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International Women’s Day celebrates the accomplishments and impacts women have made in a variety of fields across the globe. In today’s society, women are especially more outspoken about their poor portrayal in media, and critical of the traditional, socially-constructed roles they are expected to take in both developing and developed economies. To commemorate this special day on March 8th, Euromonitor International has compiled various rising influences and changes in the relationship between women’s body confidence and consumer markets.

Key findings

  • Fixation with beauty: Women and girls are increasingly pressured into looking perfect, as well as older or younger than their real years, due to clever marketing and media bombardment with images of flawless celebrities and models.
  • Women are more empowered: With more women following careers, and female purchasing power at an all-time high, women are investing more in their self-image in terms of fashion, beauty products, cosmetic procedures, in order to feel more confident in themselves, or help further their careers.
  • The growing influence of the online guru: Beauty and fashion vloggers and reality TV stars offering “authentic” tips and tutorials are attracting ever bigger social media followings and are exerting increasing influence over digital-savvy Millennials, thus changing the face of beauty advertising.
  • Challenging beauty norms: Via numerous social media campaigns, consumers and celebrities are challenging traditional beauty standards, and are pushing the media and companies to portray more women of diverse physical appearance, age, race, shape and size.
  • Impact on consumer markets: Increased interest in appearance is driving a range of market sectors, from fashion,make-up and skin and hair care products to cosmetic procedures, fitness products and weight management.

What is driving the obsession with self-image?

The age blurring effect

Retiring later than ever before, being more active and seeking love or adventure in later life, and inspired by glamorous older celebrities, women want to look and feel good about themselves at all ages and are going to great lengths to preserve their youthful looks, physical and mental health and personal style. At the same time, Millennials are attempting to prevent the onset of ageing by beginning their skin care treatments at a younger age, opening up a whole new market for preventative – in addition to curative – beauty products and services. In addition, young girls are maturing at an ever younger age. Thanks to clever marketing and exposure to social media, girls as  young as eight are already developing their sense of identity and are anxious to cultivate a sophisticated self-image.

Female empowerment

A higher number of working women and an increase in female disposable incomes means that women have higher purchasing power than ever before, and are willing to spend this on improving their appearance, from buying smarter clothes and accessories to having surgical enhancements.

The role of the media

Models are under extreme pressure to be thin, while images of women on websites and magazine covers are often excessively edited to give viewers a false impression of reality. According to the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report of 2016, 69% of women believe that appearance anxiety is being driven largely by increasing pressure from advertising and media to reach an unrealistic standard of beauty, while 56% blame the “always on” social media culture. Studies have found that Instagram and other photo-heavy social media platforms are more damaging to self-image than traditional media, with young girls highly influenced by “flawless” reality stars and Instagram fitness bloggers, such as the Kardashian/Jenner family. A 2014 survey by the Today Show and AOL.com found that 80% of teen girls in the US compare themselves with images of celebrities. Of that group, nearly half say those images make them feel dissatisfied with how they look.

Challenging beauty norms

Many women are starting to challenge existing beauty norms. The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that while 60% of women feel the need to meet certain beauty standards, 77% agreed that it is important to be their own person and not imitate anyone else. 83% of women said they want to look their personal best, rather than follow another person’s definition of “beautiful”, while 83% agreed that each woman has something about them that is beautiful. Furthermore, 71% of women want the media to make more effort to portray women of diverse physical appearance, age, race, shape and size.

In France, where around 35,000 people suffer from anorexia, a new bill was passed at the end of 2015 aiming to combat the rapid rise of anorexia among models and the spread of these eating disorders among young teenagers. The bill requires magazines to “flag” photographs that have been airbrushed, and bans websites promoting anorexia and bulimia. It also requires models working in France to provide doctors’ notes proving that they are at a healthy weight.

Consumer habits and market impacts

Beauty ideals, fashions and regimes vary from region to region. For example, while white women in the US and UK tend to prefer a sun kissed look and are the largest global consumers of self-tanning products, women in China and Japan have a preference for pale skin, and are willing to pay premium prices for whitening creams and treatments. Euromonitor International’s Beauty Survey of 2016 found that women devote a considerable amount of time to their looks. Globally, 31% of women spend at least 15 minutes of the day styling their hair, while 26% spend at least 15 minutes a day removing body hair, and 24% applying make-up. The increased emphasis on image,  combined with rising incomes in emerging markets, indicates significant potential for targeting women of all ages with appearance-enhancing products and services, such as skin and hair care, cosmetics, fashion, slimming aids and fitness products. The global market for beauty and personal care grew steadily over the review period, to reach USD426 billion in 2015, up 10% in real terms compared with 2010.

Despite the surging popularity of online make-up tutorials, Euromonitor International’s Beauty Survey of 2016 found that among all age groups, many women (45%) prefer a natural look with “barely” there make-up. Younger women were far more likely than older age groups to wear heavy or moderate make-up (21% of both 15-29 and 30-44 year-olds). Among all women, heavy or moderate make-up was worn most commonly in China (24%), followed by Germany and Mexico (both 23%). Australian women were most likely to go make-up free (23%). Colour cosmetics experienced robust growth over the review period, driven by new product innovation and rising demand from digitally savvy younger women, who are actively interacting with brands and other users via social media.

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