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The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals

The staggering economic and social cost of body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination in the United States.

In the United States (US), the most accepted beauty norms reflect white standards. The lack of diversity in body shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, hair types, and skin shades of people shown in the media sets a narrow and unrealistic beauty standard, which has a profound impact on the way people think and feel about themselves and the people around them.

As part of the development of a program of evidence-based resources, Dove commissioned Deloitte Access Economics to estimate the economic and social cost of harmful beauty ideals in 2019. The findings were generated with expert input from the Dove Self-Esteem Project (DSEP) and an international scientific advisory panel led by the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED).

This report explores the impacts of harmful beauty ideals through body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination (covering weight, skin shade, and natural hair discrimination).

Each year in the US, body dissatisfaction incurs $84 billion in financial costs, with an additional $221 billion in loss of well-being. The costs are bigger still for appearance-based discrimination – incurring $269 billion in financial costs and $233 billion in loss of well-being.

These costs have been estimated using a prevalence approach, for the 66 million people aged 10 years and older affected by appearance-based discrimination in 2019, and the 45 million people affected by body dissatisfaction.

Given the indicative costs, it’s clear there is a need for multi-level intervention to address harmful beauty ideals. This report identifies a range of evidence-backed interventions that government, researchers, employers, service providers and individuals could take to help improve outcomes moving forward.

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