A series of four studies published in Psychology & Marketing looked into consumption experiences relating to beauty products between feminists and nonfeminists, finding that feminists showed a greater preference for beauty products compared to nonfeminists. This preference was related to feelings of self-determination.
“Beginning when I was a gender studies minor as an undergraduate student, I’ve been hearing feminist scholars say that beauty work is a bind placed on women and that engaging in those sorts of behaviors is not something that women actually choose,” said study author Mycah Harrold, an assistant professor in the Anderson College of Business and Computing at Regis University in Denver, Colorado.
“I was interested to explore, not how the scholars view those behaviors, but instead, how the consumers themselves perceive them, and how those perceptions impact their consumption of the related products. As a researcher, I am very interested in how naive theories impact our lives above and beyond what may be seen as ‘true’ or not.”
While beauty work may have been felt as oppressive, today, it might be experienced as a pleasurable practice if it is a chosen activity. Luxury and hedonic consumption literatures would suggest that feminists who have associated their beauty work with empowerment and self-determination might have a preference for premium beauty products.
Study 1 recruited 239 women from Prolific Academic, who were randomly assigned to the beauty or nonbeauty conditions. Beauty standards were primed by presenting participants with 17 beauty practices for the beauty condition (e.g., contouring make-up techniques) or 17 nonbeauty practices (e.g., using mouthwash). Participants checked off each practice they engage in regularly. Next, they were instructed to select products for a hypothetical personal care subscription box; this included 8 beauty products and 8 nonbeauty products. Lastly, participants responded to items assessing feminist identity (e.g., “Being a feminist is important to me”). Participants concluded the study with a demographic questionnaire.
Study 2 utilized data from the posts of social media influencers, who earn money by promoting products to their audiences. The prices of the products promoted by the influencers were used as a proxy for the product preferences of their followers. The researchers anticipated that feminist influencers would promote more expensive beauty (vs. nonbeauty) products compared to nonfeminist influencers.
Study 3 recruited 57 women (students, faculty and staff) from a Northwestern university. They responded to the item “do you consider yourself a feminist?” on a scale of 1 to 7. Participants then brought their makeup bags of the items they used on a regular day, which they sorted into premium, non-premium, and miscellaneous (e.g., gotten as a gift) products. A research assistant recorded the number of items per category. Participants were tasked with reporting the valuation of each product on a scale of having spent “not very much” money to “a lot” on the item. Participants also reported the extent to which they believed the cosmetic industry perpetuated beauty standards (e.g., “I feel coerced into purchasing products from this industry”).
Study 4 recruited 247 women who were shown an image of a bundle of 25 makeup products alongside a list of the products. Half the participants were told the bundle consisted of discount makeup while the other half were told it contained luxury makeup. Participants evaluated the bundle for its desirability and appeal. Participants also reported the self-determination they associated with makeup using 3 items. Lastly participants indicated the degree of their feminist identity and demographic information.
“I think one of the things the paper really tells us is that some women (namely feminists) can view beauty work as empowering and beauty products as a splurge-type purchase, which might sound counter-intuitive,” Harrold told PsyPost. “We also show that women differ in the degree to which they feel beauty work is or is not a choice and that those perceptions have consequential impacts on their consumption practices.”
Across four studies and a range of research methods, including online experiments, secondary data, and a behavioral paradigm, the researchers showed that feminists reported stronger preferences for premium beauty products compared to nonfeminists. Importantly, feminists experienced these practices as empowering, with self-determination acting as the mechanism behind this observed effect.
“One thing I am interested in examining in the future is the women who decide to forgo beauty work altogether,” Harrold said. “In our (pre-Covid) studies, this is usually about 15% of the population. I think (a) understanding the factors that go into making that decision and (b) how it may be different in a post-Covid world are interesting questions! I’m also interested in examining how this phenomenon may look in other populations. I have initial evidence that gay men exhibit a similar pattern and am working on exploring this more.”
She added, “my goal with my research is to explore gender- and sex-based consumption experiences that have largely been overlooked by consumer researchers. In this paper, this includes beauty work products that can almost be considered mundane- in that they are consumed quite frequently and in an ongoing manner (over the course of years)- but, I’d argue, are not at all boring! In a similar vein, my ongoing work examines consumption of menstrual products.”
The research, “Pink tasks: Feminists and their preferences for premium beauty products”, was authored by Mycah L. Harrold, Chadwick J. Miller, and Andrew W. Perkins.