Manufactured Discontent

Many years ago, a friend mentioned in passing that she never wore shorts because of her fat knees. I had never given the girth of my own knees a single solitary thought, but I immediately began scrutinizing them. And yes, they were saggy and weird and kinda fat-looking. Now, I had something new to worry about.

Over the course of this blog, I’ve received several comments and e-mails instructing me to “get a tan.” Rather forcefully and with the implication that my pasty whiteness was an absolute affront. It had never occurred to me that my pale skin was marking me as an unstylish person. Now, I had something new to worry about.*

A few months back, Dove launched a new campaign for their Ultimate Deodorant. In it, they informed us that the VAST majority of women believe their own underarms to be unsightly and assured us that use of their deodorant would give us the pits of our dreams. And I totally get that underarms can break out and get discolored, and that some folks may be THRILLED to have a product that’ll help. But, again, I found myself thinking, “Holy crap, I’ve never even looked closely at my own underarms.” Now, I have something new to worry about.

I use concealer on my zits and dark circles. I pencil in my brows. I shave my legs and paint my toenails and someday I’m fairly sure I’ll dye my gray hairs. And I’m generally pretty grateful for the products and procedures that I utilize to gently alter my appearance. But I try to keep an eye out for manufactured discontent, stealthy marketing that targets my body confidence. I try to be alert for messages that purport to be helpful but are really just insidious ploys to inspire inferiority complexes, and encourage spending to cure them.

It’s one thing to work with what you’ve got, it’s another to eradicate what you’ve got and replace it with something far less unique. We’re humans. We get to look like humans. Bumps and ridges, bulges and wrinkles, curves and planes and hairs that stick out at odd angles are what MAKE us human. When we accept that we should hate those things and take pains to change them, we are agreeing to make ourselves less and less human.

Knees are fat, even on celebrities. Without saggy folds of skin, we couldn’t WALK. Skin comes in a huge variety of shades and tones and textures, and all of them are gorgeous. Underarms are lumpy and prickly. And unless you spend all day reaching for stuff on high shelves in full view of highly critical beauty experts, it doesn’t matter at all.

Most of us struggle enough to love and accept our bodies without manufactured discontent. Keep your eyes open and your shields up. You don’t need that crap.

*OK, not really. I could care less if people think I’m too pale. But those comments made me pause, and cock my head, and consider a previously ignored aspect of my physical form in a new light.

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  • Anonymous

    As far as “manufactured discontent” goes, Stephen Colbert *nailed* it in this must-watch video: http://racked.com/archives/2011/04/14/stephen-colbert-calls-out-dove-for-profiteering-off-womens-insecurities.php . My favorite is the “boats of immigrants” part.

    • Christine

      Yes! I was just about to post this, it’s one of my favorites and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all through this post. Highly recommended :-).

    • Sal

      I love that man. And I remember seeing this segment and loving him even harder.

      • Tina Fey has a very funny take as well in “Bossypants” in which she lists the alleged “deficiencies” that women buy products to correct. See the second quote here: http://niklasblog.com/?p=6738 (And if you haven’t read “Bossypants,” you really must! Even better, get the audiobook, read by Ms. Fey herself.)

  • B

    Those comments others make that cause you to pause and consider a previously ignored aspect of yourself (paleness); I suggest you consider how those people must be feeling about themselves to try and make you feel bad! They must be miserable in their own skin. You are lovely just he way you are, and your new hairdo rocks!

  • Clearly I’m totally naive, but I’m still surprised readers tell you to get a tan! Yikes.

    “Without saggy folds of skin, we couldn’t WALK.” I’m laughing at that! Thanks for pointing out the obvious, and making me laugh in the process.

    I’m guessing as long as we have advertisers, we’ll have manufactured discontent. But we’ll be so much healthier and happier if we realize what they’re up to–so we don’t plunge into discouragement about the appearance of our armpits!

  • Oh noes. Now my underarms are up for critique too? It’s hard to keep up with Madison Avenue.

    I’m as pale as you, and share your attitude. I’m pale! It doesn’t have to be corrected. (I do wear blush though).

  • AMEN! The diatribe about underarms just made me laugh though… Anyone being that critical of how my underarms look is either a.) a doctor or b.) invading my personal space. πŸ˜‰ lol. I guess I too have just never given them that close of a look and thought about if they’re unsightly? I have read a few reviews for expensive trimmers and razors for that (and other) region, and always scratched my head about the whole thing. I guess to me, pits are hairy, sweaty and pretty gross. That’s just life. I keep things looking trim and figure that smooth armpits are the things of myth (or Photoshop). πŸ˜‰ (I also think a lot about how weird the phenomena of shaving is–it’s such a modern thing! In past centuries people were hairy–and that obviously didn’t seem to bother anyone. πŸ˜‰

    Now that I’ve rambled enough about hairy armpits (I love that we can freely talk about weird stuff like that on your blog! ;)…

    You’re so right about many of these uber-perfecting products taking away vital bits of what makes us each individuals. My biggest soap-box over the years was to always avoid looking plastic. Yes, I use products to cover some things up, but I don’t go looking to completely erase my imperfections. That’s just how I am, and I think keeping those imperfections makes me realize how beautiful being a unique human is. I’m not like anyone else! Do aspects still bother me? Yes. But that’s also part of being human. πŸ˜‰

  • I’m new to your blog and would usually wait a few weeks before commenting, but this post is excellent!! You’ve totally hit the nail on the head regarding the whole ‘something new to worry about’ thing. And, like you said, too often manufacturers play on this to create “flaws”. It’s very messed up, really.

    As for your pale skin, I think it’s gorgeous, and where I live, people LOVE pasty whiteness (which is great, because I’m almost always uber pasty white), so πŸ˜› to the haters!! πŸ˜€

  • Kat

    In college I was recruitment chair for my sorority and when we were picking out polo shirts for the chapter to wear for house tours, another sister worried about whether or not a certain style would make us look as if we had fat arms.

    Until that point in my life, I had given absolutely zero thought to ANYONE’s arms, much less my own. Ever. And after that I started looking at arms everywhere because that girl planted the seed. It’s horrible to say, but every time I see her now, I remember that interaction and try to keep things brief.

  • Beckee

    A very insightful and on point perspective. I am freakishly pale with dark hair, too. I have been told to get a tan, as well.

  • Jessica

    Who ARE these people that instruct you to get a tan? Seriously! I have read your previous posts on having fair skin (or skin color in general) and replied to those too, but every time I read about a fair-skinned beauty getting crap for her natural color, it makes me break out in angry hives! WTF!!

  • Sigi

    Dammit, I *love* being pale and interesting. My fair skin contrasts rather nicely with my dark hair and blue eyes, IMHO. If anyone comments on my paleness (no matter what their actual implication/intention), I always thank them for the ‘compliment’ and make sure they understand that this is something I appreciate about myself, and am not going to compromise in the name of compliance with some arbitrary fashion/standard.

    I mean, seriously – would they tell a darker-skinned person that they’re ‘too brown’?? (Oh *that* would go down well, wouldn’t it …)

    • Yes, some people are definitely willing to call others “too brown”, and some darker-skinned women feel great pressure to lighten their skin.

      • Sigi

        Wow, if you publicly told a dark-skinned person they should lighten their skin in my country, there’d be political and social hell to pay!!!

    • I couldn’t concur more with you! I’ve always stuck out, (literally), in the crowd because I’ve refused to follow the tan craze. I too have fair skin, dark hair and blue eyes and I’m always been admired for my colouring. I consider my pale skin to be one of my greatest assets and I go to great lengths to maintain it. Don’t get me wrong, there are those whom bronze complexions suit beautifully, but there’s something about a porcelain tone that gives an air of classical beauty and elegance. Don’t you listen to those emotional skunks. You my dear, are gorgeous! Don’t ever forget that.

  • People seriously email you and tell you you are too pale? That is so rude! Haven’t they read the title of your blog?!?! ALREADY pretty, people!!!

  • This made me chuckle!
    Yes, it seems in the pursuit of sales, many companies are dreaming up new insecurities for us ladies! I have always had extremely sensitive skin, so to avoid the irritation brought on by hidden ingredients, I became immune to much of the babble in the “beauty/hygiene” media. I color my grays because I don’t like to wear a lot of cosmedics and by covering my gray hair, my skin tone is much healthier (to my eyes!). My underarms being ugly? Please! I do not walk around with my arms in the air! As long as my underarms are not irritated, I am happy! Am I too pale? Who cares? As long as I feel good, it is purely my business!

    When did we decide we had to put such uncomfortable and unrealistic expectations on ourselves? And each other?

  • ParisGrrl

    I’ve used that deodorant for a couple of years now, purely for its hair minimizing ingredients, which have worked well for me. But now that I know my armpits are gorgeous as a side-result, I can sleep even better at night. My verdict on the Dove: silly campaign, good product.

  • Moi

    So much for Dove’s older campaign to promote body acceptance in their ads by featuring different body shapes…….This shame campaign suggests that their attitude was just a marketing ploy…..Shame on Dove!

  • Liz Remus

    I think the pale skin is a cultural beauty “standard” especially in our culture. I would like pale skin to make a comeback! Skin cancer scares me and I know there are safe alternatives to tanning but the issue still stands on image modification. Thank for you for this blog, I think all the things you said needed to be said, and you are a role model for me. πŸ™‚

  • I just saw the Family Guy episode where Peter is running down the street naked and Mayor West sees him and says, “Ugh, get a tan.”

    Just thought I’d share that.

  • You forgot to mention the feet. I mean, EVERYBODY just HAS to have silky smooth feet, especially the soles and especially when walking around barefoot a lot in the summer. Oh, you mean callosities are an invention of nature to protect my feet when I do exactly that? But they look so baaaad! *sadface*

    OMG I’m just kidding. You are exactly right. Who has the time for all that upkeep (and worrying) while being a woman (which usually includes working, being a mom, a lover, a wife, a friend and a cleaning lady… and sometimes a blogger.)? Jeez. We’d all do better with thick skin (callosities anyone? ^^) πŸ™‚

    Relatable Style

    • Kate K

      I absolutely despise pedicures because I don’t like it when my feet slide around in my sandals from the lack of calluses and an excess of lotion.

    • ha seriously! whenever i get a pedicure my feet always hurt from the friction until my calluses start to grow back. thanks calluses!

  • Dove has had a LOT of fail and a lot of bad choices in their marketing, and a lot of less-than-truths. However, this deodorant is pretty badass. I never buy women’s deodorant – I have worn men’s Old Spice deodorant for about 10 years. I love that stuff. I still buy it, but now I ALSO buy the Dove stuff above – it doesn’t smell super girly, and it actually does slow down hair regrowth, which is awesome. And it does make my underarms a little bit nicer looking, which actually matters to me, mostly because it gives me one less thing to stress over.

  • Amanda

    Amen! This is how I feel about teeth whiteners. It’s like overnight it was no longer enough to brush and floss. Now we have to strive for unnaturally gleaming white. Another thing to cause potential self-consciousness, even if we’re still holding out (which I am).

    • Erica

      I agree completely about teeth whitening! I’ve always had good oral hygene (brush twice a day, floss, never had a cavity). Then a couple years ago I started seeing Crest Whitestrips and similar products advertised everywhere. My mother-of-pearl coloured teeth were nowhere near as white as the actors/models and I started to think I needed to do something about it. A few months after that I went to the dentist for my annual check-up and the dental hygenist told me I had “such white teeth! Some people pay $200 to get teeth as white as yours!” That ended all my insecurity right there. I have much more faith in the opinion of a dental professional than someone who is trying to sell me something. Even if my teeth aren’t as white as paper, I’m ok with it now.

      As to the Dove underarm stuff: when I was a teen I had a combination of razor burn and dark hair/pale skin discolouration under my arms. If this product had come out then I would have been all over it. Since then I’ve switched to shaving less frequently which cleared up the razor burn. I was still considering buying this, but watching that Steven Colbert video and reading blogs like this are making me think twice. I guess I don’t really care if my underarms are beautiful, so why spend money on it?

      • my dentist has actually suggested that I get enamels put on my teeth because the surfaces of my front teeth are kind of wavy (dunno why, dentists have never been able to agree on one cause) but I refuse. So they’re a little stained. I drink coffee every day. Part of me feels like this is just owning my caffeine habit ( and whatever, I live in seattle, who ISN’T jazzed on espresso?). Besides, those whiteners weaken your tooth enamel – they’re bad news! I’d rather have healthy teeth and some coffee staining than perfectly white teeth and problems with cavities or sensitivity.

        • Erika A

          Re: coffee and tea stains – if you get regular cleanings the cleaning will remove the stains each time, leaving no permanent marks on the teeth. This made me much happier to drink coffee.

          Nicotine stains on the other hand…those are a bit harder to remove.

      • Erika A

        I’m glad you were able to make peace with your teeth after getting a positive comment from your hygienist! Your comment made me smile in remembrance of my own helpful-dentist-comment story. My teeth are mineralized in a weird pattern from growing up drinking very hard water, and I have some big white spots on my front teeth. I’ve never been bothered by it, but some people think it’s unsightly. Years ago when I was about to move to California, I had a last checkup with my hometown dentist in central NY state. My dentist leaned over the chair at the end of the appointment and said, very seriously, “Don’t let anyone in California tell you that your teeth are ugly and to whiten them. They look fine just the way they are and you have very good, healthy teeth.” It made me feel like I was being given permission to make teeth whitening a personal choice, rather than something I *should* do just because someone told me my heretofore JUST FINE teeth were ugly.

  • Francesca

    This makes me laugh. A few years ago, my friend in her 30’s said she quit wearing shorts, not even bermudas, because she had unsightly wrinkles on her knees. (Of course she says on a day when I am wearing a short skirt).

    Holy cow! I never even thought to look to my knees for wrinkles; I thought the face, neck and hands was where one was most prone to be judged for wrinkles. I was taken aback by her comment, but heck with it! I proudly wear shorts even as I approach age 50, wrinkled knees be damned. Life’s too short to worry about other people’s judgment of our body parts. I’m happy to be healthy!

  • Bubu

    Thanks once again for keeping things real/realistic, Sal (and gorgeous new haircut, been meaning to say that!)… I was struck recently that for most of history almost no one had mirrors – the occasional still stream was it for seeing your self, beyond that you depended on what others might tell you and then just went about your business. Hard to believe that in today’s world. And I occasionally realize that the faces of the people around me are far more familiar than my own because I see them so much more, which may be why photos of myself always throw me for a loop. Not totally on topic, I realize, but I think one is happier with just a little less navel (and face) gazing…

  • Michelle

    Another Amen Sal. Wow, manufactured discontent, I had never heard of that, but so true! How many different ways can we find to point out “flaws” in each other, jeez.

    I am, however, always surprised that people are still telling others to get a tan? What the?? If anyone says that to me now, I just tell them that my father is currently being treated for skin cancer (he will recover), so no thanks.
    I used to be teased mercilessly for my pale skin and I suffered through many a sunburn to try and achieve that tan that everyone thought I should have. Guess what, I burn and fade, it’s not worth it. I’m comfortable enough now to stay under an umbrella at the beach. People don’t actually believe I’m 40, and comment on what beautiful, wrinkle free skin I have. I was nearly denied entrance at a bar the same night as my 20th high school reunion! The bouncer let all my same age friends in and demanded to see my ID. Take that sun worshiping bullies!

  • Cel

    The only time I worry about my armpits: If I was wearing a long sleeved item over a non-sleeved item, then removed it… and whether or not it left lint in my underarms XD

  • I swear, the best things I have done beauty wise are to stick to watching TV via streaming (no commercials) and not buy fashion magazines (no ads). Soooo much less manufactured discontent. I realize that’s not a viable solution for everyone, but I get sucked into that stuff way too easily.

    I have vitiligo, which means I have patches of skin with no pigment. I’m super pale, so normally it’s hardly noticeable. But if I get even the slightest bit of sun, it does show up more. A girl in high school told me she’d never wear shorts if she looked like that…and I stopped wearing them. For years. No shorts or short skirts. It was ridiculous. I got past that — well, I still don’t wear shorts, but that’s because it’s never warm enough here — and recently I got curious and asked a few of my guy friends if it was really that unattractive. Most of them? Had never even noticed.

    We are conditioned to be so critical, especially self-critical. And it doesn’t benefit anyone.

    • Caroline

      I think I have vitiligio, also. I have some very white patches, mostly on my hips and upper thighs, so they’re pretty easy to hide. But I don’t really care about them as much as I used to. I don’t like wearing shorts anyways because they’re usually too short for my liking, but nobody I know seems to care. My boyfriend has never said anything about it πŸ™‚

      • for the record i had a friend in high school with vitiligio and i always thought she looked awesome. it helped that she had it in her hair too, so she had two white streaks right at the part like rogue (x men, yes i’m a nerd). anyways, i thought it was neat.

  • Sal

    Oh friends, how I adore you. Believe me, the “get a tan” comments merely amuse me. And it’s not like I’m getting a steady stream of them! Just a handful have rolled in over the years. They stand out in my mind because they seem so truly, utterly bizarre to me.

  • It is comical how advertisers bring our flaws to our attention as if they’re doing us a favor. I remember a year or two ago when I found out that women were having their…umm, *bums* bleached. Talk about another thing to worry about!

    • Tracyellen1619

      Yes! Yes! When I first heard about anal bleaching, I just about died. I plead guilty to having a certain amount of vanity, but I’m fairly certain that I don’t care how my anus looks.

    • pope suburban

      It gets worse, believe it or not. Or equally as bad, I’m really not sure. A year or so ago, some enterprising people put out a product called “My Pink Button,” which is, not to mince words, blush for your lady bits. Because clearly, having Red Dye #30 down there is going to be much less surprising and off-putting than whatever color nature intended. So, so weird and unnecessary.

  • Jessica

    I agree with your post on the whole, and this is really not on the same topic, but I do feel that it is important to add that some of these products that fix “problems” can actually be quite harmful. I do use deodorant in spite of some quite convincing links to Alzheimer’s and breast cancer because I think that the benefits to me outweigh the risk. But adding in another mystery ingredient to suppress another natural function (hair growth) seems suspicious to me. I remember the “lash serum” from a few years ago that was pulled because it led to blindness in a few cases.

    • pope suburban

      I just have to do a shout-out to Tom’s of Maine here. They do more natural-ingredient-based products, so their deodorant is at least safer than the alternatives (No aluminum, for one thing, which I seem to remember as a big part of the Alzheimer’s concern). I tried their deodorant out a few years back and I don’t think I’ll ever leave them. It works, and it comes in some really great scents. I adore the woodspice in particular. I think Tom’s is worth checking out if you’re trying to balance long-term health and hygiene.

  • Jessica Schiermeister

    Pale skin was the epitome of beauty in Elizabethan and Victorian English society. Women purposefully avoided the sun to remain so.

    Keep up that attitude!! I’m pale as snow too, and find it much more comforting than those girls my age constantly tanning. You’re a great role model and I really enjoy your blog. :}

  • Kate K

    I definitely bought this deodorant two years ago. I’ve also purchased a few of those crazy “skin firming” or “cellulite reducing” types of lotion over the years. They usually get used once, I realize how silly they are and how much I don’t like them and then they get put away in a drawer in my bathroom.

    This spring, I was doing some cleaning and I came across about 10 bottles of skin firming lotion and that stupid deodorant. I dumped out the lotion and threw away the deodorant and felt so. much. better.

    What’s interesting is that this summer, I started wearing sleeveless dresses and tank tops out in public, without blazers and cardigans. And just this Saturday, I went to the local beach and lounged around in my swimsuit, whereas in the past I would get out of the water and automatically throw on my coverup. I’m not saying the two are related but it is interesting! πŸ˜€

  • pope suburban

    I’ve never thought about my pits either. And honestly, even assuming that there are people out there who would spend time craning necks and waiting for a chance to look at them so they can be critical, I can’t say as I care because that is ten shades of fucked up. They’re armpits! You can’t even see them most of the time! If anything, Dove has made me grateful to live where I do, since the natural look is embraced just as much as the magazine-processed look. Whoops, they drove me right out of their product’s arms, but I think I’ll live.

    In a weird way, I think growing up with a lot of body-related self-loathing protects me from a lot of this manufactured discontent. I already know that I will not please all of the people, all of the time, and I have more or less gotten over that. Hearing it again doesn’t faze me. And sometimes, a statement intended to make me feel insecure makes me think, and makes me ask myself if I would not really like to take care of myself in a different way. This never results in me buying the product that was advertised in such a way (I don’t give money to that kind of negative thing), but it does lead me to try new things and think about how I feel about what I am doing and what I think is important.

  • Ruth

    LOVE this post! I’d add just one thing. We not only get to look human, we get to look our age. When I see an ad telling me to do this that or the other in order to “turn back the clock” I just change the channel and add another product to my list of “never buy that crap” items. I’m 48, and I get to look 48 — there’s nothing wrong with being and looking 48. I want to look good for my age, but I don’t want to look younger. I’ve been 25, 30, 35, and I’ve looked 25, 30, 35 — once was enough!

  • as always, I love your posts Sal. And I cant believe people would email and tell you to get a tan… .

    xoxo J

  • As one who spent her youth in the 1960s and 70s, although women had fewer opportunities in the work world, we also had a wider latitude in personal grooming.

  • Anna

    “We’re humans. We get to look like humans.”

    Stand up and cheer!

    Thanks, Sal. This is superb.

  • Mia

    I don’t think this is something we can ever be reminded too much of. (Constant vigilance! Haha.) For years and years I didn’t care a whit about how I looked, and I rarely felt pressured by the media to have longer, silkier hair or, god forbid, prettier armpits, but these days when I am feeling anxious about other things, this sort of thinking can slip through the cracks. Does my breaking-out make me look immature and inexperienced at work? Do my untweezed eyebrows make me look unprofessional? I love to look clean and groomed, but I try to keep the primping to a minimum, because the smaller worries tend to eclipse the bigger worries.

    I wish I had a copy on me so I could scan the pages I’m thinking of, but there’s a great part in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis II where she mentions how the Iranian government started cracking down on women’s appearance, and how worrying about whether one’s hair is showing or if one’s pants are too provocative kept women from questioning the government’s right to control this sort of thing in the first place. Appearance is definitely important to me, but it’s so easy to have it become all-encompassing when in reality there are bigger fish to fry.

    • Erin

      YES. I feel like I worry about this stuff so much more at work than I ever did as a teen, which is sad.

  • “Pits of our dreams” made me laugh and laugh. Thanks, Sally.

  • I couldn’t agree more!

  • Kristin

    They tell you to get a tan? It’s interesting that they think it’s okay to criticize the color of a person’s skin! I think you look fabulous the way you are.

    (FYI – The idea that deodorants cause cancer has not been definitively proven. Check out the Mayo Clinic website.)

  • A day or two ago I was slumped in a chair, wearing my bra and squodging my middle with disatisfaction while pulling faces at MrK. He pointed out that if you didn’t crinkle like that when curled over, when you straightened there would be a gap. There followed some banter about how cool it would be to have a small black hole in your torso you could control by posture. Often the manufactured discontent seems to be about basic facts of life like that tummies fold when even the slimmest person bends over or that our skin should look poreless (like a CGI character) which is just freaky if you ask me. Pores are important!

    As for deodorant, as a gardener I probably should remember to wear it more. But when I forget (most days) it’s not like I stink the street out. I smell like someone who has been working hard outdoors, because that’s what I am. MrK, who is a teacher, was once asked by a pupil what ‘spray’ he used. None, he replied. The kid, shocked, asked why he didn’t smell. MrK replied ‘Because I wash’. In normal circumstances regular washing is all we really need IMO.

  • This reminds me of those commercial that warns that there be STAINS BETWEEN YOUR TEETH!! so we need to buy their toothpaste. Um, what? I need to cosmetically alter something that no one can see? That’s like getting cosmetic surgery on your galbladder. What’s the point.

  • Trezlen

    Dear Sal:

    You are supposed to be white since you are white. I wonder if the same people who suggested that you get a tan would tell me, or even treat me differently because, I am “too dark”?

    Here’s a little pick-me-up to counter negativity: http://youtu.be/Qw3Z8Oa7E3Y.

    Thanks for your blogging!

  • Embrace your paleness. As someone who used to be a lot darker because of tanning, I’m often considered not “Filipino” enough, like my sister and my mom, because I’m paler. I like to think I’m being healthier with my body because I don’t spend as much time in the sun…

    I still have a lot of hesitation towards the Dove “Love Your Body” campaign. When I was in undergrad, we studied it in advertising classes. While it comes off as a self-love/confidence thing that is refreshing in ads (women who are not models who are comfortable in their bodies), it’s still a marketing campaign that tries to sell products to get women to supposedly feel that way about themselves. Which makes it disingenuous to me.

  • Pingback: links for 2011-08-04 « Embololalia()

  • There was a fabulous line in a movie I saw ages ago – Campbell Scott played an advertising executive who, when explaining what he did to a kid, said “you can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad.” Never more true than speaking of the beauty industry.

  • Erin

    I’m way too worried about whether my pits are wet and stinky to have time to worry about how they look. Razor burn feels bad, but other than that I refuse to care. I refuse to tan. And I hate how campaigns (like the Dove one) for “real bodies” are perfectly happy to show women who wear, say, a size 18 because of the size of their hips/bum but would NEVER show a size 18 (like me) with a spare-tire belly. Horrors! Apparently only some kinds of real bodies count, which is total BS.

  • amen! My parents just visited me for a week and my mother’s harsh scrutiny of herself totally sparked one of those “oh shit, do I need to worry about this now?” moments for me. I’m working to try and delete that thought from my head now, because, honestly, it’s ridiculous. My mother says she has “back fat” that is squeezed by her bra into lumps and ridges. My mother is a size 32 bra. We all know that means she’s not fat; but she is 60 and she is sick and the skin is starting to lose its elasticity. AND she has sisters who are overweight, who talk about back fat all the time. I think this is where *she* picked up the insecurity (man alive! it’s like a virus!). She doesn’t want to wear spanx, but she literally told me in the dressing room that if I don’t have this “back fat,” then why does she? (answer: I’m 30, damnit.)

    Later, we went thrifting together. I scored some gorgeous things: a jcrew shirt, an anthro skirt, a velveteen peacoat, a vintage handknit german wool cardigan in perfect condition. My mom bought three oversized shirts. “To hide,” she said, patting her midsection. I realized then that there probably isn’t going to be much I can do to convince her that we’re the same size, that she isn’t fat. She points to how well stocked my closet is, how “great” I look, but is too entrenched in a mindset of punishing herself for being sick, for aging, to actually do the proactive thing and accept and flatter the new body.

    I really feel for her. I hate that my mom is always so down on herself. But at the same time, I feel a strong desire to distance myself from all that negativity. What is it about negative body image that is almost addictive? We seem to pick it up with the slightest suggestion, as if we were all eager for new opportunities to be dissatisfied with our bodies.

  • SamiJ

    It’s funny you mentioned ‘get a tan’ advice. I was just thinking this morning about my pale legs & how I should wear more dresses, but I don’t like to wear dresses in the summer (or strappy shoes for that matter) because you’re ‘not supposed to’ wear stockings. And I have super pale legs (that have bumps & blemishes), yet my knees are red.
    Then I thought of your web site, & I thought, ‘I have to check out Sally’s legs’ -[which is not because I believe you to be too pale, but because I think you are super stylish].

    • Sal

      I’m honored to be your dress-wearing, pale-legged inspiration, my dear!

  • This is awesome, and I so love Colbert.

    The glossy mags, the deodorant ads, it’s all a bunch of hoo-ee. When I worked in PR many moons ago I recall a specific (fake) interview with one of our celebrity clients. It was in InStyle and she answered all sorts of vitally important questions regarding her beauty products and fashion. Since this celebrity is quite famous (and still is) I’m sure lots of women read that and thought, “Oh wow, she’s so gorgeous and fabulous and cellulite free, let me go out and buy that crap.”

    Most of the beauty products were clients of our consumer products division, her favorite CD was another musician client, and the publicist answered much of the rest. To her credit this celebrity may have proofed the answers…but probably not. A bunch of hoo-ee.

  • Hetty

    A lot of products we use are due to advertising hype. Ever use mouth wash? Advertising hype used back when people courted before getting married. I use mouth wash. I brush my teeth with a specialized tooth brush instead of chewing a twig. I use soap with pretty smells in it. My shampoo and conditioner have matching scents. Deodorant? You betcha. Shave off lots of my body hair? Yep.

    All due to marketing.

    Supposedly my horribly greasy hair will cure itself if I don’t strip the oils out of it every day. Have a friend trying this experiment out. There is no way in heck I would attempt not washing my hair for weeks at a time.

    p.s. Telling someone to change their skin color is just plain rude.

  • Elizabeth Olesh

    I’ve seen this commercial several times and honestly have no idea what Dove is talking about. I’ve never even really thought about my underarms and I’m not going to start now.

  • Funnily enough I just lately looked closely at my knees and found I really don’t like them much! But it’s never occured to me to look under my arms (other than shaving of course!), think I’ll ignore that for now! πŸ™‚

  • Evelyn

    I see leg shaving as another manufactured discontent. I chose to stop shaving about nine years ago, and since then I’ve been more aware of the messages that we get about our body hair being ugly. Apparently lady leg/underarm shaving was both a response to new women’s fashions in the late teens and twenties, which showed skin that used to be covered up, and a way to sell razors to the other half of the population. I definitely don’t think it’s bad to shave, and I shave my underarms a couple times a year when I’m wearing a dress that I don’t think accessorizes very well with the fuzz. But I do think it’s a good example of advertisers convincing us that something perfectly normal is gross and should be treated with whatever product they sell.

  • I was told for many years I had great, and very long, legs – but they were just too pale. I came to covering them up with black tights with skirts (which I’ve actually grown to love), and stopped wearing shorts altogether. I am a redhead – my skin is light. I don’t tan well, just sunburn. And I can’t do anything to change that. My former blonde husband liked my legs, but spent all of his time outside trying to get darker and darker, and also thought I was pale. The funny thing is that now I am with an African American man who loves my legs. He has beautiful cocoa colored skin. And guess what? He doesn’t think my legs are pale at all. Go figure.

  • Karen

    Wait, you seriously don’t have any gray hair yet?! Just kidding, you’re so right on so many points. Thank you for this inspiring article, and for reminding me to go check my fat, sagging knees. πŸ™‚

  • Erin

    Amazing. Post.

  • Dionne

    LOVE this post.

    I read a really interesting book a little while back, “The Dirt on Clean.” It’s a history on how Western attitudes on cleanliness and personal hygiene have swung back and forth on the pendulum for the last few millennia, and what influenced those changes. The 20th century has seen a huge shift in our feelings about our bodies and cleanliness, and the driving force behind it is advertising. We’re at the point now where we’re such a germ-phobic society it’s actually making us sicker. So yeah, I definitely agree with your premise.

    In terms of the “you mean people even notice that?” category, I discovered a while ago on a forum is how many women think it’s disgusting for someone to wear sandals without a pedicure and polish because feet are just “gross”. I was shocked, because I’d never heard of this before. What a bizarre notion.

    (Oh, and speaking as another very pale person here, I’m hitting 40 this fall and starting to reap the benefits of never ever tanning – I was on some serious acne medication as a teenager, so I couldn’t – and 20 years of wearing sunscreen every day. Trust me when I say you’ve got the right idea, Sal.)

  • raqskie

    thank you for this post, and all your posts actually. Manufactured discontent is a useful phrase to repeat in my head. I don’t need that crap.

  • Tracyellen1619

    I am an Esthetician, stopped trying to get any sort of sun about 25 years ago. I love fair skin, olive skin, dark skin. It seems silly to try to force pale complexions to be bronze as much as it would be to bleach out darker complexions. I am a huge fan of makeup, perfume, hair, etc. but only in the sense that I love playing around with those things, not that everyone should. I occasionally have mothers ask me when their daughters “should” start waxing their eyebrows, wearing makeup, etc. My answer is always the same. They should start when they want to and if they never want to, that’s fine too. Why would we ever want to encourage anxiety about their appearance? There is a huge range of things available to us to enhance or alter ourselves and each of us should decide which things, if any, are appropriate or desirable.

  • One of the reasons I like your blog so much is that you seem to embrace your paleness. Bravo! Why should we be ashamed of the color that we are? I am the pale daughter of a red-headed woman. When my pale daughter was a camp helper for a foreign exchange camp she was stunned that the Japanese students were using skin bleach and thought she was beautiful. Plus, I saw my father losing bits of his ears to cancer as an old man. Pale is good. It shows off my freckles.

  • Kay

    I won’t ever buy a dove product!! that campaign is such a shame. they preach body acceptance in western countries and promote fairness creams in eastern countries! no thanks! I like my skin – pale or not and intend it to keep it great.

    Btw, a friend from an online forum shared this with me, to apply white vinegar on dark underarms, using a spray bottle to get rid of darkness. It worked for me! And guess how the underarms became dark in the first place?? Those darn deodarants!! I got rid of the deos and use white vinegar sprays! Worked like charm for me. The only catch is you cant apply it on the day you shave. Ouchie!

  • Shaye

    Folks, staying out of the sun is the reason I still look, at 32, much the same as I did at 17. (At least in my face. My body is a different story – but I love it anyway!) My arms inevitably tan in the summer, but none of the rest of me does. Every once in awhile I use Tan Towels on my legs, because they look like they belong to two differefnt people in the summer, but most of the time I don’t bother.

  • So agree. I hate that manufacturers and advertisers are always trying to find something new for us to hate or worry about ourselves.

    I’m pale, so is Nicole Kidman. So is Cate Blanchett, nobody ever says that they need to tan. You don’t either. Tanning is unhealthy and opening yourself up to skin damage and cancer. Particularly as you live in a mostly cold environment, it actually means that if you tan you’re more likely to get melanoma than someone who gets more sunshine all year round.

    No tan is worth dying for.

  • My armpits are HAWT.

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  • Nina, Denmark

    Thanks for a briliant post, Sal.
    I just had to share this hillarious Mitchell&Webb video, that I saw the other day. It deals with this subject exactly and it’s funny because it’s SO spot on! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9fFOelpE_8

    • Sal

      NINA I LOVE THAT SO MUCH! Gah, Mitchell and Webb are so brilliant. I could watch Numberwang on endless repeat.

      • Nina, Denmark

        I totally agree, Numberwang is the best thing ever!

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  • This is such an important conversation to have. I just finished teaching a summer class for gifted middle- and high-school students about media literacy and how we imagine and represent ourselves. We use the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign as an example of positive messages and then we use this armpit discontent campaign as an example of negative messages. My students were flummoxed by this, completely unsure of what to think about this kind of hypocrisy. And to be honest, I find myself unable to answer their questions on this, because I am as flummoxed as the 14 year olds about how we are supposed to deal with these messages. I’m supposed to hate my armpits, now? I’m supposed to buy into that when I buy into the Dove brand? And then I’m supposed to feel empowered by buying into the same brand after I watch some commercial where they critique advertising attitudes that they also engage in? It’s crazy making!

    Your post came at a good time for me, because of this class and because of my students. But I’m really stuck on this and just wrote a whole post, myself, about my students’ insights into these issues and the difficulty of teaching this. I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you have a moment:
    http://thelifeacademic.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/wordy-some-thoughts-from-my-classroom-on-bodies-perceptions-and-teachable-moments/

  • Ali

    Wow. I just found your blog and I love it. Especially this post.

    As someone who dyes her gray hair and was thinking about Botoxing, your article really made me stop and think. It *is* ridiculous how we instantly buy into such marketing ploys. Thank you for “stopping the insanity”. πŸ™‚ You are gorgeous and I love your pale skin.

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  • The phrase “pitts of our dreams” made me laugh really, really hard.

  • What is it with people and tans? Tans are not healthy, they destroy your skin. Ick. Your skin is gorgeous. It’s a good thing you don’t pay any attention to them. Brava!

  • Great post…great comments. It inspired me to make my own post about it:
    http://freespiritedruminations.blogspot.com/2011/08/accepting-redand-pale.html

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