The Restrictive Notion of Beauty

Question: What have been the important moments in the history \r\nof the beauty industry? 
\r\n

Geoffrey Jones: The modern industry begins in the 19th \r\ncentury, but its predecessors go back to every known human civilization.\r\n I can hardly think of a single product that we use today that wasn’t \r\nused 400 years ago, 1,000 years ago, even 3,000 years ago. So, \r\ninflection points really are the late 19th century when products that \r\nwere primarily used by relatively few people, made by craft methods \r\nsuddenly started to be turned into brands and suddenly started to be \r\nsold not just locally but first regionally then nationally then \r\nglobally. And that’s really when much of what we think of as the modern \r\nindustry really, really gets going. 

Then if we’re looking at \r\nstages and its subsequent growth, I think Hollywood was really very \r\nimportant because Hollywood kind of I feel like, raised the stakes of \r\nappearance, and it also served as a medium for taking beauty ideals \r\naround the world. And by the '30s, people in towns almost everywhere in \r\nthe world have access to a cinema; they could see representations of \r\nbeauty, particularly hairstyles, particularly the use of cosmetics. And I\r\n think that was enormously important. And if I’m thinking of a more \r\nrecent inflection point, I would probably say the 1970s, when we first \r\nbegin to seek some really serious criticism about some aspects of the \r\nindustry, in particular its impact on people’s health—here’s a giant \r\ncancer scare about hair dyes—and concerns that the industry was \r\nover-promising. And there begins to be a backlash from then on, which \r\ndoesn’t kill the growth of the industry, not at all, but which begins to\r\n reshape it and redefine it. 

Question: What has \r\nchanged since the‘70s in terms of how we think about beauty products? 

\r\nGeoffrey Jones:
If you go back to the early 19th century, every \r\nsociety and every culture defined beauty in their own ways. People \r\nlooked completely different around the world. For example, in Japan, \r\nearly 19th century Japan, the epitome of female beauty was very narrow \r\neyes, whitened faces, and black teeth. Elite men, aristocratic men in \r\nJapan used cosmetics. They also whitened their face. And you could tell \r\nthe same story about every other society. 

What happened over \r\ntime was this: you could call it, homogenization of what it meant to be \r\nbeautiful spreading out throughout the world. And beauty consumers came \r\nto see beauty in very much more uniform or, you could say, restrictive \r\nterms. And this conception of what it meant to be beautiful was \r\nreinforced by television, by Hollywood, by the whole ecosystem of the \r\nbeauty industry area, of magazines, the gatekeepers of beauty. So if you\r\n were to take a long-term historical perspective, consumers' conception \r\nof what it meant to be beautiful narrowed and homogenized dramatically.

Recorded on April 21, 2010

Consumers have been changing their perception of beauty products since the 19th century.

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