The Health and Wealth Toll of Toxic Beauty Standards

Ortachali Beauty with a FanToxic beauty standards are costly – both in terms of health and wealth. This message resonates from a new report funded by the Dove Beauty Bar brand and published jointly with the STRIPED project at the Harvard School of Public Health.

This report details the cost of unrealistic beauty standards exploited by a beauty industry that rungs up half a trillion dollars in sales annually around the world. The folks from the STRIPED project are quite clear about their goals for participating in this, writing on their website:

“With this report, we take aim at racist and gendered societal appearance ideals.”

Part of a PR Success Story

This report is a groundbreaking extension of a massively successful public relations campaign for the Dove Beauty Bar business. It wins PR awards by subversively attacking the beauty industry in which it participates (albeit in a peripheral way).

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty is close to completing two decades of promoting more realistic beauty standards and aligning the Dove brand with core values that women can endorse broadly. A key part of this campaign has been a message track about body size diversity. This wins admiration from eating disorder activists.

Taking Aim at Weight Bias

We love this latest thread in the campaign because of the square aim it takes at weight bias in beauty standards. The report is 161 pages of well-researched social science and economics. Rebecca Puhl at the UConn Rudd Center is one of the key advisors for its development. The project also involved a diverse team of economists at Deloitte Access Economics.

But the PR magic comes from marrying an academically solid report with personal narratives of the effects that toxic beauty ideals have on girls and women throughout their lives. Ashton Garrison, 14, shares her lived experience with weight bias in healthcare from her own doctor:

“He said, ‘Fat kids become fat adults, and then they die.’”

Dove Toxic Beauty Ideals InfographicThis is not helpful. Teaching children or adults to hate or fear their bodies does nothing to inspire health. It has no place in healthcare nor in our beliefs about beauty.

Yes, there’s an agenda embedded in this campaign to burnish the brand of Dove, and frankly it works for us. We don’t care how much soap they sell, but bringing this kind of marketing savvy to the campaign against weight bias is very welcome.

Click here for the report, here for more about it from the STRIPED project, and here for the press release from the folks at Dove. For further reporting, click here and here.

Ortachali Beauty with a Fan, painting by Niko Pirosmani / WikiArt

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October 5, 2022