Appearance-Based Discrimination Costs The U.S. Economy Over $500B Annually, Dove Study Finds
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Appearance-Based Discrimination Costs The U.S. Economy Over $500B Annually, Dove Study Finds

Dove has released a comprehensive report revealing the true costs of harmful beauty standards.

The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals (RCOBI) report, created in partnership with Deloitte Economics and the TH Chan School of Public Health and STRIPED at Harvard, revealed 66 million people living in the United States in 2019 experienced body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination as it pertains to weight, skin shade, or natural hairstyles. The research considered girls as early as 10 years of age.

The alarming statistic stems from societal expectations influenced by film, family, sociocultural factors, and media — which often places whiteness as the measure of what is deemed beautiful. This has contributed to lesser representation in body shapes, sizes, hair types, skin shade, and ages, among others.

“The way people feel about their bodies can no longer be considered a superficial issue as we’re seeing the devastating toll of narrow beauty standards and appearance-based bias on individuals and society as a whole,” said Alessandro Manfredi, Chief Marketing Officer for Dove, according to a press release provided to AfroTech. “The harmful beauty ideals perpetuated in media, advertising, and in our social media feeds every day are negatively impacting the quality of life for women and girls, and we must take action to change this. The ‘Real Cost of Beauty Ideals’ report uncovers the significant scale of the harm being perpetuated from these ideals and Dove is deeply committed to changing beauty for the better – but we need the help of others to make systemic change possible.”

The pervasive and ongoing reality of body dissatisfaction cost the U.S. economy $305 billion. On the other hand, appearance-based discrimination costs the U.S. economy “over $500 billion annually, $269 billion in health outcomes, labor market outcomes, and other outcomes such as incarceration, and $233 billion in costs related to loss of well-being,” according to Jaime C. Slaughter-Acey, Ph.D., MPH from the University of Minnesota and leading researcher of the Dove report.

Do note, the logistics are based solely on weight discrimination and skin shade discrimination (colorism) and the listed costs have more than likely increased, with inflation averaging 3.9 percent annually between 2019 and 2022.

“These numbers are huge. But what concerns me most is their impact on Black people and our quality of life because Black people are more likely to experience skin-shade discrimination both within and outside of their ethnoracial group,” Slaughter-Acey said in a statement provided to AfroTech.

The RCOBI Study also revealed that 27 million people are directly affected by skin shade discrimination (or colorism), costing the U.S. economy $63 billion annually.

Additionally, five million people are impacted by natural hair discrimination, according to research previously conducted by the Dove CROWN Research Study.

Hair discrimination heavily affects Black communities especially as it pertains to schools and the work environment. While natural hairstyles may be accepted within our community, they’ve been labeled as “unprofessional” outside of it, hindering some from landing jobs or even scoring interviews.

We see this further supported by the Dove CROWN Research, which revealed Black women were 1.5 times more likely to be sent home or be aware of another Black woman who has been forced to leave the workplace due to her hair. In addition, 100 percent of Black elementary school girls, who attend predominately white schools, had experienced hair discrimination by age 10.

Those experiences led to a decline in mental wellness, negatively impacted self-perception, and some girls skipped school. As we see this play out from early childhood into the adult years of Black women, the institutional barriers only lead to a decline in opportunity as it pertains to the employment pipeline, mental wellness, health, and education.

Slaughter-Acey hopes to see an end to this through open dialogue and empowering children at an early age by exposing them to diverse representations of beauty outside of current societal confines.

“As a society, we have to recognize that the topic of racism and beauty ideals is not new, as communities of color have been trying to address the perpetuation of beauty standards that do not include people of color, particularly Black people,” Slaughter-Acey said in a statement provided to AfroTech. “I think that there is a lot of things that we can do to address the toxic beauty ideals that are pervasive in our society. The first is that we need to have conversations and open dialogue about the role of racism in establishing harmful and unobtainable beauty ideals that place social value on one’s proximity to whiteness by centering on European features. With that, there is definitely a place for media, traditional and social, in disrupting messaging that we are exposed to and to broaden the definition of beauty so that it is inclusive.”

She continued: “As a Black mother with a young daughter, I have carefully curated her environment since she was born to help buffer against the racist toxic beauty ideal. This includes making sure there is representation in the toys she plays with, the books we read, and the places and spaces we visit. My goal is to, one, make sure she sees herself in all that she interacts with, and two, broaden the definition of beauty so it represents all the shades, shapes, and textures that exist.”

We are seeing progress being made as it pertains to discrimination against race-based hairstyles after securing a huge win with the passing of the CROWN act, beginning first with California in 2019. The development of the act was first made possible by the efforts of Dove, the CROWN Coalition, and State Senator Holly J. Mitchell of California.

The CROWN act made it illegal to discriminate against people at work or school over their hair texture and protective styles such as braids, locs, twists, and knots. It has since been passed in 18 states including Colorado, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Massachusetts, and has only been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Dove hopes to see more progress as they work for the approval of the act in the Senate, which would make it legal in all 50 states.

In addition, the personal care band works closely with experts and organizations and has spawned various projects including the Hair, My Crown toolkit. It was created to instill greater confidence in children with coils, curls, waves, and protective styles. Furthermore, Dove has created lessons geared toward educators and mentors to help them educate the youth on appearance-based discrimination, among various other programs and initiatives.