Beauty as a Business

The Economist has a good article on the beauty business. It is amazing the lengths we will go to so that we can look beautiful. It has become very lucrative, as an increase in discretionary income allows Americans to spend more on such things, but it is on the edge of trouble:

At the same time, the beauty business needs to guard against a growing consumer backlash. Like those facing the tobacco and food industries, this has two elements. The first concerns truth in advertising. Creams and cosmetics are making increasingly extravagant marketing claims. So far, women have been willing to buy into the illusion. Should that change (and there are signs it might), then manufacturers expose themselves to potentially ruinous litigation.

Second, there is a moral dimension. The beauty industry is at a stage where it can permanently change a person's looks. Given advances in genetic engineering and the competitive drive, a race for beauty is conceivable in which people will strive to model themselves on some form of idealised human being. By selling the weapons to win this war, the industry may find itself roundly condemned and subject to legislation.

Public handwringing is already evident in the case of teenagers indulging in cosmetic surgery. In "Branded", a book on marketing to teenagers, Alissa Quart notes that in America the number of teenage breast implants and liposuctions rose by 562% between 1994 and 2001. There is a cynical marketing phrase for all this: helping "kids look older younger". A number of new books have begun to question the ethics of marketing beauty products and services to adults too.

Could the future hold a tax on beauty? In 50 years, will there be redistribution of attractiveness? Maybe the good-looking will be taxed so that the ugly can have government sponsored medical treatment to improve their looks. After all, we can't have someone getting an advantage in life just because they were born beautiful.

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