Our obsession with looks and beauty — especially among women — is at an all-time high.
We search endlessly for the products that will transform our bodies into a more acceptable and desirable form, from the softness of our skin and the smoothness of our legs to the bounciness of our hair and the length and thickness of our eyelashes.
Marketers have us mesmerized.
Most of us don’t think about the external costs of these products, how they affect the health of our own bodies, other people, animals, or the earth.
What Price Beauty? is a lesson plan that invites students (grades 8 and up) to explore the impact of the ingredients in their favorite products on people, animals, and the earth, to consider how marketing ties into their product choices, and to look for healthier alternatives.
Here’s how it works:
- resource sheet; suggested resources
- large sheets of paper to stick on walls
- markers; tape; white board and markers
- personal care products
- Ask students to bring their favorite personal care product(s) to class and an ad promoting that product. (It could be a print ad or a printout from an online ad.)
- Prepare an initial list of useful, credible resources for helping students find information about ingredients in their products.
- Invite students to share the product and ad they brought to class, why the product is their favorite, and what made them initially choose to purchase that product.
- Let students know that they’re going to research the ingredients of their product and the ingredients’ impacts on them and others. (If they brought more than one product, have them choose one product to research.)Have students gather with others who have chosen the same type of product (hair care, toothpaste, soap, lotion, etc.). Some students may be the only one who chose a particular product, which is fine.
On large sheets of paper, have the groups/individuals write their type of product at the top (e.g., toothpastes), then list the brand names of the products underneath, then list all the ingredients for their product below that.
- On another regular sheet of paper, have students make note of any special claims made about the product (or its ingredients), either on the product packaging or in the product ad.
- Post the large sheets (with product type, brand & ingredients) on the walls around the room, and place the claim(s) next to them.
- Have students choose an ingredient from their product and conduct research about that ingredient to discover:
- What are the origins and components of that ingredient?
- What is its impact (both positive and negative) on people, animals, and the planet?
Note: Depending on how much time you want to spend on this lesson, you may want to have students choose one ingredient, a few sample ingredients, or research all the ingredients that make up their favorite product. You may also want to have students do the research in small groups, rather than individually. You may also want to verify that groups/individuals are researching different ingredients, as some of the same ingredients will be found in different types of products.
- Ask students to use a variety of sources and to cite their sources. Give them a few suggestions to start.
- Have students bring in the results of their research to share.
- Post a chart on the wall with headlines reflecting the types of research they conducted (download the complete activity for an example).
- Have students fill in the chart information, based on the research they conducted. Give students time to view others’ research results. Ask volunteers to share their results.
- Lead students in a discussion about what they learned and refer them back to the ads for the products that they brought.
What conclusions can they draw about their product and its impact on people, animals, and the planet? What conclusions can they draw about its marketing?
- If time allows, have students find healthier, humane, more sustainable alternatives (if possible) to the product they originally chose and bring in the product (or a photo of it).
Otherwise, provide students with information on alternative personal care products, both those produced for and sold in stores, and homemade products.
Be sure to emphasize that, just because a product uses words like “organic” and/or “natural” doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain harmful chemicals.