Unrealistic beauty standards cost U.S. economy billions each year

October 7, 2022 – The repercussions of body dissatisfaction and appearance-based discrimination are costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually, according to a new report.

Collaborators on the report included the Dove Self-Esteem Project, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Deloitte Access Economics. Bryn Austin, professor in Harvard Chan School’s  Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and founding director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPED), discussed the report in an October 4 article in Insider.

“What many people don’t realize is that there’s any cost to this, because often people just think of beauty as ephemeral or a superficial kind of concern,” said Austin. For the report, she worked with economists to estimate the cost of unrealistic beauty standards, using methods like those used to estimate the cost of gun violence.

Body dissatisfaction costs the U.S. around $300 billion annually, according to the report. As Austin explained, “If someone is suffering body dissatisfaction severe enough to be showing up in our calculations, they may have a higher risk of developing depression or anxiety or an eating disorder”—all of which can be costly to treat.

Appearance-based discrimination costs the U.S. roughly $500 billion, the team found. “People are not being hired if they’re applying for jobs and seen as living in a larger body,” Austin said. “People are not being hired with darker skin shades. They may be hired, but given lower pay.”

Children are also affected, Austin noted. Kids with darker skin may receive harsher discipline, which can lower their chances of graduating, going on to higher education, or getting well-paying jobs. “This has a negative cascading effect, not just on that of the individual and their family, but also to workplaces and to our society as a whole,” said Austin.

Austin also wrote an article about the report for MSNBC that detailed her own struggles with body image, citing “the inescapable pressure on girls to be ever-vigilant about our weight.”

Read the Insider article: A Harvard study found unrealistic beauty ideals cost the US economy $800 billion a year. Here’s how.

Read the MSNBC article: A new study puts a massive price tag on America’s toxic beauty standards

Read an Allure article: Society’s Beauty Standards Are Costing Us Billions of Dollars

This article was updated on October 10, 2022.