Consumed by Cosmetics: Globalisation & the Beauty Industry
Gender | Mar 6, 2018 / by Sana Alam
  • 0


The early 90s was an era when India made a paradigm shift from Nehruvian Socialist Model to an LPG Model. The markets opened up, a flurry of private television channels and international brand rushed in, in the pursuit of high profits. That period was defined by an ever-increasing consumption of international products that were available in stores near them. It not only brought itself a material culture but popular culture. It had an international dimension to it, influences being drawn from global trends. Thus, we were affronted with a situation wherein the cultural basket of what we consume knowingly or unknow­ingly had an international connection at multiple levels, both in popular (TV shows like Friends and channels like Disney) as well as material forms (beauty products of Revlon, etc.) (Sahni, Shankar. 2009)

At the same time, India’s middle class found itself in the pool of opportunities with immense confidence to shine on international platforms. In 1994, for the first time in the history of international beauty pageants, both Miss Universe and Miss World crowns adorned Indian heads. It was a moment of sheer appreciation and surprise because no one could think of Indian girls to be the winners of both these titles since West or Venezuelan women have always bagged these. And a nation that was just about getting a grip on itself in the post-globalised economy was suddenly shocked in awe. Indian beauties got a whole new face, and it empowered women.  

While some called it to be progressive move and another ‘Feather in India’s cap,’ others, like actor Gaurav Kapoor in a National Geographic’s documentary, called it to be a ‘conspiracy theory.’ The conspiracy theory wasn’t about being doubtful about the beauty of Sushmita Sen or Aishwarya Rai. It was about the reason behind continuous winnings of Indians globally and about the Cosmetic Industries who wanted to enter the Indian markets via these winnings. A new type of market emerged in the post-globalised era. By giving big prizes and making them the brand ambassadors helped the cosmetic industries. The beauty industry, to be specific, was ready to be global and hence, they were at the right place at the right time.

Now, the question arises as to how the beauty industry modified the consumption pattern of middle-class women, i.e., how the economic frameworks can bar and facilitate the movement of consumer culture especially among women.

Consumer culture is produced, by agents who work directly in the corporate economy as managers, marketers, and advertising "creatives"; by independent "brokers" who analyse and criticize consumer products; and by dissidents who initiate alternative responses to the mass consumption system. This broad framework allows us to consider consumption as an institutional field, i.e., a set of interconnected economic and cultural institutions centered on the production of commodities for individual demand. (Zukin & Maguire, 2004)

The goods one uses in his/her daily life are not mere tangible products; they have their implications and deep-rooted impacts on the way we decide to live our lives. The origins of the goods and the way they have traveled across the time and space to reach in your hands have a ‘cultural impact,’ i.e., they are culturally loaded. The cultural connotation remains intact irrespective of the place of origin/production and its usage. Thus becoming a cultural good.

Mass consumption was produced by manipulating consumers' desires to be well dressed, good-looking, and beloved; to surround themselves with visions of beauty, and to surrender common sense and sobriety to individual dreams of self-enhancement. (Zukin & Maguire, 2004) This seems true for the cosmetics companies, who started deciding how one should look and dress up for what all occasions by manipulating the consumers’ will. These were the ‘direct culture signifiers’ of the FDI. This happened when both Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won the Miss Universe and Miss World titles post-LPG period. Apart from getting offers from directors and producers, they were offered lucrative breaks like modeling and product endorsements or even ambassadors. The connections between the global approaches to beauty and business in India are obviously more elusive and intricate. But, this led to greater popularity, hike in the sale and strong growth trajectory in the Indian cosmetic industry.  According to an article published in Business Economics, the year of 1999 was a boom period for the Indian market of the cosmetic industry; it grew over 8% over the prior year of 1998. (Business Economics, 2017)

The Indian middle-class, at the time, became prosperous and capable enough to demand consumer goods of quality and wide variety acceptable to them. This was, however, kind of impossible in the environment of protected industries in India as they were reluctant and skeptical of innovations or improvements. Major factors behind the increasing demand of International cosmetic products were the increase in the ‘disposable incomes’ and increasing ‘health’ and ‘fashion consciousness’ which was generated by the process of globalisation and further development of capitalism.

Globalising the media has unleashed cultural influences that are harmful to all, but more so for women. The continuous manufacture of desire, the stoking of female aspirations to have the perfect body through the cosmetic and fashion industry, the creation of beauty queens as role models, is regressive regarding the ideals feminism has fought for in this country (Krishnaraj, 1999).

This not only led to increasing aspirations of women to become another Aishwarya Rai or Sushmita Sen but to even look like them, just a bit, in their daily lives. This was inculcated via various media and cosmetic companies by endorsing them in the advertisements of the products and giving them a hope that they too can look like them and achieve what they have been able to achieve. This gave rise to greater insecurities and doubts among women. The economic success in India’s beauty industry which include products, pageants, and queens, is linked to India’s change from an unopened economy into a market or ‘burgeoning location’ for the sale of various products.

From 1996 to 2000, there has been a 25 percent growth in the cosmetics and personal care sectors, and the size of the 2000 cosmetics market was estimated to be about $160 million. Revlon, Maybelline, Oriflame, Avon, and L’Oreal have begun to compete for a share of the surplus income in middle-class Indian women’s purses. (Parameswaran, 2004).

One example of the sudden entry of beauty brands has to be- Revlon, the first ever international cosmetic brand to enter India.  In the year 1995 due to a formidable coalition between the Modi Group and Revlon, it entered Indian markets as Modi Revlon. A wide variety of international quality cosmetics, skincare, toiletries and fragrances were launched that were in accord with the Indian women’s needs. There were two reasons behind Revlon becoming a big name in Indian markets and a strong competitor. First, the products were affordable and secondly, the appropriation of the packaging. Hence, these gratified to the 'value-for-money' idea. Ever since then, it has been shaping the lives of women by catering to the needs of suave and sophisticated women.

Beauty pageants were, now, not only confined to the national or international platforms. It became quite noticeable to the organisers of such events that it can reap the long-term benefits. Hence, they started with such competitions in schools and colleges to capture the attention of middle-class consumers. The economic scaffolding of support for beauty culture in India can thus be defined as a zone of commodity culture that is “structured so that each site or setting for the socializing and regulating of the public gaze is to some degree affected by the experiences of other sites.” (Parameswaran, 2004).

So, we can say that there was an apparent rise in the consumption pattern of middle-class women post-liberalisation and it was made possible via various means which were oblivion to the middle-class. They were lured into buying products they never needed. They were exposed to the kind of culture that increased the inequalities among them and made them a victim of unachievable beauty standards, whose standards were now determined by MNCs located in some another country. There were underlying economic forces which decided and dictated the taste, preferences and quantity of the products that are supposed to be consumed. Liberalisation led to a rapid increase in the way capitalism works and it affected women the most. The role of global capitalism in that period and the embeddedness of economy in the society cannot be undermined in the lifestyle of people, especially women.



Chauhan, S., & Giri, I. (2017, June 13). Manufacturing sector in India before and after the liberalisation of 1991. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

Krishnaraj, M. (1999). Globalisation and women in India. Development in Practice, 9(5), 587-592.

Kumar, S. (2009, March 14). Globalisation, Nationalism and Feminism in Indian Culture. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

Parameswaran, R. (2004). Global queens, national celebrities: tales of feminine triumph in post‐liberalization India. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(4), 346-370. doi:10.1080/0739318042000245363

Revlon. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

Sahni, R., & Shankar, V. K. (03 january, 2009). What Has Economics Got to Do With It? Cultures of Consumption in Global Markets. Economic and Political Weekly, 44 (01), 50-58. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

Sengupta, C. (2001). Conceptualising Globalisation: Issues and Implications. Economic and Political Weekly, 36 (33), 3137- 3143.

Singh, V. (n.d.). The evolution of Indian cosmetics industry. Retrieved October 28, 2017, from

Zukin, S., & Maguire, J. (2004). Consumers and Consumption. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 173-197.

Image Source: Raconteur

Share this article

Written By Sana Alam

MA in Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi)

Leave A Reply