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Ulta Beauty launches new project to help silence our inner critic

After hearing that its sales associates felt ‘like therapists’ while working the shop floor, the US beauty supplier has set out on a mission to help its customers embrace their inner joy by eradicating negative self-talk.

Upon stepping inside a beauty store, customers are greeted by an array of products that promise eternally youthful skin, a luscious head of hair, and the ability to smell like a freshly plucked Madagascan vanilla bean pod.

While it’s great — albeit overwhelming — to have these options, we all have different motivations for visiting these retailers. Some of us want to stock up on our holy grail skincare item and others want to try a new product that they’ve seen online.

Market research has shown that, for a massive 65 percent of young shoppers, it will be the latter.

This should be unsurprising, as social media platforms have overtaken fashion magazines as the oracle of beauty knowledge. That products raking in the highest sales are often the same ones trending on TikTok or Instagram at any given moment is no coincidence.

Unfortunately, these social media platforms are also responsible for driving a decline in self-confidence among young people by exclusively promoting content posted by stereotypically beautiful creators and incorporating beauty-enhancing filters into their interfaces.

It’s not uncommon for users of social media to learn of a new beauty standard in one TikTok, only to discover tips on how to meet it in the clip that follows.

Inside Ulta Beauty stores, sales associates are noticing this trend. Rather than being asked to recommend fun eyeshadow shades for Girls’ Night Out, young customers are increasingly coming in and expressing self-doubt about their appearance.

This has led Ulta’s employees to say they ‘feel like a therapist’ while working the shop floor — and Ulta Beauty is listening. In response, the company is launching a new internal training program called A Toolkit for Joy.

It aims to educate its 53,000 sales associates on strategies and tools to identify and disrupt their own inner critics so that they can help in-store customers do the same.



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The making of A Toolkit for Joy

While many of us may roll our eyes at this initiative – I visit beauty supply stores to enhance my natural features, not in spite of them, thank you very much! – the scheme was built on some pretty tangible (and shocking) research.

In August of this year, Ulta Beauty called upon YouGov to survey 5,000 teens across America. They found that the number one obstacle to young people’s joy is their strong inner critic.

When asked about their inner voice, 93 percent of Gen Z said that negative self-talk impacted their ability to experience joy in day-to-day life. More than 74 percent of Gen Z said that negative self-talk happens so often that they don’t even realise when they’re engaging in it.

Without being aware of our inner critic, it is almost impossible to break the cycle of repetitive negative thought patterns. Psychologists say this continued way of thinking reduces our self-confidence, deters us from making positive changes in our lives, and can lead to feelings of depression.

According to YouGov’s findings, the most pervasive worries for young people were involved in physical wellbeing and appearance, body image, and questioning their own worthiness of success, achievement, or personal validation.

So how does this manifest in beauty stores?

Well, sales associates report hearing comments like, ‘I’m too old to wear that product’ or ‘I can’t pull off that look’. Others will simply admit that they don’t feel confident and are looking for products that will help them eliminate or hide a perceived flaw.

Through the Toolkit for Joy program, sales associates will be armed with the knowledge to recognise their own internal critic and transform it through positive affirmation. The hope is that, afterward, they will be able to share these helpful tips with customers shopping at Ulta Beauty.

Some Ulta employees are already doing this, according to comments on the company’s Instagram announcement about Toolkit for Joy: ‘Yes!! I work at Ulta and I always tell customers, it’s makeup! It’s just fun! We’re just playing! If you don’t like the colour, we can try another.’



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Altering the approach

If I said that existing campaigns aimed at dismantling decades of unattainable beauty standards have been completely successful, I’d be lying.

You only have to glance up at the above statistics to realise that the approaches of the #bodypositivemovement, natural beauty movement, ‘your skin is in’ trend, etc. haven’t been that impactful.

Being exposed to images of ‘perfect’ faces and bodies at a rate like never before is clearly taking a toll despite these efforts – and young people are feeling it most of all.

This is why Ulta Beauty’s approach has the potential to change the game.

It doesn’t try to pretend that unrealistic beauty standards don’t exist. Nor does try to overpower the marketing campaigns that promote them by force-feeding us a replacement ideology embellished with self-love.

Instead, it takes a more psychological route. It asks us to stop and observe the way we think about ourselves, acknowledge our own inner critic, and ask it ‘why?’ so that we can break unhealthy patterns.

They do say that acknowledging is the first step to recovery, after all.

Of course, the sceptic in me is willing to admit this is a great marketing tactic on behalf of Ulta. If successful, it may encourage customers to start buying bold makeup products that were harder to sell, back when most people weren’t brave or confident enough to go near them.

But why be cynical? Any approach taken by beauty companies to help people see themselves in a better light is hard to fault – even if admitting to the root of the problem makes us blush.