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The Economic Impact of Beauty Sickness

Posted: September 1, 2020

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The psychological and economical effects in pursuing impossible “beauty” standards deserve widespread attention.

“Sometimes beauty can be a trap.” – Peter Webber

Beauty is a trap and it always has been, especially for women from the beginning of time. It’s a trap laid by the conditioning of society, often marketed in modern day as life-changing self-care. And since beauty is a parameter using which a woman’s worth is determined in almost all societies of the world, it is almost impossible for women to escape them. But the two distinct ramifications of this ‘Beauty Sickness’ that really deserves our attention and conversations are its psychological and economic impacts on young women and even young men.


Photo by Gustavo Spindula on Unsplash

The Beauty Sickness

Dr. Renee Engeln, an award-winning professor of psychology at Northwestern University and author of the celebrated book, Beauty Sick, is the first psychologist to research on this topic and present some intriguing and insightful inferences. Dr. Engeln defines beauty sickness as the outcome when an individual’s complete time, energy, emotion and money are dedicated to perfecting their appearance rather than things like vocation or hobbies. The incredibly sad reality of this is that most women who are ‘suffering’ from this sickness are no way related to any job or career that warrants physical perfection.

So why is it that so many women and men are obsessed with their appearances?

The media (* Instagram and Influencers*) and the beauty brands play a huge role in creating this disease. The tenet of modern marketing relies on normalizing an absurd standard of beauty (or anything they sell for that matter), making customers feel inadequate for not meeting those standards and then selling them products to fill the gaping hole of ‘inadequacy’ they created. But since the standards are so exaggerated, no products can really fill that gap; thus, leaving behind a trail of insecure consumers, unhappy with themselves. The reality is that no amount of Maybelline lipsticks can make someone look like Gigi Hadid but truth be told, one doesn’t have to look like a model to lead a decent life with varied cerebral aspirations, and that message always gets obliterated from the narrative, isn’t it?


Photo by Irene Kredenets on Unsplash

The Economic Impact

We live in a capitalist, consumerism-driven world where money matters for survival and to lead a life of quality. That ‘quality’ in our lives is determined by our investment on things that can bring higher ROI while adding value to it. But are we investing wisely?

The beauty market of the world was valued $532 billion in 2019 with 20% of its market share belonging to the US, followed by China and Japan. This valuation is expected to go up to 800 billion by 2025, if we don’t take the current economic crisis in consideration. 1

The Indian market was valued at $ 6.5 billion in 2017 that is expected to go up to $20 billion by 2025.2   According to a survey conducted by CashKaro across 1000 partner websites, 77% of Indian women spend between Rs 1000 to 5000 every month on cosmetics and salon with 58% spending even more than that. Interestingly, 40% of the responses came from men that revealed that 62% of men spend an average of Rs 1000 and 42% spend more than Rs 5000 every month on grooming products and services. 3


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The Spend Trend

This is a trend where average consumers with average jobs are spending unexpectedly high amounts from their salaries on cosmetics and grooming. This shows that in today’s time even an average individual feels the compulsion to look a certain way, even when their occupations don’t require them to. This is a made-up compulsion peddled to us by media, brands, their advertisements and societal expectations, and we are constantly falling prey to it.

For an average Jane or Joe, every dime spent on makeup/grooming is a dime not spent on things like education, hobby, business ideas, and even personal savings– things that can really add value to life.

With diminishing career vistas and crumbling economy, can we really afford to spend on things with no meaningful ROI?

With the coming of the pandemic and crumbling banking sectors, we are headed for tough times, economically speaking. The only way out for an average citizen like you and me would be to save what we can, spend judiciously, hone our skills, take a vocational course or invest on our own dream startups.

Sure, it’s easier said than done, especially when we are constantly bombarded with images of fancy things.  But sometimes a tough wake-up call is what we need.

And what do we do after we’ve woken up? Well, that’s a decision for each one of us to take for ourselves.


Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash


  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2019/09/01/6-trends-shaping-the-future-of-the-532b-beauty-business/#301dab57588d
  2. https://fashionista.com/2019/07/india-beauty-cosmetics-market-growth
  3. https://www.cosmeticsdesign.com/Article/2016/07/07/New-survey-reveals-Indian-consumers-top-beauty-brands-and-spending-habits?utm_source=copyright&utm_medium=OnSite&utm_campaign=copyright

First published here.

Image source: Unsplash

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