Women are the majority who undergo aesthetic procedures, and key to reaching them, according to Dr. Gina Barreca, is knowing what they want.
In making consumer decisions, says an expert who spoke at The Cosmetic Bootcamp (CBC) last year in Aspen, Colo., women gravitate toward authenticity — which is often politically incorrect and funny.
Everyone has a story, says Gina Barreca, Ph.D. "And that's how you want to reach them." She is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Connecticut.
Vendor and physician marketing reflects that healthcare providers are striving for authentic messaging, she says, but perhaps these efforts don't go far enough. "Many of the stories that women have are funny, and they're not read by the world as funny."
Women and men think and communicate differently, says Dr. Barreca, who reveals her age and weight at the outset of any speaking engagement to eliminate guesswork. "The first thing that especially women want to know about other women who are at the front of the stage is how old you are." Without this information, she says, women endeavor feverishly to figure it out, distracting themselves from the speaker's message.
Women also try to guess each other's weight, adds Dr. Barreca. If someone won't tell, she says, women attempt to triangulate this information by asking what size clothing the person wears. The answer often varies by brand. "In an Armani, I'm 12. At Dot's Dress Barn, I'm a 22. Women know that the more we spend on our clothing, the smaller the size we will be. Men do not have that issue."
Additionally, women often set goals such as dieting down to size two for their son's wedding or daughter's bat mitzvah. "You would never hear a man say, 'I'm going to be a 42 short by the holidays.'"
Dr. Sigmund Freud believed he could never answer the question of what women want. After touring the CBC exhibit hall, jokes Dr. Barreca, she wants everything at every booth. On a serious note, she says that after talking to vendor representatives about the science behind their offerings, she realizes their rhetoric has changed. "Now it's all about strength, it's not about beauty. It's really about looking at how women's strength comes from beauty, how those two things are twins."
Dr. Barreca says that when she was growing up, people spoke and thought of beauty in terms of the classic Disney princess — a frail waif who waited on help from others. "She had a tiny waist, and mostly what she did was fall over, pass out. Beautiful meant weak. Beautiful now means strong."
Dr. Barreca says that when her female friends heard she was attending CBC, they had one question: what could they do to battle unwanted age-related changes in their appearance? With current aesthetic medical technology, she says, doctors can do everything. “They can take things away; they can put things back. They can remove things and replace them. Everybody wants a shortcut. Everybody wants to look good. Nobody looks dispassionately at his or her own picture. Every photograph that you see yourself in, you see yourself in a different angle. Nobody's ever said, 'oh well, that's just some lady. That's just some guy.' We see ourselves. Every photograph is a mirror."
This dynamic is hard to escape, she says. Pictures of natural wonders from someone's vacation might occasionally be intriguing, says Dr. Barreca. "But who really wants to look at photos without you in them? We want to look at ourselves. We have to tell our stories."
Dr. Barreca says that whenever she tells stories, in print or in person, she focuses on humor. And there's a very specific difference between men's humor and women's humor, she adds. "Women don't tell jokes. When a woman says, 'I have something funny to tell you,' if you're smart, you'll sit down. You're going to be there a long time, because a woman is not going to tell you a joke. She's always telling you a story. And she's going to tell you a story that happened to her in her real life."
Men typically know two pieces of information about their best friends — their first name and what kind of vehicle they drive, Dr. Barreca quips. Conversely, she says, women tell their stories by revealing the most exquisite pieces of personal detail, often on first meeting each other. "You sit next to a woman for more than 13 seconds, you know if she's in a relationship; if the relationship is any good; does she have kids; how are the kids; are they in public or private school? And if you talk to her through two courses of a meal, you know if she's taking estrogen orally or through a patch."
In contemporary culture, Dr. Barreca says, women need to make up their own stories. "One of the things I talk about is the way that women and our bodies really work." A couple years ago, her students were talking about the bikini bridge — the notion that when a woman lies on her stomach on the beach, there should be visible space between her torso and the top of her bikini bottom. "It turned out to be a hoax. My bikini bridge is the Verrazano. It has 12 lanes and takes an EZ Pass. Real humor comes from telling stories."
And real stories, she says, are the only kind that elicit women's real laughter — not the tinkling bell-like tone one often hears at dinner parties. "No woman has ever made that sound when she's having a good time. When a woman laughs in this way, she's thinking, 'on the way home, I need Bounty towels. Is that five for $4, or four for $5?'"
By embracing laughter and telling their stories, says Dr. Barreca, women can rearrange how they look at the world and how the world looks at them. Anita Loos once said diamonds are a girl's best friend. "I think it's the other way around. Your best friends, male or female, are your diamonds." Like diamonds, she explains, real friends are unmistakable, invaluable and, when needed, tough enough to cut glass.
Gina Barreca PhD. "What Woman Want — The Ideal of Beauty, the Concept of Aging, and the Psychology of the Female Consumer," The Cosmetic Bootcamp. June 21, 2019.