Estee Lauder and Helena Rubinstein

I finally caught up on all my DVR’d shows, one of them being last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, entitled “Rejection.” The show starts out with a moderator asking unmarried woman about their beauty rituals in an effort to develop a campaign for Pond’s Cold Cream.

While they probed for stories around beauty routines, the conclusion is that women make the effort to be beautiful to nab a husband (see clip below).  Boy, have things changed!  Of course we still want to be attractive to others, but now beauty is also important for social, professional and personal reasons, right?

And yet, nothing’s really changed at the same time.

What do I mean?  In all the research I’ve done regarding American women’s relationship to beauty, it’s become clear that beauty is still a means to an end.  It’s very purposeful.  Since the early years of this country’s existence, beauty has been a vehicle to rise socially.  That’s why beauty pageants took on all over the country.  And for decades, beauty was the only industry that women could “own.”  And they were super successful at it.  Think Estee Lauder and Helena Rubinstein.  Why do we revere actresses?  Partly it’s because since the 19th century, actresses, whose key asset was their beauty, were some of the only women who were economically independent.

So while we’re all much more enlightened and independent than earlier generations, and aren’t solely focused on getting married, we American women are still not at the point where we view beauty as an important pursuit, in and of itself.


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