Are the Marketing Strategies of the Aesthetics Industry Sexist? Part 1: History

Feb 19, 2019

Gender equality has been a constant subject of national debate. As women have had to fight for their voting rights, their medical liberties — even their wages, the American patriarchy has found a new way to discriminate. Through disproportionately targeting women for aesthetic medical marketing and cosmetic reconstruction, the superficiality of social media has served to hold women to a new beauty standard identified by reconstructive surgery. It can be argued that allowing men to define standards of beauty among women has resulted in a movement towards cosmetic procedures, increasing in popularity since their introduction. 

Although the current picture of cosmetic procedures is one of plastic surgery, fillers, and undeniably a Kardashian or two, aesthetic medicine traces its roots back to early India, where nose mutilations and other battle scars were fixed through forehead flap reconstruction. Beginning as a male oriented procedure, aesthetic surgery has seen a radical shift towards women as it rose to fame in America. With the flapper movements of the 1920, facelifts and eyelid corrective surgeries were in vogue, drawing on the desire to attain a thin, androgynous look. Notably, the first “altered” women, Suzanne A. Noel, became a pioneer in the dermatological cosmetic surgery field.

The unisex style of the 20s-40s was quickly replaced after WW2, as women were seen as the primary domestic figure in American households. As the nation’s priorities shifted from wartime production and industry, to a redefining of the quintessential American family, an emphasis was placed on maternal roles, culminating in a characteristic 50s-60s focus on the symbolism of breasts. The notorious bullet bra, wasn’t alone in determining a new beauty standard for women; breast augmentation procedures began their ascent to popularity around this era as well. Mammoplasty and breast implants started in 1955, and silicone was concluded to be a satisfactory material for augmentation in 1965. The “full motherly figure” highlighted by hoop skirts and corsets, drove the recognition of a renewed “elegant” and domestic silhouette for women. But as this fashion trend became the victim of resentment, its maternal branding transformed into binding, and was influential in the encouraging of a second wave feminist rumblings — a movement focused on sexual freedom.

More recently, the 90s and 2000s have been crucial in constructing a narrative around aesthetic medical procedures. Bringing celebrities like the Kardashian Clan (infamous for their use of cosmetic procedures) into the American cultural lens has resulted in a societal movement towards anti-aging surgery and other aesthetic medical practices. Exacerbated by the rise of “social media influencers” in marketing tactics,  cosmetic surgery has disproportionately affected women. According to a 2017 ASPS (American Society of Plastic Surgeons) study, women comprise 92% of total cosmetic surgeries, suggesting that the social context of America is comparatively a greater influencing factor in women’s health issues than men’s.

It is necessary to discern a distinction between aesthetic procedure, and aesthetic marketing. This project makes the argument that the marketing of these procedures is sexist; it however does not extend that argument to target the surgery itself. This project will focus on proving whether the social media marketing techniques employed by the aesthetics field are sexist, and analyzing the economic impact of this marketing strategy on an aesthetic medical firm’s revenue, as compared to the impact of traditional pharmaceutical marketing strategies. In doing so, a recommendation for future marketing strategies and advertisement campaigns will be made.

[image courtesy of Entertainment Tonight]

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