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You’re Being Sold!


How many ads do you think you see each day? 

100? 500? Before you answer, consider everywhere you are exposed to advertising and marketing. 

And those are just advertisements. Now think of all of the times each day you’re exposed to marketing via brand labels: food, clothing, shoes, makeup, and more.   

It’s not surprising then that the average person is exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day! Most of the time it doesn’t even consciously register or, if it does, we think we’re immune.  

When we see an advertisement for a beauty product, the ad is doing its work. It’s making us feel somehow less beautiful, maybe even a bit bad about how we look. We then subconsciously start to think we need to purchase something to make us more beautiful. 


In the US alone, nearly $4 billion dollars are spent annually on advertising and marketing for cosmetics. What message are they sending with all of those ads? 

Consider one well-known slogan: “Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s Maybelline.” This catchy phrase implies that if you don’t feel naturally beautiful, like you’re born with it (and statistically most women don’t), then Maybelline cosmetics can help make you look more beautiful. 

Maybelline is selling to you, just like every other makeup brand out there. Their ultimate goal as a company is to make money—Maybelline generates nearly $150 million in annual sales. And that is a drugstore brand. High-end cosmetics, like Chanel, routinely top $10 billion in annual revenue

Makeup products should be bought because women like them and their qualities, not because they believe they will experience a miraculous transformation to align with false standards of beauty being marketed to them. 


The global fashion market companies pay a great deal to make sure you get the message that fashion matters to your beauty. 

Abercrombie and Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Guess, Gap, Donna Karan—all of these brands and more advertise with young, beautiful models, subtly implying that we will be just as beautiful if we wear their brands. 

But here’s something you may not have known: some of those model depictions are actually made up of parts and pieces of different models to achieve the allegedly perfect look. In 2011, for example, the fashion retailer H&M was busted for pasting models’ heads onto computer-generated bodies! Let that sink in. Is what you see in advertising even real? 

As with cosmetics, choose your fashion because of what you like, not because some company tells you that you’ll be more beautiful if you do. 

Diet Products

In a world where nearly 25,000 people die from hunger and related causes each day, it is shocking to realize how much money is spent by people looking to lose weight, trying to attain the universal standard of thinness.

For example, $400 million has been spent annually just on television advertising for diet programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers. 

Companies looking to profit from people’s insecurity about their weight are quick to exploit the arbitrary beauty standard of thinness in their advertising. When you watch a commercial or see an advertisement, you generally recognize that you’re being sold to. 

The weight loss industry can be sneaky, though, and disguise their marketing as news stories complete with testimonials (made up) and dramatic before-and-after pictures (photoshopped). 

A healthy dose of skepticism should accompany any reviews you read. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Plastic Surgery

Yes, even plastic surgeons advertise their services, so I recognize that by writing this in some ways I am calling myself out. If someone wants—and is a good candidate for—rhinoplasty, then I want them to know about me. So, of course, I market and advertise my practice. 

A plastic surgeon will typically spend between $60,000 and $200,000 annually on marketing, depending on the size of the practice. There are around 7,000 plastic surgeons in the US, but other specialists such as dermatologists, ophthalmologists, and oral surgeons also offer cosmetic surgical procedures, so it’s difficult to nail down a cumulative dollar figure for advertising money spent. 

Whatever that number is, the result is that globally nearly $40 billion dollars are spent by men and women each year on cosmetic procedures. That amount is constantly growing. When considering plastic surgery people should do their research and look much deeper than shiny advertisements, etc. 


Recently, many longtime players in the beauty market are starting to seek partnerships with influencers. These influencers, for example, the Kardashian sisters, attract loyal followers who trust them and their recommendations. 

Influencer marketing plays a big role in womens’ purchasing decisions, even though they are well aware that brands often pay influencers to promote their products.

Women want to trust that the influencers they follow are actually using and are happy with the products they promote. However, it’s important to understand that the person pitching the product may not even use it, and many times isn’t trying to help you be “more” of anything. Their goal is to sell the product and put “more” in their own bank account. 

The Bottom Line

Viewing advertisements in any form can really have a negative effect on your self-image. If you’re not hyper-alert to what is happening, you can walk away feeling so much worse about yourself and not even understand why.

Pay attention to each time you’re being marketed to. Analyze how the advertisements or social media posts are making you feel. 

Then the next time you feel compelled to purchase anything designed to make you feel or look “better”, think about why you feel you need it and whether you’ve been just been sold.

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