Are Young Women Pressured to Be Beautiful 24/7/365?

Boomers aren’t the only age group worrying about their looks. According to Dr. Vivian Diller, Ph.D., in this post, young women are feeling more pressure than ever to look beautiful at all times. She says that Gen X and Y believe “…pampering and primping does not betray their feminine beliefs. They believe it’s their right to do both and in fact, it’s the expectation to do so that is their own struggle…women in their 20s and 30s say that there is no down time when it comes to looking good. They feel compelled to appear fashionable at work, at play, at the gym, even going to bed at night.”

Dr. V goes on to say that young women are feeling a great deal of pressure: “No more sweats and t-shirt to relax in. There’s Victoria’s Secret to wear under the Nike or Adidas workout clothes. Sexy skirts with designer shirts have replaced the practical pants suit for every day work. Even that ‘I don’t care’ fashion while out partying is a carefully put-together look that takes hours to create.”

Have our daughters become entrapped, or is Dr. V mistaken? I started asking. My hairdresser, who is 28, says she personally doesn’t feel that way but all her friends do. A couple of my followup questions:

  • Are your friends single? (I was thinking that this compulsion made more sense if they were looking for a husband.) She said they’re all married.
  • Do their husbands expect it? She said no, but she thought it was partly about competing with their friends and other women their age, generally, and also what they’re “force-fed” in the media.

This is troubling and frankly fascinating to me. I hope it’s not true. What do you think? In the weeks ahead I’m going to be looking for data one way or another. I’ll let you know what I find out. Let’s hope Dr. V is exaggerating.


  1. says

    Nanci, I think it IS “geographically induced” or maybe Dr. D was basing her hypothesis on her clientele, which tended toward people who work in the fashion and movie industry. What you said about LA made me sick! Thanks for sharing what you learned – I will when I get the chance and I hope others will, too.

  2. Nanci says

    At lunch the other day I asked 5 young teachers ranging from 23-32 about their need to look good. All of them reported that they did not feel that pressure and hadn’t ever, with one exception. One had attended a private university in town and felt pressure while she was there. One of them loves clothes and loves to dress up, but feels just as comfortable not doing so. We all live in semi rural Oregon and there was a discussion that it would be different if they lived in a city, even Portland with it’s fleece and Birkinstock reputation. There was another teacher, my age, who has a young daughter who lives in LA. She said that her daughter was not a “dresser upper” but that she had been astonished how many of her friends there were anorexic, bullemic and spent more than their salaries buying trendy clothes. Her daughter is just naturally beautiful… and has been dating Billy Idol (May-December for sure!)for some time so she runs with a pretty expensive crowd, I guess. Anyway, everyone thought that the pressure may be geographically induced. Any other research done?

  3. says

    Hi Lynne,
    I work with adolescents in a pediatric practice and I also have teen nieces and I have seen both ends of the spectrum ranging from total obsession with hair,makeup,clothes to the sweats and tee shirt. Many teens are so busy with their high-tech lives (fb,texting,etc) they don’t have time to fuss with themselves. I think the 20-somethings feel it more. How sad to have all the focus be on looks. You have raised an important question though and I will be interested in your findings.

  4. says

    The great part of SoFlo is having the variety of colors and styles to choose from. I love that part, but the being teeny-tiny with no double chins, I’m too lazy and like to eat and drink too much. LOL!! I have a friend who’s constantly on weight-watchers and she already weighs 50 pounds less than me. But her idea of enjoyment is new appliances and a granite counter top. I don’t have the finances to keep up with the Jones. Talk about pressure!! Hey this could be another blog post! :)

  5. says

    Living in S. Florida, I have plenty of opportunity to observe women, young and old, of many cultures, and let me tell you, they dress up. Of course, there’s plenty of designer stores down here so there’s no excuse not to have the latest skinny jeans. Unfortunately, there is a lot of peer pressure for the young women, especially in the urban areas, to be the thinnest and the most fashionable, and heaven forbid if they’re above a size zero! But, I don’t think it’s a new phenomenon. Think back to the Victorian era when they had those waist-cinching corsets?? Poor things.

    • says

      That’s a great point, Vonnie, the Victorian aspect. Also, you make me laugh, because I lived in Palm Desert (by Palm Springs, only more expensive) for seven years, and you practically had to get a facelift before you went to the grocery store. Now I live in blue-collar Hemet, and it is MUCH more relaxing!

  6. says

    Lynne, I think you’re onto something! Most young women I come into contact with do feel that pressure. I don’t know where it comes from, but I don’t believe it’s “other-sex” driven, having observed many of their significant others who are far from feeling similar pressure! (That’s a nice way of saying the guys look like slobs while their ladies are dressed to the nines!) Me, I’m just glad I work for myself out of my home and can throw on jeans and sneakers any old time I want!!

    • says

      Debbie, if you get a chance to ask one or two of them, try to find out. I think it would be so interesting to know. And if we post the info, maybe younger women can garner strength from our words.

  7. says

    I don’t feel that pressure anymore at 32, but I have removed myself from friendships/situations that would almost require that of me. I am a laid back sweatpants girl now, though I do like to dress up once in a while, but I do it because it pleases me. :)

    • says

      Rebecca, I’m not surprised about you, because you are so mindful. My hair stylist, Casey, is also very wise about what she does and does not value in life, and she doesn’t waste time with BS. Maybe that factor (awareness) makes the difference?

  8. says

    Good luck on the research! I’m at the point of not caring how I look…I’m too busy trying to get published and “make something of myself.” But I’m not young anymore. My mom wasn’t into make-up. I never got into make-up or dressing up. I never feel myself in a dress, but I know a lot of women who put on their “shiny” faces and heels just to go out to dinner and movies with the girls. They act differently, carry themselves differently, and I think it’s so fake. But there is great pressure out there — mainly because of TV shows — just hanging out in the house, female characters on TV are all dolled up.

  9. says

    This is an important topic, Lynne. And would make for a terrific book. I do think young women (women, in general) are encouraged to focus on external qualities to the exclusion of more important concerns in life. (also left you a comment under Dakota Blues) Some in-depth interviews with young women would be fascinating. Take care! Sending sun from Dakota (I think we have a sliver or 2 today) and P.S. have an artist visiting in sunnyroomstudio @

  10. says

    I wasn’t going to be scientific, just looking for a general sense of whether the situation is true for them and why. I’d lead in with a paraphrase from Dr. Diller, e.g. “a recent bestselling psychotherapist thinks that young women are under intense pressure to look good all the time. Is this true for you and if so, where do you think that pressure is coming from?” I’d also, just because I’m curious, ask the young woman what she thinks will happen if she bucks the trend, and also, if she doesn’t feel that way herself, does she see it in other women her age.
    Re the book you’re reading, the whole idea of Cleopatra having power deriving from her beauty (first, and assumedly, from her intelligence second) says something about how women are viewed historically. I wonder, has there been any real change since then?
    If you would like to develop your own brief study and do a guest post as to the results, I’m sure it would be fascinating!! I know how busy you are but I hope you’ll consider it. So many of us Boomers don’t really have access to any sizeable group of younger people, so you could give us the birds-eye view.

  11. nanci says

    I think this is interesting. I am reading Cleopatra:A Life, a fascinating history of the ruler of Egypt and even in her most powerful days, her appearance was key. I think it’s pervasive through the ages. I work with a number of young women…. how would you like your data collected? I think the answer in Oregon might be different than in CA. It might be worth checking out. Are there certain questions you want asked?

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