But this time, I was truly perplexed. In my many decades on earth, my skin has been dry, cracked, scratched, torn, cut, burned and occasionally decorated with warts, pimples, moles, and bug bites. To my knowledge, it has never been fatigued.
The moment gave rise to a feeling of nausea, anger, and, oddly enough, fatigue! After years of being marketed to in this alarmist, condescending, idiotic way, I’d had enough. This was the straw.
(If someone would please provide me with a camel’s back, or a less-overused metaphor, I’d appreciate it.)
I’ll put aside for the moment, the meta-issue here, which is the implication that the perfection of our skin is (or should be) a priority for women. Instead, let’s get right to the grammar of it.
I don’t want “less dark spots” on my skin. If anything, I want fewer dark spots on my skin. (And I’m not even so sure about that.)
Next, I do not think it is possible to “hydrate dryness.” If you hydrated dryness, wouldn’t it be…wetness?
Moving on: Being your best beautiful.
Where do I begin? “Best” is an adjective and should not be used to modify or describe another adjective. And “beautiful” is an adjective. To use it as a noun implies that it is an object, a discreet thing, or perhaps that it is an intention you can realize. Even its relative, “beauty,” is not to be possessed or achieved in the way these ads suggest.
Next, I do not believe in Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, or the Easter Bunny.
Nor do I believe in “A New Day for Skin.”
Moving on, “Volumizing” is not a word.
Getting down to the real issue: the term “skincare” is a misnomer. Caring for your skin is not about putting stuff on it, aside from sunscreen. It’s about being as healthy as you can and not abusing it. If you want to try to slow some inevitable change in it, OK, good. Go ahead and try. But let’s not call it “skincare.” That’s not a real thing.
There are real maladies of the skin, and people suffer terribly because of these, both physically and socially. One of the greatest risks to skin is sun exposure. Wearing sunscreen and preventing sunburn are important. Having bad acne is nothing to laugh about. And serious diseases often have concomitant skin problems. Even in the healthiest person, as the skin ages, a layer of fat diminishes and the skin becomes more fragile. I’m not talking about any of those real concerns.
I’m talking about purely invented problems, like “uneven skin tone,” “loss of firmness,” and, the most humiliating of all, “lack of radiance.”
The language of “skincare” offers expensive solutions for these cooked-up problems, as we are told that we need to “trap moisture,” “replenish”, “renew”, “correct” or even “repair damage.” For those who have lost all respect for the English language, there is even a brand “Revitalift.”
Along these lines, we have phrases like…
“Plumps skin cells.”
The most recent piece of disturbing news these nonsense speakers are broadcasting is that my lips are aging more rapidly than the rest of my skin. This disparity, unnoticed by me before I was so informed, can be addressed by a new kind of lip stuff. Thank goodness.
And that’s the point of all this. If there’s no problem, then there’s no market for a solution to that problem. No illness, no need for a cure. Though it’s done with a bit more subtlety than the man-in-the-lab-coat-ads of the 70’s, the industry devoted to selling women products to change their skin is still largely built on a medical model, albeit with a more holistic, alternative-medicine aesthetic. Ironically, these ads capitalize on the fact of our growing health-consciousness. The yoga mat is a popular accessory prop in these ads, though the advertisers fail to point out that a woman’s skin is more likely to glow from yoga than it is from their expensive goo.
And for those of you out there thinking, “what’s the harm?” Why is she bothering to take the time to attack the lousy, incorrect, sloppy, misleading language that these unethical fear mongers use to get us to buy their crappy little bottles of goo?
Because it is harmful. The images are harmful. The implications are harmful. The distraction from things that really can improve our lives and the lives of those around us is harmful. And these days, quite often, the goo itself is harmful.
Many, many items on this loosely-regulated market are using hormones. Specifically, they contain phytoestrogens that mimic the body’s own hormones and can wreak havoc on the thyroid gland, in a world where various kinds of thyroid diseases are already on the rise due to environmental pollution. (Insert second rant about estrogens in plastics here.) As one endocrinologist told me recently, he now has to add a question when speaking with his patients: What are you putting on your skin?
Also, if you read the very fine print on many of those “anti-aging” elixirs, you’ll see that in many cases you are not supposed to use them before you go out in the sun. So not only are they not helping, they’re increasing the very real risk of sun damage. Lovely.
That these products are marketed to women at an age of increased risk of thyroid disease, namely menopause, and in a world where the ozone is thinning, leaving us at potentially greater risk for sun damage including cancer, it is all so unethical that I need to take a deep breath before I continue.
Ah. (Unlike these products, oxygen is good for the skin:)
Disclaimer: I’m not saying don’t have fun with your toilette. I’m just saying, don’t be a sucker.
I remember the moment I first felt excited about these sorts of products. I was on vacation the summer I turned 13. I walked in to a drug store. It was the same drug store I’d been to on many previous summer vacations, usually to buy candy. That summer, I came upon the aisle filed with lotions, face creams, and cleansers. I remember thinking: all of these things have been here every summer, my whole life. How is it I never noticed them before now? They seemed to me edible, delicious, inviting me to womanhood.
It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with my skin. Or hair. Or body. But I felt like a wizard’s apprentice, ready to begin my experiments. Transformation was what the products offered. It seemed to me self-evidently desirable.
Better than candy.
Now, I’m saddened that I have to tell that young girl inside of me that there’s a man behind the curtain who made the whole thing up. And worse. Knowing as we do that most of these companies engage in torturing animals, it becomes even more difficult to take any part in keeping them in business.
I say torturing, not “testing on” animals because “Animal Testing” evokes an image of a bunch of cartoon horses, sitting at desks with Number 2 pencils ready to take the SATs, or maybe anima-tronic cats punching holes in multiple choice forms. Let’s put the misnomer “Animal Testing” out to pasture, along with “Skincare.”
So what’s the truth of the matter?
Even if you accept the premise that not all of us have skin as lovely as we’d like to have, and that we want, of all the problems in the world, to address this one. Or that caring for our skin, even pampering it is enjoyable and nurturing and good for us. Or that looking our best helps us show a positive face to the world. Even if all that is so, and I believe it is, these companies do not deliver anything close to what they promise.
A few years back, I ran into an old college friend on the street in New York. Since our time as undergrads, he’d gone on to a successful career as a fashion photographer. He was just heading to his studio to work on some photos he’d taken of Miss Universe. As he put it: “Even Miss Universe needs Photoshop.”
We all know it. The women in these ads, don’t really look like that!
In 2011, an ad by Lancôme featuring Julia Roberts was banned in the UK, after a group called the Advertising Standards Authority ruled against the company in a complaint filed by a British MP, who accused the ad of being misleading. The heavily-retouched ad was for a product called “Teint Miracle.” An ad for a product from Maybelline called “The Eraser” featuring Christy Turlington was also banned. Lancôme and Maybelline are both part of L’Oréal, as is the formerly-progressive company, The Body Shop.
If there were any truth in advertising to be had, all of these companies would have to include in their ads the suggestions that we reorder our lives so that we…
Make sure to get enough sleep,
Take plenty of exercise,
Drink lots of water,
And, importantly, do some research and trial and error to make sure that our diet does not include items to which we are sensitive or allergic.
They might even suggest that we do more to be of service, or that we don’t hang around people who stress us out, or stay in jobs we hate, or spend too much time in the car, watching TV, or on the computer, or reading ads about “skincare” with completely unattainable standards of beauty.
For those who were hoping for some “skincare” tips in this post, I apologize. Of course I have my own tricks. I will tell you that there is very little that cannot be accomplished, whether moisturizing, shaving, or makeup removal, with a run-of-the-mill, organic hair conditioner, which will run you about seven bucks for eighteen-ounces. And I love essential oils...
See how easy it is to sidetracked? It’s not so easy to opt out of this how-you-look is how-you-are assumption that is so prevalent in our culture. It’s a moral code that equates appearance with value, and it’s got its hooks in.
Personally, I wish I’d opted out of it more, and sooner. Over the years I’ve spent hundreds, or maybe even thousands of dollars on products I’ve used three times and then thrown away. Not because of a feminist principle I hold, but because they don’t work. They don’t improve my skin. And they don’t fulfill the promise behind the promise: they don’t improve my life.
What might you do with 144 dollars and fifty cents?
That’s what Clinique, one of the most medical-aesthetic “Skin Care” companies wants from you for 3.4 ounces of its “clinical dark spot corrector,” which you should not use before you go out in the sun, by the way. For its “Custom-repair serum”, it asks 154 dollars, but that’s because it’s a serum, which implies that it fights pathogens of some kind. Maybe it fights gullibility pathogens.
Or maybe it fights racism. I’m not hearing a lot of language from Clinique about the fact that if its product removes dark spots, it likely also makes you look whiter. How long do you think these companies could get away with what they do if they were required to use plain, or even accurate language?
“Our cream removes a layer of skin and bleaches the raw skin underneath, making you more prone to sun cancer while looking whiter!” Uh, could somebody get the FTC on the phone? How are they allowed to sell this s#@t!
Think of what a hundred and fifty bucks would buy in fruits and vegetables. You could get a massage for that, or buy a dozen books on your favorite subject. Or a month pass for yoga classes. You could become a sustaining member at any number of wildlife refuges. You could put it in a retirement account, and by the time you’re eighty, it might pay your rent for a couple of days.
In his book, Walden, Henry David Thorough tells us to “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Taken out of context, it sounds as if he is knocking variety, or extravagance. But the essence of the paragraph is that our focus should be on the person within the suit of clothes, the part of us that “cannot be removed.” Thoreau suggests that a person should live in such a way that “if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.”
Of the outfit itself, the shoes, the jacket, etc., Thoreau says simply that if they are fit to worship God in, “they will do.”
Taking the skin as a metaphor, it is in some ways like our clothes, our layer of protection from the world, and also our first point of contact. But it is also something that reveals, and perhaps is meant to reveal, who we are. To show the world nott only our heritage, but what we have been through in life. To show our age.
Thoreau also points to self-acceptance in that paragraph, and that is the question we skip when we are drowning under waves of self-improvement. Do we accept ourselves as of value, as we are? Put another way, given whatever we believe to be holy, is our face fit to worship?
I dare say it is.
And I’ll dare a step further, and paraphrase Thoreau:
Beware of all enterprises that require you to wish for a new kind of skin.