Hey, Shakers! I'm pretty new to Shakesville, but I'm already madly in love with the community - y'all are the greatest! I've never written a guest post before - Maude knows I can barely update my own blog more than once every few months - but I'll give it the ol' college try, because I have something I feel is essential to discuss in a pro-woman, pro-body acceptance, and most importantly safe space.
I recently stumbled across the existence of two products that I find to be quite abhorrent, both through their advertisements on Hulu.com: Latisse and Juvederm.
There are a few primary reasons I am writing this post: I am very curious to see what Shakers might think of these products and their marketing as "beauty products" despite being pharmaceuticals. I also wanted to find a way to maybe warn others about the ads, in case there are other people like me who find the whole 'you aren't good enough!' line of advertisement to be triggering, so this post functions as a warning as well - if you see the beginning of an ad for one of these products, you may wish to click away.
I will be honest, though; a good portion of this post is pure outrage-fueled rant, and I tend to ramble, so go get yourself something to drink and make sure you're comfortable.
Done? Okay, onward!
Latisse is a prescription treatment for 'eyelash hypotrichosis' - aka having 'inadequate' or not enough eyelashes (inadequate being their word, not mine). Now, we have eyelashes for a reason - to keep stuff out of our eyes - so I understand that having an actual lack of sufficient eyelashes (hypotrichosis) is something you'd want to fix, but the advertisements play it off like a beauty product: 'Do you want longer, fuller, thicker lashes?' etc. It plays like a mascara ad, but it is in fact a prescription medication. Why do I suspect that there aren't enough people with hypotrichosis to make the product profitable without making people with sufficient eyelashes feel like they need Latisse? And that means making the product sound as innocuous as possible. The Hulu spot has a fine-print onscreen warning that the medication is prescription-only, but the only audio mention of it is that you should 'ask your doctor if Latisse is right for you', and audio fine-print is important for people like me who don't watch TV so much as listen to it...it would be easy to get the wrong idea.
Juvederm is an injectible gel that supposedly smoothes wrinkles. As I understand it, the idea is that the gel, once injected, sits under your skin, filling in the 'gaps' that create wrinkles - much like silicone would in cosmetic surgery. Again, the advertisement plays it like a beauty product, similar to commercials I've seen for anti-aging creams and other products you might find at your local make-up retailer. The website reveals that it is actually something you have to have your doctor do for you, but that it only takes minutes and you can 'step right back into your life!' immediately after, unlike, you know, that pesky, involved surgery business that requires a lot of consideration and whatnot. The advertisement I have seen says 'your doctor does it for you' and at the end simply says 'ask your doctor about Juvederm'; the whole thing is made to look enough like an anti-aging beauty product ad that the first few times I saw it, I didn't even register that it wasn't something you could take home and do on your couch.
When I first ran across these products, I was momentarily disgusted, and my (male) roommate and I discussed them for a moment, both expressing distaste. After seeing them a few more times, I felt some decidedly unpleasant brain-tickles regarding the implication of this style of advertising, and decided to look into the products and try to find out what possessed the makers to advertise in this way. Upon further investigation, I found that Latisse and Juvederm, quelle surprise, are both made by the same company, Allergan. Allergan also makes a number of other products that walk the line between cosmetic and medical: Natrelle, which are breast implants; Vivité, a line of prescription skin care products intended to remove wrinkles and smooth skin texture; and, together with Clinique, Clinique Medical, a line of skin care products intended to be 'compliment in-office aesthetic procedures'. They also invented Botox, and I'm not going to touch that one, at least not today.
Allergan is, as you may know, primarily a medical company, which may explain some of their marketing strategy; because of the aggressive clusterfuck surrounding pharmaceutical patents, many medical companies find it advantageous to sell their products on a line of 'YOU NEED THIS PRODUCT! OMG! RIGHT THIS SECOND! BUYBUYBUYBUYBUY!' Trying to convince you that there are things medically wrong with you that MUST BE TREATED RITE NAO is still a troubling thing, and definitely buys into the cultural concept of the human body as an ugly, dysfunctional thing that needs to be corrected and fought against, but it doesn't quite push my buttons in the same way as marketing solely to those with low self-esteem, perpetuating a money-sucking cycle of trying miracle product after miracle product after miracle product to try to attain that 'perfection' that is so lauded by magazines and beauty ads. Intentionally doing or intensifying harm to the psyches of women in order to make money is something I find indescribably horrific; having a medical company do so is unbelievable. Allergan employs many doctors; what was that about Do No Harm? It should come as no surprise that Allergan also has a department they refer to as "Obesity Intervention", which makes one product: the Lap-Band, a gastric banding implant. One of its selling points is that, if you lose enough weight using Lap-Band, your diabetes may disappear forevers! Yay! I just love Magic Science, don't you?
It's clear Allergan has chosen to make a good portion of their money by telling people, especially women, that they aren't good enough. Let me be clear: I don't have a problem with cosmetic surgery. I don't really have a problem with weight loss, as long as it's approached from a healthy, non-disordered mindset and not an impossibility pursued in the name of Thin = Worthiness. It's primarily an aesthetic choice, and there's a fine line between wanting to look a certain way because society tells you to and wanting to look a certain way because you find it aesthetically pleasing, but it is in there somewhere - and this post is not the place to start unpacking the intersectionality between personal aesthetic taste and cultural conditioning. My problem with companies like Allergan is that they sell their aesthetic products not based on their own merits, not based on 'do you prefer longer lashes?' or 'do you want to remove lines or scars?' or 'do you have problems with skin irritation?' but based on 'your lashes are inadequate' and 'nasolabial folds should not exist on anyone ever' and 'your skin is not smooth enough'. It's a choice to prey on low self-esteem and feminine socialization, rather than to let a quality product speak for itself, and though it may be a profitable marketing strategy it is, to me, a deeply offensive one, one of the more prominent indicators that Perhaps All Is Not Right with The Way Things Are.
This is the ad for Latisse that is on Hulu:
A Fox News report featuring an interview with Dr Lorrie Klein, who started selling Lumigan off-label, for eyelash growth, before Allergan created Latisse as a separate product:
Latisse, as mentioned previously, started out as Lumigan, a drug used to treat glaucoma. The product is fairly innocuous - its only troublesome long-term side effects are that it can add brown pigmentation to your irises, darkening them or changing their color entirely, or hyperpigmentation to your eyelids, which is 'usually' reversible. It can also cause irritation and inflammation, or, in what prompts some amusing mental images, hair growth in unusual places (if you get it on places other than your eyelids, that is). The main issue I have with it is the assertion that it is a prescription drug for people with 'inadequate' eyelashes. In every video and advertisement I've seen, none of the users have what I would call 'inadequate' eyelashes. I'm not exactly a connoisseur of lashes, but I would think that you'd need nearly bald lash lines before anyone other than you would notice. Then there's the issue that, in a lot of the ads, the model (usually Brooke Shields; why, Brooke, why? Your eyelashes were already gorgeous! If you grow any more you might cause an event horizon, and I really don't want to see you get sucked into a Brookularity!) is very clearly wearing mascara, which furthers the suggestion that applying prescription glaucoma medication to your eyelids in order to extend the growth cycle of your eyelashes is as much of an everyday thing as putting on make-up! It's the normalization here that bothers me, and when you couple that with the suggestion that YOUR EYELASHES ARE INADEQUATE, you're basically explicitly saying that everyone's eyelashes are Not Good Enough and that if you don't use a growth formula, you're Weird, or even a moral failure of some kind. That is an intensely creepy concept, to me, despite keeping-up-with-the-Joneses being a pretty standard advertising tool. Although, in fairness, that may be because I am somewhat creeped out by eyelashes in general, since I have some personal issues with body hair and follicle mites and ghhhhhhh okay I need to go read a book about bunnies and kittens for a while now and not think about how there are Bugs On My Face...
Okay, back. Juvederm! Let's go!
This is the ad for Juvederm that is on Hulu, minus the cheesy countdown at the beginning:
Potential trigger warning on the following videos; they include still photos and/or video of women having syringes puncturing the skin of their faces.
This is a somewhat disturbing YouTube ad for Juvederm procedures at 'Body Beautiful Spa' that gives a better idea of what 'injectible gel' really means than the spot on Hulu:
This is a clip of a woman being injected with Juvederm at 'Ageless Clinic', with the doctor explaining the mechanics of the product in a bit more depth:
In the process of researching Juvederm, there were two main things I noticed: One, the information on the website seems more optimistic than that provided by the doctor in the Ageless Clinic clip ('lasts up to a year!' vs 'lasts six to nine months', 'seven days or less for recovery!' vs 'five to ten days for recovery', etc); and two, the repeated use throughout the website materials of the phrase "JUVÉDERM® injectible gel is the first FDA-approved hyaluronic acid dermal filler that has proven its safety and effectiveness in persons of color," in some places going on to mention that it does not cause an increased risk of hyperpigmentation or hypertrophic scarring.
My first thought in response to this was 'Oh, that's refreshing! A beauty product acknowledging that POC exist! Even though I don't like the product, that's still a good thing, right?' However, I was absolutely FLABBERGASTED at the amount of othering going on in the FAQ question about it: "Can people with different skin tones/colors be treated with JUVÉDERM®?" I nearly choked on my drink. DIFFERENT skin tones or colors. Which raises the question, different from what? Different from each other? Everyone's skin tone and color is different from everyone else's. For example, in my fully Caucasian household, we all have yellowish or peachish undertones - no red or pink (it's amazing what a high school interest in makeup artistry will cause you to notice about the specific shades of people's skin, eyes and hair) - but no two of us have anywhere near the exact same skin color. So, that seems like a sort of arbitrary way to use the word 'different', vague and unclear bordering on nonsensical. It would be pretty useless if the product only worked on one person in the entire world. The answer, of course, is 'different from white people'. Because we all know that being white is the norm, and everyone else is weird and unusual, right? Ugh, ugh, ugh. Othering seems to be one of Allergan's favorite marketing tools.
Nearly all of the website's info is borderline condescending in a similar, but less outright offensive, way. Much of the information is extremely repetitive, and like most nonessential medical products, the negative effects are greatly downplayed while the potential positive effects are extremely optimistic or generalized. The most troubling thing, to me, is the heavy-handed attempts at normalizing what amounts to drive-through cosmetic surgery. Everyone will notice! All the cool kids are dong it! Just hop into your doctor's office and back out again, now with 50% more socially-acceptable age appearance! Plus, there are numerous references on the website to the fact that Juvederm is designed to 'correct wrinkles'. OHNOES YOUR FACE MADE A MISTAKE! Poor, silly face. Let's just correct that for you. It's another insidious thread in the tapestry of body-hate and youth-worship, one that sticks out maybe a little more than the others (Did You Know? Juvederm's slogan is 'Parentheses have a place, but not on your face!' Ha ha! Smile lines are EEEVIIIL and they do not belong on anyone ever!), and it's leading us to a place I don't ever want to see. Despite all the work by body acceptance groups, HAES, and so on, Western culture seems to be pushing harder and harder on women, demanding ever more unrealistic thin-but-not-too-thin, perpetually-young, adequately-eyelashed standards of 'beauty'.
So, I guess that's what it really comes down to: Normalization. As I said, I don't have a problem with cosmetic procedures. I don't have an issue with beauty products, outside of the all-women-should-use-them BS. Some people like them! Good for them! I hope they enjoy them! But they are not for everyone, and companies trying to insist that they are - advertisements trying to assert that they should be - marketing strategies based around telling us that people who don't like them or use them are Weird and Different and Not Normal - these things make my blood boil. Just another piece of junk on the pile of products that sell based on the idea that women aren't good enough as they are. Le sigh.
I plan to contact Hulu to ask them to remove the advertisements - they occasionally have the option to rate ads, so I assume they are open to customer feedback regarding them. A good opportunity for teaspooning, even though it might be considered a bit of a minor issue; personally, I feel it is a rare chance to fight back against toxic culture directly, and possibly influence what is rapidly becoming a very major source for many English-speaker's media diets. If you want to contact Hulu, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org .
You may, if you like, also contact Allergan to let them know what you think of their marketing style. 1.800.890.4345 is the place to register a non-medical product complaint. email@example.com is the place to submit a question as a member of the media, should you be one. You can also call their Customer Service department at 1.800.433.8871, and they may be able to direct you to the proper forum for this sort of thing - unfortunately, despite their dozens of various department-specific phone numbers and e-mail addresses, there does not seem to be a complaints@allergan or youradvertisingismisogynist@allergan, so I'm not sure how effective teaspoons will be here - any suggestions would be very welcome!