Consumerism: The Beauty Industry

A consumer is an individual that has the power to choose what they themselves consume, they understand what it is they wish to consume and what effect it will have on them, be it for desirable purposes or for identity status. Consumerism can be determined by Marx as “The mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual process of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary; their social being determines their consciousness” (Hiebert, Ungurait and Bohn, 1991: 484).It seems that in order for individuals to consume then society must determine what is out there for them to do so e.g. mass culture. The consumer culture is saturated with the buying and selling of commodities which are dominating the society, the consumption can be determined by factors such as consumer status or the simply the pleasure that it may bring to them, consumption is pushed further than the essentials needed for survival such as food, drink and clothing.  Consumerism can be linked to mass culture, Dwight Macdonald states that mass culture is a “manufactured wholesale for the market” the consumer has no influence as to what is put out onto the market for them to purchase, corporations take little consideration over what the people want and will mass produce the products they wish to put out.  Mass culture or ‘Fordism’ is “an approach to the organisation of capitalist enterprise characterized among other things, by the large-scale assembly line production of standardized universally targeted goods”(Hodkinson, P, 2011, 289)“For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it, is compelled, merely in order to carry through its aims, to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universal valid ones” (Storey, 1998: 192)

Stating again Marx’s take on consumerism and the consciousness of a being, being determined on society, this can be linked to ideology  “a systematic framework of social understanding motivated by a will to power or a desire to be accepted as the ‘right’ way of thinking” (Lacey, 2009, p.100) Consumer markets can take advantage of impressionable consumers by determining what the ‘right’ way of thinking is, currently teenagers are under the impression that image is everything so companies can take this into account when advertising their products.  With capitalism the body is seen as an investment as well as consumption, it is treated more so as an object that can be dressed differently by what is currently being dominated in society.  A few years ago fake tan was quite popular, large consumptions of it would be taken by individuals in order to have the look that was dominating society, recently made more popular by the likes of television programmes such as The Only Way Is Essex (Towie).

Towie CastAlthough a consumer determines what they choose to consume with the underlying signs being possessed by the fashion and cosmetic industry it is hard for the consumer not to be fully happy with their selves, the signs which advertisements show for example for an anti-ageing cream is that you can be truly happy and look youthful if you use the product and if you don’t use it then you shouldn’t feel comfortable with yourself, although you can’t fully stop the ageing process the consumption of these types of products will make you feel like you’re doing so. The widespread image of a distorted body image is maintained by large corporations as well as the media, by simply watching an advertisement or reading magazine information is being consumed, it is up to the individual whether or not they act upon what they have seen.  This helps the understanding of the current media landscape as with press media consumers can be influenced by what they read, they would then spend their ‘leisure’ time trying to find the correct goods to change their identity.

Special KAccording to Baudrillard “The idea of leisure-time expresses a new puritan morality disguised as hedonism.  Time in capitalism is turned into private property, especially as leisure-time.  It is bought (through labour-saving devices) or earned (such as holidays), then consumed in an appearance of wasting it.” (Robinson, A, 2012) There is little meaning towards leisure time now as individuals are either worrying about their appearance and identity or are consuming more products. With the current body image representation being thrust at individuals through the media then during their free time impressionable teenagers could be altering their bodies through dieting and cosmetics, the powerful cosmetics industries make consumers challenge their appearance, they can’t truly feel comfortable with their selves without altering their bodies to fit in with society.   Although it may seem like free time to the individual consumer in a sense they are still working towards something which in this case would be to change their body.  

Dove Beauty CampaignIn postmodern society Baudrillard presents the idea that “the consumption of goods, images and fashions has become so all-encompassing that not only the economic base, but by any sense of an external or determining reality, disappears.  (Lister et al, 2003)  This idea is linked to hyper-reality and shows that beyond the commodity there is nothing else there, with a commodity such as body image it is hard to see what is real as all different messages are being consumed as to what consumers should strive to look like and changes as society progresses.

*images from Google


Bi, Y. (2012). The Political Economy of the Contemporary Media and Cultural Production. Asian Social Science. 8 (4), 36-39.

Fiske, J (1996). Understanding Popular Culture.  London: Routledge. 24

Hodkinson, P (2011). Media, Culture And Society: An Introduction. London: Sage Publications. 286.

Kellner, D (1984). Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. California: University of California Press. 243.

Lister, M, Dovey, J, Giddings, S, Grant, I & Kelly, K (2003). New Media:A Critical Introduction. Glasgow: Routledge. 230.

Robinson, A. (2012). Jean Baudrillard: Critique of Alienation. An A-Z of Theory. 1 (3), 1.

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