Making women feel bad about themselves is a lucrative business


I wrote this over 15 years ago in response to a set of new advertisements on TV  that in my opinion promote and normalize  “age-related” cosmetic surgery for women. Both the Irish Examiner and The Irish Times published this.

I am a counselling psychologist working in private practice in Cork city and county. Last week a teenage client told me she was very upset because she could see ‘expression lines’ on her face.

About two weeks earlier I had become uneasily aware of a new batch of anti-aging cream advertisements on television. One of them used the term ‘expression lines’ — which, I assume, covers more than laughter lines. It seems, according to L’Oreal, that women can develop nasty expression lines through talking to and playing with their babies! I believe it is appalling to imply to women that entertaining their children ca n cause wrinkles. So now, motherhood can make your face unattractive, too. It’s bad enough having unsightly stretch marks and an ‘unflat’ tummy.

(Luckily, I notice from another ad, we have BUPA to help us out there.)

I was saddened and outraged so soon to hear the term ‘expression lines’ regurgitated by a young teenage girl who has now been given yet another reason to be dissatisfied with her appearance courtesy of the advertising media.

And these advertisements are powerful.

Roc and L’Oreal tell us that ‘surgery can wait’ or we should ‘let surgery wait’ while Neutrogena features a perfectly healthy woman holding a syringe to her smiling, serene face, telling us that ‘collagen injections can wait’.

Have I missed something?

Since when did it become both normal and inevitable that women should undergo surgery or any other cosmetic procedure, along with its inherent risks? I believe it is outrageous to normalise unnecessary surgery in this fashion. Making women feel bad about them-selves is a very lucrative business in-deed. Women everywhere feel too fat, too flat-chested, too pale, too short, their legs are not long enough, their hair not silky/straight/curly/full/long/short enough, their teeth not white enough, they are not energetic enough, or sexy enough, or young enough. In fact, a woman today would find it very difficult to feel good enough for anything or anyone. I can feel a wave of female depression and self-loathing creeping into our society and I believe it will worsen. As long as we allow this type of advertising to brainwash ourselves and our children we are allowing something far more sinister to prevail that breeds self-contempt and unhappiness. I am concerned for the future of our society and the status of our girls and women. This treatment is highly offensive and archaic, and far from the liberation that our mothers had hoped for in the last century. I urge people to challenge the relevant advertisers and the ideas fed to us by the box in the corner of the living room.

Sally O’Reilly, BA, MA, Couns Psych, MNHII,


And of course now, its not just the box in the living room – it’s the phone, the laptop, the PC, the gaming console and it’s not just the living room. Things have changed a lot since I wrote this, but not in the right direction. More than ever we need to think critically about what we see and to teach our kids to do the same!


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