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How authentic beauty boosts women’s mental health

July 22, 2021 | Mental Health

A woman uses her smartphone while she sits at her laptop to videochat.

After more than a year of remote work and social isolation, studies show heavy increases in video calls and screen time are taking a toll on women’s mental health. According to a recent survey conducted by CVS Health (PDF) through The Harris Poll, one in three women feel less confident in their appearance than they did a year ago, and nearly half use filters to alter their online image.

“We’re facing an elevated crisis around self-confidence,” says Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, who partnered with CVS Health on the survey.

A headshot of Dr. Pamela Rutledge.
“The Beauty Mark commitment reminds women that their photos don’t need to be touched up,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge.

“Video calls have forced people to turn the cameras on themselves at a time when social anxiety is already high,” says Rutledge. Video images can feel unrealistic because we’re used to seeing ourselves in a mirror, she adds, and web cameras can distort how we look.

Looking at altered social media images online only compounds the negative impact of unrealistic imagery. Also from the CVS Health survey, nearly six in 10 women feel worse about their own appearance after seeing digitally altered photos of other women.

Social comparison is not a new phenomenon, Rutledge points out. “What makes it positive or negative is how we evaluate what we’re seeing in ourselves,” she says. “And if we’re judging ourselves against some standard that we can’t meet, it can be very negative.”

A growing focus on natural and diverse beauty may be a helpful countermeasure to the pandemic’s negative impacts on women. Launched in 2018, CVS Health’s Beauty Mark campaign promised not to digitally alter any beauty imagery created for its stores, websites and marketing materials. The company reached its goal of full compliance in May 2021.

A young woman modeling with no digital re-touching. The Beauty Unaltered logo appears in the bottom right corner.

The company also named beauty advocate Nyma Tang — a digital influencer with over 1.5 million social media followers — as its first Beauty Inclusivity Consultant.

“I am excited to help CVS Health make its beauty aisles a place where customers can see themselves reflected not only in the imagery they see, but also in the products they find on the shelves,” she says.

Tang started her journey in beauty advocacy to give women of color — including her six younger sisters — more representation in the beauty industry. “When I was growing up, it hurt me to not be able to see someone that looked like me,” she says. “I didn’t want my sisters to feel that way.”

Authenticity can also boost mental health, says Rutledge: “The Beauty Mark campaign is a way of saying the real beauty of you is inside.”