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What is the Cost of Unrealistic Beauty Standards? Unfortunately, It’s Billions of Dollars a Year

Woman in bathtub with a mirror

It can feel impossible to not compare yourself to celebs and influencers, many of whom are the biggest perpetrators when it comes to showcasing unrealistic beauty standards. We can’t help but think about the stars who have modified their bodies but denied going under the knife, thus leaving people to question if there’s something wrong with us for not looking perfectly airbrushed and sculpted (newsflash: there isn’t!). But as it turns out, the cost of these unattainable standards is quite high, with a price tag of over $500 billion per year in America.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project did research on the issue and published an interactive report titled “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals.” The report assessed the impact of these beauty standards on society in the US and the economy. Ultimately, it discovered that the harmful standards cost the American economy $305 billion as a result of people being unhappy with their bodies, and $501 billion due to discrimination based on appearances, annually.

Related: Forget body positivity, here’s why body neutrality is where it’s at.

Over 45 million people experience body dissatisfaction

Dove reported that over 45 million people experience body dissatisfaction and broke down the numbers even further, finding that weight discrimination affected 34 million people and incurred a cost of $206 billion.

Related: 10 stigmas women still face everyday.

Woman putting on makeup

Appearance-based discrimination extends to colourism and hair textures

Dove also found that over 66 million people experienced discrimination based on their appearances and that this discrimination was tied to poor health outcomes including an increased risk of depression, anxiety and more.

The report also assessed the impact of colourism in the Black community, and Dove found that skin shade discrimination impacted 27 million Black people, incurring $63 billion in financial costs.

And for Black people who wore their hair in its natural state, over five million people were discriminated against, with Black women being 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as being “unprofessional” because of their hair compared to non-Black women.


Related: 10 accidental microaggressions you might be making everyday.

Where do we go from here?

Although these findings are less than happy news, there is a way forward. In a story for Allure on the report, health economist Simone Cheung says that we all play a part in dismantling these standards.

“The numbers demonstrate the urgent need for action, and that this needs to be a multi-pronged, multi-sector approach,” she says. “Everyone has a role to play in addressing the underlying forces that promote and propagate harmful beauty ideals – including researchers, employers, individuals, family and friends, government, health and education providers and industry and media.”

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