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.

Distorted Body Representations In The Media

Ideology is a media concept that individuals don’t even realise is taking place in everyday life, it is a concept that isn’t going to completely disappear due to the daily heavy consumption of media.  The definition of ideology varies between different theorists but the definition which I find more simplistic is with ideology being defined as “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) With the above message from Kate Moss it is no surprise that the ‘right’ way of thinking is starving yourself.

Ideology can be applied to the current issue of body image as it is a major factor of representation within the media, consumers of mass media are exposed daily to advertisements using slim models or images of celebrities with the ‘perfect’ body, the images and the underlying messages represent the super skinny body images as being perfect. It is also a false representation as a lot of the time airbrushing is put into place especially in magazine photo-shoots.

The above image of Britney Spears is an example of how this false representation is used to sway us, it is somehow socially unacceptable to present her true self to the world so fans that try to emulate her figure are striving for the impossible.

Small changes have even been made to this photo of Megan Fox, personally I don’t see why the changes have been made, but its another example of manufactured Hollywood.

Another bad representation of women is being spread through the media as young teenagers are striving for an unnatural thigh gap which of course first spiralled from the media.Social media is being used by teenagers regularly to share ‘thinspiration’ images and to inspire other young women to strive for the thigh gap look; I found many of these images on the popular image sharing app Instagram, users can easily upload images onto this app using hash tags such as #thinspiration, #thighgap and other eating disorder keywords and girls can easily view these images to be encouraged and motivated to starve themselves too so that they have this popular thigh gap, a wide range of the images will be users showing their frail bodies, the body which they wish to have or words of encouragement such as ‘eating won’t make you thin.’ Not enough is being done on social media to prevent this.

The hypodermic needle theory can be linked to this current behaviour as “This theory equates the influence of media with the effect of an intravenous injection: certain values, ideas, and attitudes are injected into the individual media user, resulting in a particular behaviour” (Fourie, 2007, P.294)The current values within the media is that young women should have a thigh gap as it is perfectly normal and is a step closer to the perfect body, women are sharing the images of ‘inspiration’ as it doesn’t seem like there is anything wrong with doing so when it is spiralling out of control and resulting in young women suffering from eating disorders.

The underlying systems of ideology make media consumers feel that striving for the deemed perfect image is the right way of thinking as it is the only body image being perceived within the media currently, celebrities are slated if they gain weight or are curvy so this is shown as an incredibly negative body image to have which is why young woman are striving for the perfect size zero body.Marxist critical theory would define thinspiration as a false reality created by a distorted vision with individuals unaware of the underlying ideological system.

The Frankfurt School links pseudo-individualization to the construction of an artist’s style, through their distinct image and identity. (Hodkinson, 2011, p.109-110) This is a relevant observation as a celebrity is famed by their image and must maintain it within the public eye and young women/teenagers often take into account a celebrity role model and are influenced by them.  Currently model Cara Delevingne is the role model that teenagers are following, she is a catwalk model that a slender frame and thigh gap and teenagers are trying to emulate her, it because of her distinct slim image that she is currently in the media eye, and if her image changed then teenagers would find a new role model to emulate.

According to the Daily Mail it was said over Twitter that in order to get this slim look users would deny themselves food as they are that desperate to copy the model.  The chief executive of the eating disorder charity B-Eat had this to say “Hardly anyone has a thigh gap without being underweight or not yet fully adult” the message is quite shocking but it is being ignored due to the new vanity inspired culture, ideology will never completely disappear but the message would change if the trend was to change, if a healthy body image was promoted then individuals would strive for that.  With the increase in mass culture being accessible through social media with the message of size zero being the perfect body image then individuals will always be exposed to this negative message, they will always believe with the use of ideology that it is the right way of thinking and until the message changes then the distorted vision will stay in place.

With her curvaceous body Kelly Brook doesn’t have a thigh gap yet she is still considered stunning which shows that you don’t have to be stick thin to be beautiful, she feels comfortable enough in her body so why shouldn’t everybody else? Personally I find her curvy body more appealing than Cara Delevingne’s and think more girls should reconsider striving for an unnatural thigh gap and just feel comfortable in their own skin.

*images sourced from Google


Hodkinson.P (2011). Media, Culture And Society an introduction. London: Sage. 109-110.

Fourie, J, P (2007). Media Studies Volume 1: Institutions, Theories and Issues. 5th ed. South Africa: Juta Education. 294.

Lacey, N (2009). Image and Representation. 2nd ed. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmilliam. 100.