This has got to stop.
If people made comments about your appearance when you were growing up, there's a good chance they stuck with you — perhaps even having lasting and damaging consequences. While even appearance-based 'compliments' can be damaging in their own way, negative comments are often the catalyst to seek out change, whether that's getting a chemical relaxer on your hair or something more extreme like undergoing invasive surgery to change your face or body.
It may sound dramatic, but these comments, and the body standards they aim to uphold, are damaging — and now we can put a real price on how much this all costs.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project commissioned “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals” report to look into the impact that beauty standards have on the U.S. economy and society — and it's jarring. What they found was that these harmful beauty ideals — which are often unrealistic and unattainable — cost the U.S. economy $305B due to body dissatisfaction and $501B due to appearance-based discrimination annually.
We all know how beauty ideals can make us feel, and having numbers to back up the harmful impacts of societal commentary and pressure proves once and for all that these are not superficial issues. They come at a price — and we mean that both metaphorically and literally.
While the conversation surrounding beauty standards is beginning to shift, it's undeniable that Eurocentric characteristics are still viewed as "ideal." We see it on television, in advertisements, and on the runway. It all takes a toll, whether we recognize it immediately or not. In fact, this report found that body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination disproportionally impact women and girls starting as early as 10-years-old.
Of course, the price paid to alter one's appearance is just one part of the conversation. We need to talk about the price of wellbeing — or lack of it. Dove found that over 45 million people experience body dissatisfaction, which is more than the entire population of Canada. The impact of body dissatisfaction costs $221 billion as a result of depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, smoking, eating disorders, and both alcohol and drug abuse. Weight discrimination in particular (which affected 34 million people) incurred $206 billion in financial costs.
Of course, we can't talk about appearance-based discrimination without talking about natural hair discrimination — Dove's report found that Black women are 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as "unprofessional" due to their hair when compared to non-Black women.
This report is a massive wake-up call. We all know that kindness goes a long way and the importance of choosing our words carefully, but there's more we can and should do. For starters, call your senator and ask them to sign The Crown Act into law to ban nationwide hair discrimination in the workspace. Then there's what you can do in your everyday life to make sure the people around you feel loved and beautiful, such as paying them genuine compliments. (Dove also offers a free "Confidence Kit" to help children build self-esteem.)
This, of course, is just the start.We should all be working every day toward a better future where we and the people around us don't feel the need to change parts of themselves to fit a B.S. beauty standard.