Monday, January 05, 2009

The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report

Findings of the Global Study on Women, Beauty and Well-Being

September 2004

Dr. Nancy Etcoff – Harvard University
Dr. Susie Orbach – London School of Economics
Dr. Jennifer Scott – StrategyOne
Heidi D’Agostino – StrategyOne
Commissioned by Dove, a Unilever Beauty Brand

The report can be downloaded - click here



The Real Truth About Beauty study is the first attempt to both “deconstruct” and “reconstruct”
women’s perceptions of female beauty using applied research across ten countries. It shows that
women globally hold remarkably similar views on beauty (with the exception of Japanese
women on some measures).

The study demonstrates that authentic beauty is a concept lodged in women’s hearts and minds
and seldom articulated in popular culture or affirmed in the mass media. As such, it remains
unrealized and unclaimed. This idea of beauty appears to have been replaced by a narrower
definition that is largely located in limited ideals of physical appearance. It appears that the word
“beauty” has – in many ways – become functionally defined as “physical attractiveness.” This
definition of beauty is powerfully communicated through the mass media and has been
assimilated through popular culture. It is this ideal that many women measure themselves
against and aspire to attain. However, because this ideal is extremely difficult to achieve,
women find it difficult to think of themselves as beautiful. This can contribute to unhappiness
and low self-esteem and self-worth – especially among those women (often younger) who are
more likely to take their cues from popular culture.

This study clearly outlines the components of true beauty and affirms that, while they include
physical attractiveness, they also include happiness, kindness, wisdom, dignity, love, authenticity
and self-realization. Through this study, the possibilities for the beautiful to be known, found
and represented have been infinitely extended. The ways in which female beauty can move us
have been profoundly deepened.

Just as women lay some of the blame for the perpetuation of inauthentic beauty on popular
culture and the mass media, they also believe that that the latter can be a force for reconfiguring
the former so that true beauty becomes the new standard – with unprecedented power to open
minds and move emotions.

True beauty will not be driven by theory or ideology, but by its resonance in the hearts and
minds of those who encounter it. This study has given women the opportunity to speak about
what it can be. However, its articulation is the obligation of those who speak to women around
the world about their beauty every hour of every day – in the visual images and words of the
mass media. Their challenge is to know true beauty when they feel it and to faithfully represent
it in the ways in which they speak about it.


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