All too often we are introduced to images through our televisions, cell phones, tablets, and computers that do not correctly portray reality. Many activists challenge the images of “the ideal body” by exposing how already gorgeous models and celebrities are slimmed down to a size 0 using photo/ video editing software. On a conscience level, many of us are aware that these images we see everyday have been doctored but the constant exposure to these images trick our minds to want to achieve these ideals to find love and become successful.
How do images of flawless skin affect those with obsessive skin picking tendencies? What about those who suffer from acne? Psoriasis? Any skin condition?! This is a topic that has been ignored through the counter-operative attempts to speak out against what harm these images are also doing to our self-esteem and creating problematic self-image amongst our generation. Below is a compilation of my “favorite” examples of what we are being shown every day and how it can affect how we see ourselves.
17. “It must be fought from the inside”
While this vintage ad represents the times a Stepford Wife lived in, it still sends the message that is widespread in western culture that there is something wrong with you! Something deep within needs to be fixed so that your appearance can reflect that positive change. The third line of text tells of a myth that is still circulating these days – “And you don’t give up sweets!” There is an old belief that sugar is the cause of acne instead of hormonal changes or stress, so people with frequent problems with pimples were said to have poor diet or hygiene.
16. “Such a successful, famous, and talented performer is hiding in shame; if she is embarrassed after accomplishing all she has, we ALL should be embarrassed.”
Even Katy Perry has fallen victim to misrepresentation and media scrutiny based on her complexion. While this image of her appears to show her acting insecure with her blemishes, keep in mind that this is what is portrayed to you with from the zoomed-in image. Ms. Perry may very well be confident despite a breakout and in this specific moment she could have looked down on the ground or at her phone. Many news outlets shared this image with a caption similar to, “Katy Perry can’t hide her pimple-packed face…“. Actually, that cacophonous and insensitive line was taken straight from nydailynews.com .
15. “I can’t have fun with a pimple on my face- it’s preventing me from wanting to be around friends.”
While this ad pulls on the heart strings of those suffering from acne because most already feel like this, it also feeds into (and permits) behaviors of social isolation UNLESS… you buy this product. It’s empowering to connect to images that present the feelings you have but at the end of the day, if you buy this product and it doesn’t work, where does that leave you? This solution to the problem was all for nothing and you are now left with no other treatment options since this is the only one presented to you. There is also another issue being represented here and that’s how sand fills this pore which is indicative of dirt, filth, while this man’s friends are swimming in a pool (water= washing, clean).
14. Software Solutions
Whether the product being marketed here is a patch for Adobe Photoshop or the very program itself, this creative ad is exploiting a young man (even if it’s an old picture of one of the marketers “to not offend”) for his appearance. In what appears to be a school photo, this man is smiling unbeknownst to the ridicule he faces- in person and through an ad. Whether he thought it would be “cool” to agree to being in this type of humiliating placard, how many teenaged boys really do look like this? From attending high school myself, I know that a chunk of the male population looked similar to this guy. It can also send a message to those who personify with this ad that there is nothing you can do about your appearance except morph it on a computer program.
13. “Pop me to Perfection”
This is where the wrong message is being delivered to a passive audience. Not only is this specific application available, there are many out there like this that promote popping your pimples to get the end result of clear skin. While those without OCD tendencies may think this app is a riot, it is blatantly showing that this is the action to take in order to get smooth skin (without leaving a scar/red blotch behind or spreading oil or bacteria into other parts of your face).
12. “You’ll never see me”
This is especially a teenager’s worst fear- not being seen by peers. Instead this young woman is being perceived as a nobody with attention only being drawn to her one blemish which a tiny face is hiding on. Nothing about her matters; we don’t know if she has stunning eyes or a captivating smile and apparently, no one else around her can tell because this is the only thing that matters on her face.
11. Angie the Acne
How fitting is it that this creature is nicknamed “Angie the Acne”? It does its own thing, makes a mess, and doesn’t listen to the little person on its ‘face’. This is another portrayal of how insignificant you are, like in #12, if you have one pimple. In this case, the pimple has you and its own [feminine] lair. While appearing witty, this personality is monster-like which exaggerates the severity of having a pimple that won’t eliminate itself.
10. Love me tender, love me true
Considering that comics have dots from the way they were printed way back when, this is an abstract way of “getting with the times” by even perfecting the appearance of paper! Another implanted message on this ad is that you must have flawless skin to appeal to a potential partner. Whoever Brad is, it sounds like he is no longer around (breakup? death? new identity?) but if he was, he’d be much happier with this new change in her appearance.
9. The Interactive Pill “Poppers”
These sample packets of an acne product contain 1 pill that one must remove by… popping it out of its packaging which strategically has a face printed on it to create the illusion of popping a pimple. Charming for a product that’s supposed to be endorsing its own chemical productivity instead of resorting to the old-fashioned way of digging out the pus yourself.
8. Clean & Clear and… Beautiful?
As a teenaged girl who was suffering breakouts of my own more than a decade ago, I remember seeing these campaigns that shoved down your throat “Clean & clear and under control”. I guess the newer generation of teenaged girls get the “Clean & clear and beautiful” slogan because it is much more important in the 00’s or 10’s (as opposed to the 90’s?) to be beautiful than it is to have something under control. Well, as a chronic skin picker I felt that by picking the marks off of my face and body I was doing a service to it which then turned into disordered thinking… which I still hold onto, deep in my core from an irrational standpoint. At least the girls in this generation are more prone to focus on their beauty than whether or not they have control. Yay! *eye roll*
Note– I don’t think it’s necessary to point out the “clean & clear” message of blemishes= ugly, although I just did.
7. Zit- Climbing
Hands on face is fine, using someone’s insecurities to climb over is okay, so what could be problematic about this? The young man on the billboard isn’t being walked all over, he’s being climbed on without being able to speak out. While it’s an edgy marketing strategy, it still objectifies the person with the acne instead of embraces him as a person.
6. Peel it Off
Wow, look at this- a woman with a zit on her face is getting kissed! Good on her for tackling the taboo nature of being loveable with one pimple when the rest of the media world forbids this. Well, unfortunately, this image is a lie because this woman can pull off her imperfection and that’s why she’s being shown affection. She’s back to looking “normal” because she used Clearasil, which got rid of her oh-so-atrocious pimple. Also, we see again the removing the metaphorical pimple with your fingers.
5. You Blockhead!
What does this woman’s face look like? Is her face riddled with acne or does she have the one spot we’re accustomed to seeing in the media as horrendous? Either way, she has lost her identity (minus her perfectly-shaped body with shiny/ smooth/ radiant skin) and feels the need to put a bag on her face because the embarrassment of her pimple[s] prevents her from showing her face in public.
Many of us will do just about anything to remove an imperfection from our face- not just so it will lessen in severity but because the mere sense of touch over a bump creates an urgency for people with Dermatillomania to remove the uneven texture, no matter how minor. This behavior is deemed okay, acceptable, so when many people hear about this disorder they believe it’s normal without understanding that when this behavior takes up hours in a day (preventing daily activities) it’s a problem.
3. You SQUEEZE it out
How do you get cream out of a bottle? You squeeze it! How do you remove a pimple? Squeeze out its contents. It’s a cathartic feeling, it’s doing the right thing… doing what will heal you.
This warped portrait is the very essence of why it is imperative to remove cruel judgments around those who have imperfections on their skin. When you are already self-conscience about an affected area of skin, your perception about your face/ skin can change and this view becomes distorted. This can also be signs of the very beginnings of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
1. From Zitty to Pretty
This is my #1 because of the many tactics this ad uses to captivate viewers. First of all, the colors and art itself is mesmerizing. We see multiple faces of the same woman but her monochromatic self (with bright red spots) is the depressed one while the faded ones are mixed together conveying inner conflict, presumably because of her appearance. This ad also uses the buzz word “Emergency” to stress the urgency of this dire situation. Personally, I think a house-fire or tornado fits the bill for “Emergency” or maybe how millions of youth are being taught to hate themselves based on the condition of their skin.
With a critical eye, we can over-analyze everything we see and make a big deal out of nothing- from the condition of our skin to the very images displayed above. However, take a moment to think of what our reaction to facial (and skin) imperfections would be if we did not live in a westernized culture with the bombardment of media telling us what we should look like. Imagine being a teenager in a third world country with no access to modern technology- would you be teased for going through puberty and getting pimples or would it be accepted as a milestone that no one thinks twice about? Ask yourself what would happen if you, as this teenager, was transported to your current location and was introduced to the media and these images. This culture shock and bombardment of negative self-image would change what you thought about yourself and what is acceptable in this ‘new world’.
Birth control pills, cleansers, creams, gels, “spot” treatments, oils, masks, toners, exfoliators, moisturizers, oral medications, wipes, vitamin capsules, buffers, and makeup for solutions. From 3- step kits to laser surgery, we are told we MUST do everything in our power to heal our skin even if it means breaking open our skin, subjecting us to bacterial infections and scarring. While this is not a clear-cut cause of Dermatillomania it can certainly spark an obsession with skin while society mocks the importance of perfection through teasing, bullying, and reinforcing that it’s not okay to have a blemish.
These products cost money but I have a solution that is much more cost-efficient and starts to work a month after daily application; tell yourself, every night before bed, that your worth is not defined by the presentation of your skin. Tell yourself that you are beautiful with or without blemishes, rashes, or scars. Additionally, address the BS of the media that tries to tell us that we will not be loved or accepted until our skin is removed of all marks and natural lines. Promise yourself to not continue to beat yourself up based on your appearance, whether we are addressing smooth skin or a small waist.
Check out the five star documentary Scars of Shame and Angela’s ground- breaking memoir FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary. Like Angela on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and join her on Tumblr.