‘The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals’ report reveals the devastating economic and human toll in the U.S. as a direct result of racist and gendered beauty ideals specifically targeting women and girls

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J., Oct. 4, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — Today, the Dove Self-Esteem Project released “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals” report – the most comprehensive assessment ever conducted on the pervasive and damaging impact of beauty standards on the U.S. economy and society. The report explores the impact of harmful beauty ideals through dual pathways of body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination, which has led to a silent public health threat that disproportionally impacts women and girls starting as young as 10 years old.

Findings provide overwhelming evidence that racist and gendered beauty standards have a devastating impact on both the economy and wellbeing of individuals. This groundbreaking study estimates toxic beauty ideals cost the U.S. economy $305B due to body dissatisfaction and $501B due to appearance-based discrimination in 2019. Expressed in current dollars, the costs of body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination would be even higher, with inflation averaging 3.9{362bf5cdc35eddfb2532d3c23e83b41deb229c4410d15cb1127c60150cbd4488} annually between 2019 and 2022. 

The study was conducted in consultation with Dr. S. Bryn Austin, Founding Director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders: A Public Health Incubator (STRIPED) at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital, and a diverse team of economists at Deloitte Access Economics along with an advisory panel of subject matter experts.

“We have known for a long time that narrow and biased beauty ideals can be toxic, especially for girls’ self-esteem and self-concept, and can play a role in the risk for developing an eating disorder or other serious mental health conditions,” said Dr. Austin. “We’ve also had a sense of how pervasive discrimination based on weight and skin shade can be and how cruelly undermining in just about all facets of the lives of affected individuals. But until we did our study, we had no idea how broad reaching and enormous the impacts are on our economy. By our estimates, hundreds of billions of dollars are being squandered in our economy every year. Why? Because our society has not yet been willing to reckon with the pernicious effects of sexist and racist beauty ideals and the discrimination that serves no other purpose than to enforce and perpetuate these noxious ideals. We hope our study findings will be a catalyst to begin that long-overdue reckoning.” 

Beauty ideals are socially constructed notions of ideal beauty. In the United States, the most accepted beauty norms reflect white standards, reinforced through media, film, family, and other sociocultural channels. This has a profound impact on the way people think and feel about themselves and the people around them.

The toll toxic beauty ideals can take on individuals and their livelihoods are both vast and dangerous, with body dissatisfaction shown to lead to depression, anxiety, suicide, smoking, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and appearance-based discrimination shown to result in increased risk of poor health care, weight gain, incarceration, premature mortality, and more.

Key Findings from “The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals” report:

  • Every year, harmful beauty ideals result in astronomical costs to the U.S. economy and society. In 2019, harmful beauty ideals cost:
    • $305 billion due to body dissatisfaction (defined as a severe and persistent negative attitude towards one’s own physical appearance)
      • Economic Costs: $84 billion in health system, productivity, government, employer, family, individual and societal costs
      • Loss of Wellbeing: $221 billion as a result of depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, smoking, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse
      • Women and girls bear 58{362bf5cdc35eddfb2532d3c23e83b41deb229c4410d15cb1127c60150cbd4488} of these costs at $177 billion
      • Over 45 million people experience body dissatisfaction with increases their risk of depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, and suicide
    • $501 billion due to appearance-based discrimination (based on skin shade and body size)
      • Economic Costs: $269 billion in health outcomes, labor market outcomes, other life outcomes (e.g., incarceration)
      • Loss of Wellbeing: $233 billion as a result of anxiety, depression, drug abuse, smoking, hypertension
      • Women and girls bear 63{362bf5cdc35eddfb2532d3c23e83b41deb229c4410d15cb1127c60150cbd4488} of these costs at $317 billion
      • Over $66 million people experience appearance-based discrimination, which increases their risk of poor health care, depression, anxiety, weight gain, incarceration, and premature mortality
      • Weight discrimination affected 34 million people and incurred $206 billion in financial costs
      • Skin shade discrimination affected 23 million people and incurred $63 billion in financial costs
      • Natural hair discrimination affected 5 million people with Black and women being 3.4 times more likely to be perceived as “unprofessional” due to their hair when compared to non-Black women 1

“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,” says Alessandro Manfredi, Chief Marketing Officer for Dove. “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.”

Coupled with the release of the report, The Dove Self-Esteem Project is working alongside likeminded individuals, experts, and organizations to combat the complex influences that lead to both body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination. As part of this, Dove is supporting a series of programs and commitments. Some of these commitments include:

  • Building Positive Body Image Through Education
    • Established in 2004, The Dove Self-Esteem Project helps the next generation develop a positive relationship with the way they look so they are not held back by appearance-related anxiety and can realize their full potential. So far, The Dove Self-Esteem Project has reached more than 82 million young people across 150 countries with no-cost tools, making it the largest provider of body confidence education globally. By 2030, we’ll have helped 250 million kids with programming proven to boost self-esteem.
    • As part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, we have developed several tools to address appearance bias and discrimination, including the Confident Me Appearance Discrimination Extension Lesson, designed to help educators and mentors teach young people about appearance-based discrimination, such as sizeism, ableism and colorism, and My Hair, My CROWN, a toolkit to boost hair confidence in kids with coils, curls, waves and protective styles, as well as build allyship in others to Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.
  • Supporting Inclusive, Diverse & Authentic Images in Media
    • Through Project #ShowUs, Dove created the first ever global collection of inclusive beauty images for media and advertisers to use. Since launching in 2019, the bank has grown to include more than 14,000 images, and over 2,500 companies have used images from the bank.
  • Legislative Advocacy
    • Natural Hair Discrimination: Dove co-founded the CROWN Coalition in 2019, alongside the National Urban League, Color of Change, and Western Center on Law & Poverty, to support The CROWN Act to end hair discrimination nationally. To-date, The CROWN Act or legislation inspired by the CROWN Act has passed in 19 states and more than 40 municipalities.
    • Body Size Discrimination: Findings from ‘The Real Cost of Beauty Ideals’ report are currently being used to support legislation to end body size discrimination in New York and Massachusetts. Along with the report collaborators, Dove will continue to make the data accessible to all that want to use it to support necessary systemic change across the country.   

Together we can end appearance hate. Learn more about what Dove is doing to change beauty and take action at Dove.com/realcostofbeauty.


Dove has a long-standing commitment to creating a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety. The Dove Self-Esteem Project was established in 2004 to help the next generation develop a positive relationship with the way they look so they are not held back by appearance-related anxiety and can realize their full potential. Created in partnership with the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of West England – the world’s largest research group focusing on the role of appearance and body image in people’s lives – Dove Self-Esteem Project tools are academically validated and free to download. So far, The Dove Self-Esteem Project has reached more than 82 million young people across 150 countries, making it one of the largest providers of body confidence education globally. By 2030, we’ll have helped 250 million through our no-cost academically validated tools.


Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Beauty & Personal Care, Home Care, and Foods & Refreshment products, with sales in over 190 countries and products used by 3.4 billion people every day. We have 148,000 employees and generated sales of €52.4 billion in 2021. Over half of our footprint is in developing and emerging markets. We have around 400 brands found in homes all over the world – including iconic brands like Dove, Knorr, Hellmann’s, Magnum, Axe, Ben & Jerry’s, Degree, Seventh Generation, St. Ives, Suave, TRESemmé, and Vaseline.

Our vision is to be the global leader in sustainable business and to demonstrate how our purpose-led, future-fit business model drives superior performance. We have a long tradition of being a progressive, responsible business. It goes back to the days of our founder William Lever, who launched the world’s first purposeful brand, Sunlight Soap, more than 100 years ago, and it’s at the heart of how we run our company today.

The Unilever Compass, our sustainable business strategy, is set out to help us deliver superior performance and drive sustainable and responsible growth, while:
– improving the health of the planet;
– improving people’s health, confidence and wellbeing; and
– contributing to a fairer and more socially inclusive world.

While there is still more to do, in the past year we’re proud to have achieved sector leadership in S&P’s Dow Jones Sustainability Index, ‘Triple A’ status in CDP’s Climate, Water and Forest benchmarks, and to be named as the top ranked company in the GlobeScan/SustainAbility Sustainability Leaders survey for the eleventh consecutive year.

For more information on Unilever U.S. and its brands visit: www.unileverusa.com


The Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, or STRIPED, is a graduate-level training initiative based at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Boston Children’s Hospital. We bring together experts in eating disorders, public health, adolescent preventive medicine, health law, policy, and economics, and many other disciplines to create a public health incubator, a place where transdisciplinary collaborations catalyze crosscutting, innovative approaches to eating disorders prevention.


Deloitte Access Economics is united by a passion for economics and a belief that it can create a better future for all. Our deep economic rigour comes from our cutting-edge analytic tools, our experience working with business and governments, and the expertise of our people who help shape public policy, deliver business insights and inform investment strategy.

Deloitte Access Economics combines foresight with sophisticated analysis to shape and unlock economic, environmental, financial and social value.  Connecting leading global insight and local knowledge with an independent perspective, we illuminate future opportunities and drive progress. We share practical policy, industry and evidence-based insights to help businesses and governments tackle the most complex economic, financial, and social challenges.

1 Dove CROWN Research Study, 2019 | Hair texture and style is not included in the $501 billion annually due to appearance-based discrimination

Media Contact: Dana Paolucci, [email protected]