxiety, eating disorders, poor health care, weight gain, substance abuse, and in some extreme cases, suicide.

“Until we did our study, we had no idea how broad reaching and enormous the impacts are on our economy. By our estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars are being squandered in our economy every year. Why? Because our society has not yet been willing to reckon with the pernicious effects of sexist and racist beauty ideals and the discrimination that serves no other purpose than to enforce and perpetuate these noxious ideals,” Dr. Austin comments.

The team's main findings are as follows:

The Cost of Harmful Beauty Ideals

  • In 2019, harmful beauty ideals cost Americans $305 billion due to body dissatisfaction.
  • $221 billion was spent due to depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, smoking, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • $84 billion was spent on health systems, productivity, government, employer, and individual and societal costs. 
  • Women and girls bear 58% of these costs at $177 billion.

The Cost of Appearance-Based Discrimination

  • In 2019, appearance-based discrimination cost Americans $501 billion, with 66 million people facing this type of discrimination.
  • $269 billion of this was spent in economic costs as a result of health and life outcomes (e.g., incarceration).
  • $233 billion of this was spent in loss of well-being costs due to anxiety, depression, drug abuse, smoking, and hypertension.
  • Women and girls bear 63% of these costs at $317 billion.
  • Weight discrimination affected 34 million Americans and incurred $206 billion in financial costs.
  • Skin shade discrimination affected 23 million people and incurred $63 billion in financial costs.
  • Natural-hair discrimination affected more than 5 million people.
  • Black women were 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional” due to their hair compared to non-Black women.

“The harmful beauty ideals perpetuated in media, advertising, and our social media feeds daily are negatively impacting the quality of life for women and girls, and we must take action to change this. The 'Real Cost of Beauty Ideals' report uncovers the significant scale of the harm being perpetuated from these ideals and Dove is deeply committed to changing beauty for the better—but we need the help of others to make systemic change possible," says Alessandro Manfredi, Chief Marketing Officer for Dove.

To go hand in hand with the report, The Dove Self-Esteem project works with like-minded individuals, experts, and organizations to combat the harmful factors that account for body disatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination. These include:

Building Positive Body Image Through Education

By 2030, Dove predicts they will help over 250 million young people boost their self-esteem. This education will be provided through initiatives such as the Confident Me Appearance Discrimination Extension Lesson, a 50-minute program that encourages class discussions and activities through worksheets. During the time spent on this module, teachers can help their students explore appearance ideals and how they contribute towards discrimination, as well as how to address and challenge discrimination. Dove’s My Hair, My Crown toolkit is also available, specifically designed to boost confidence in those with coils, curls, waves, and protective styles in their hair. Both programs focus on allyship across students, encouraging those who may fit a societal ideal to advocate for a more accepting society for their peers.

Supporting Inclusive, Diverse, and Authentic Images in Media

Through Project #ShowUs, Dove has and continues to pioneer more realistic standards for media outlets. The initiative consists of a collection of inclusive beauty images for advertisers and platforms to use that allow people to feel seen and represented. Since launching in 2019, the image bank has grown to include more than 14,000 images, with over 2,500 companies using these pictures.

Legislative Advocacy

In 2019, Dove co-founded the Crown Coalition alongside the National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law & Poverty. The coalition acts to end hair discrimination nationally and has inspired the Crown Act, a law prohibiting hair discrimination that has been passed in 19 states and 40 municipalities.

"The way people feel about their bodies can no longer be considered a superficial issue as we're seeing the devastating toll of narrow beauty standards and appearance-based bias on individuals and society as a whole," adds Manfredi. Dove is using the findings from “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals” report to support the legislation to end body size discrimination in New York and Massachusetts. Along with the report collaborators, Dove aims to continue to make data accessible to those who want to use it to support a vital systematic adjustment across America.


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