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Last Updated: Friday, 23 June 2006, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
The beauty backlash
By Amanda Austen
BBC Money Programme

Dove's campaign for real beauty
Dove's campaign has created waves in the beauty industry

More than three in four women are "insecure about the way they look" and more than one in three women think the way women are portrayed in the media "makes them feel overweight", according to a You Gov survey for The Money Programme.

The beauty industry bombards us with images of perfection - slim, gorgeous creatures offering pots and potions that promise to uplift, de-wrinkle and beautify.

This fuels a sense of insecurity among women, and this drives sales in the beauty industry.

"Sixty-seven per cent of girls think they are overweight and six out of 10 girls say they would be happy if they were slimmer," says Clare Curtis from the Eating Disorders Association.

Growth in the market for anti-ageing products that promise to make women look younger and firmer is also riding on such insecurities.

A third of British women now buy into it as the pressure increases to stay looking younger.

"You think you're still young and then you take a glance in the mirror and you realise you're getting older and bits start to go," says mum of four Julie McGeehan.

"Eyesight I find a real problem and just constantly looking tired. That's the worst thing about aging, you just permanently look tired, that freshness goes."

I was particularly confident about my body and said that I didn't really have any hang-ups, and what you see is what you get really
Linda di Maria

But signs are emerging that women have had enough of trying to look perfect.

Soap company Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign has been a marketing phenomenon, striking a chord with increasing numbers of women fed up with the unattainable images of beauty they have been sold by the cosmetics giants.

And increasingly women speak out against the pressure on young people to be thin and beautiful, sparking a backlash against some firms.

Effective slogan

A massive worldwide industry, fronted by leading players like L'Oreal, is eager to tell women that there are products for sale which can improve their looks.

Just 2% of today's women see themselves as beautiful

L'Oreal's advertising campaign, which has been going since 1973, has been one of the most successful with its roll-call of A-List celebrities and its catchy phrase, "because you're worth it".

Saatchi and Saatchi, one of the biggest names in advertising, has spent years researching women's self-image.

Although they did not make the L'Oreal adverts, Sarah Musgrave, who works at the agency, sees how well the idea works.

"L'Oreal was slightly more expensive than the competition so they needed to justify why you would spend more," she says.

"The only reason you'd spend more is if you were worth it. It became an ethos for the entire company and they've never looked back since."

Natural beauty

But now there's a very different approach from Dove with its revolutionary campaign for real beauty that has received enormous publicity by using women of all shapes and sizes in standard issue white bra and pants to advertise their firming lotion.

Linda di Maria was one of the first ever poster girls for Dove.

With five others, she was picked to front their ground breaking campaign.

She's not a model, but used to be a runner on Eastenders.

"I was particularly confident about my body and said that I didn't really have any hang-ups, and what you see is what you get really," says Ms di Maria.

"The whole point is to make beauty more accessible, as accessible as it can be," explains Alessandro Manfredi, vice president of Dove.

"So by widening the definition of beauty, we believe that more women will gain the confidence, because they will see beauty is closer to them than the beauty of a supermodel that is so far, and people could give up.

"We don't want women to give up, we want to tell them; beauty, it's at your reach."

The Money Programme: The Beauty Backlash, BBC Two at 7pm on Friday 23 June.

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