If the goal of beauty industry giant Belo Medical Group (Belo) was to nab the attention of its viewers through controversial advertising, they were definitely successful, but for all the wrong reasons.
Their recent commercial Pandemic Effects showed a woman sitting on her couch, viewing the latest news on the national health crisis. Due to the stress, she slowly morphed into what Belo believed to be an unalluring figure — she gained weight, grew body hair and developed acne on her skin.
To address the stress-induced body change, Belo ended the commercial by saying that “tough times call for beautiful measures,” asserting that the way out of terrible circumstances is a visit to the beauty clinic.
The advertisement, which was taken down later that day, only survives through online videos reuploaded by various internet users.
What Pandemic Effects overlooked, however, is that beauty industries themselves have caused the ‘tough times’ it alludes to, and the measures directed at liberating women might not look as beautiful in Belo’s eyes.
Media scholar Laura Mulvey coined the term “male gaze” in the 1970s to describe the cinematic phenomenon of viewing women through a sexually charged perspective.
Mulvey notes how male filmmakers invite the audience to objectify women through voyeuristic techniques, like focusing on their breasts, buttocks and legs. Meanwhile, women are hardly given agency over the ogling spectators.
Businesses have then imprinted the image of a helpless woman in the minds of their global audience. They have sold us the idea that women need to be beautiful all the time and must stay that way – at all costs – to please the spectators who crave their bodies.
The beauty industry in particular has found a goldmine in women’s insecurities and persistently exploits their self-loathing to nourish their need to always be conventionally attractive. As a result, women are thrown into a vicious cycle of consumerism, where they are convinced that they must buy to be beautiful.
Although self-care can be a liberating experience, it becomes a frustrating endeavor when diminished solely into beautification. Women are made to run endlessly on a treadmill of unrealistic standards as the business chases on the next big beauty hit.
Beauty for some
Some viewers have sympathized with Pandemic Effects, arguing that beauticians such as Belo have only revealed women’s unspoken desires. However, to claim that the commercial only mirrors women’s genuine aspirations would be to absolve beauty industries of their hand in perpetuating these harmful myths in the first place.
The industry’s vision of womanhood only includes those who are in their market — the select few who are well-off, attractive and able-bodied.
Cosmetic bigwigs always forget the large number of women who exist outside their consumerist bubble. For example, women who work themselves to the bone and have no time to hyperfixate on their physical appearance. Or women with disease and disabilities, who have been long absent from the television screen.
Take for instance women who suffer from chronic ailments such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), who go through acne, male-patterned hair growth and weight gain. This is in addition to pregnancy complications, which definitely cannot be addressed by “beautiful measures.”
While the Belo advertisement jokes about their symptoms, the complications of women with PCOS run deeper than face value. The discrimination and internal hatred that they endure is accentuated by the male gaze that deems their conditions unacceptable.
Belo can only gratify able-bodied women from upper and middle classes who can throw money at their perceived flaws. Beauty companies deliberately alienate indigent and disabled women, as they do not fit the narrative of the male gaze, struggle to enter the workforce and have no disposable income.
The beauty industry is definitive in leaving these women out of picturesque society, and Pandemic Effects is a snapshot of how the business turns their insecurities into marketable humor.
In the advertisement, the woman is rendered helpless against the stressful circumstances she watches on television.
While the commercial’s directors could have empowered the main character to criticize the news of the government’s failed pandemic response, she is made to lounge powerlessly in her snug home, with no attempt to act upon the events unfolding before her.
Worse, Belo believed her next move would be to turn inward and focus on cosmeticizing herself.
Women will not find their deliverance in a divisive paradigm of beauty. The true redress to the harms they endure is beyond individual cosmetization, rather in a collective liberation from the system that fuels their insecurities.
Women can reclaim their beauty in condemnation of myths produced by the cosmetic machinery, in unison with the wrath of the masses.
During a crisis that has unjustly burned out women who worry about their survival, our productive anger against an estranging culture is made even more crucial.
Perhaps Belo fears a version of self-care that knocks down the apparatus of the beauty industry. Perhaps the beauty industry cannot stomach the idea of women who seek the liberation of women by recognizing their collective strength against an oppressive system.
What Belo cannot see is that women who fight collectively against the lopsided structure of the patriarchy are by every sense of the word, beautiful.