In America, the perennial quest for beauty is an expensive one.
Every year, women spend billions of dollars in exchange for beautiful hair, lovely lashes, and smooth and silky skin. Still, many of our culture’s most common beauty procedures were virtually nonexistent a century ago. The truth is, many of our expectations of feminine beauty were shaped in large part by modern advertisers. We’ve tracked the history behind some of the most common “flaws” that besiege the modern woman and the surprising stories behind their “cures.”
1. “Your natural hair color isn’t pretty enough.”
“Does she or doesn’t she?” asked the Clairol’s ad that launched a million home hair dye jobs. Indeed, the aggressive Clairol Marketing would trigger an explosion in sales. In the process, the percentage of women dyeing their hair would skyrocket from 7 percent to more than 40 percent in the ’70s.
The ads showed everyday women reaping the benefits of more lustrous hair, a luxury that had long been exclusive to glamorous supermodels with professional dye jobs. The ads proclaimed, “If I have only one life, let me live it as a blonde.” Indeed, Clairol peddled the perfect yellow shade of the dye as a way to transform your life:
Clairol hair dye offered self reinvention, in 20 minutes flat, particularly for women who didn’t want to reveal their true age or grey roots.
Shirley Polykoff, the advertising writer behind Clairol’s goldmine campaign, described her plan as such: “For big success, we’d have to expand the market to gather in all those ladies who had become stoically resigned to [their gray hair]. This could only be accomplished by reawakening whatever dissatisfaction’s they may have had when they first spotted it.” Clairol did that with ads like, “How long has it been since your husband asked you out to dinner?” Nowadays, about 90 million women in the U.S. color their hair.