Common cosmetics aisle terminology with a twist, and body image talk

Here in the US, it is easy to lose track of just how much marketing and advertising we are exposed to in our society. A lot of it is dubious, and one of the best (or worst) examples of it can be found than in the cosmetics aisle of grocery and discount stores.

This recent article by Kelly M. Flanagan as published on the Huffington Post takes a lot of these common “marketing fluff” terms, many of which play on the insecurities women and girls have with their appearance, and turns them on their head to mean something entirely different. Perhaps one of his best examples from the article is:

Flawless finish. Your finish has nothing to do with how your face looks today and everything to do with how your life looks on your last day. May your years be a preparation for that day. May you be aged by grace, may you grow in wisdom and may your love become big enough to embrace all people. May your flawless finish be a peaceful embrace of the end and the unknown that follows, and may it thus be a gift to everyone who cherishes you.

Elsewhere in the article Kelly has new takes on the terms “Brilliant Strength”, “Choose Your Dream”, “Naked”, “Infallible”, and “Age-defying.” There is also a longer list of terms which includes many which get no further mention (for example, I can see how “Liquid power” is a bit problematic to redefine or re-examine in a positive light).

I get that cosmetics companies need to hawk their wares to stay in business. The market for cosmetics no longer ends at the bright line between genders. Granted, the marketing of cosmetics specifically aimed at men is completely different and does not play on insecurities nearly as much. Which begs the question, does marketing of cosmetics at women really need to?

Entire ad campaigns are held together by digital alteration of models to appear as something they are not (as seen in these spoof “ads” for a popular image editing software). Some models were so skinny you could see their bones, which I personally consider even more unappealing than morbid obesity. This has only recently been addressed but shows just how bad things had to get before they were fixed.

I can’t discuss cosmetics and image without getting into a broader discussion on clothing sizes, as the role of trends like “vanity sizing” or “size creep” is intertwined with body image (women’s body image in particular). I’m not sure who has read it, but I did touch on sizing in a post about a year ago when discussing Abercrombie & Fitch.

Here in 2014, women’s size 12 and up is now considered “plus size.” For those of you who don’t understand women’s clothing sizes, that’s the approximate equivalent of a men’s waist size 32 or 34. Also, “plus size” is now generally regarded as unflattering. Worse, the actual sizes themselves have “crept” over the years such that the size 12 Marilyn Monroe wore in 1950 would be a size 4 or 6 today.

Now, let’s think about that for a minute. That would mean the size 12 that’s a plus-size today would have been a size 18 or so back in 1950 (guessing here). Unlike sizing for men, sizing for women has always been somewhat arbitrary numbers. In other countries, what’s a size 12 in the US would be a size 16 (Australia for example, and unfortunately I don’t have the source handy). At one time, there was an attempt to standardize clothing sizes for women known as Commercial Standard 215-58, published in 1958. In 1971 it was revised and became Women’s Voluntary Product Standard PS42-70 before being withdrawn altogether in 1983. So for three decades fashion designers have been free to call whatever size they want size 12, and a lot of them have. Size 12 is literally not what it used to be.

I consider any sizing system where you wind up with “size 0” or even negative sizes to be broken. Horribly broken. Yes, I would say the exact same thing about men’s sizes if they were this screwed up.

I’m still chasing down an answer to the question that has bugged me for years: How did men’s clothing sizes, particularly pants sizes, get standardized based on waist sizes (30, 32, 34, etc) instead of smaller numbers similar to those of women’s sizes? Whereas we have some history on how the current US “catalog sizes” came to be, and history on the European/ISO clothing sizes, there’s no simple answer I can find to men’s sizing being based on a completely different series of numbers keyed on waist size.

Which brings me to one more point. The last time I discussed the topic, I referred to the smaller sizes being “female chauvanist.” Looking back at that post, that may have been too strong a term, and it may have led some to think I was taking the view that the sizing systems were made that way on purpose. To clear it up, I do not think the different systems of sizing were chosen that way on purpose, and it was not my intent to imply that they were. However, my assertion that it sounds more impressive, for example, for a woman to say “I went from a size 18 to a size 10” than it does for a man to say “I went from size 46 pants to size 38 pants” even though it’s roughly the same amount of weight loss, still stands because I still believe it is valid. It is worth noting that the sizing systems pre-date any dieting craze, and even pre-date most of the very media over which dieting crazes have been advertised.