Archive for the ‘cosmetics’ Category

If it ain’t broke, should I fix it??

October 8, 2012

A while ago I purchased a Groupon for a microdermabrasion facial from a local laser skin care and rejuvenation center. Included in the bargain basement price was a consultation with a skin care specialist. Aware that the business offered several expensive cosmetic procedure I wasn’t entirely surprised that although I had listed dry skin and occasional breakouts as my only skin concerns, the “skin specialist” I spoke to suggested I “really consider Botox” for the “lines around my eyes and on my forehead.” In a bid to reassure me that Botox is safe and effective, she let me know that she herself had regular injections. True, she had nary a line on her face. She also appeared to be about 25 years old. Granted, she could be 50 and her apparent youth the result of the wonders of Botox. Yet a glance at the stud through her cheek, Lulu Lemon tights and Sketchers sneakers suggested this to be highly unlikely. (So as not to undermine her credibility, I will also point that she was wearing a white lab coat, the epitome of professionalism). Even still, I declined the Botox. At 31, if I choose to look closely, I can certainly see where my face folds when I smile, frown, squint, laugh, or furrow my brow. I just feel that as long as I can still get away with referring to these as “expression lines” I will continue to age gracefully. (With the exception of my Vitamin A face wash, 2 eye creams, retinol serum and day and night anti-aging moisturizers). We’ll see how I feel in 10 years.

Botox is only one tool in the anti-aging arsenal. The technology available to essentially “turn back the clock” seems to grow every day. Procedures are also becoming less invasive, more convenient, and involve less downtime, meaning people can literally walk into their doctor’s office and walk out a newer, younger person almost instantly.  It seems every other week I’m reading about a new technique to treat some cosmetic condition that I have never even heard of or never would have thought about as a physical defect. A few posts ago I wrote about cosmetic surgery for feet. I have often cursed my wide feet while shoe shopping, but never would have thought about this feature of mine as a treatable deficiency. I have just accepted that I would have to live with this trait. Alas, not anymore! With advances in cosmetic surgery, wide footism is treatable! It makes me think: Are these advancement in cosmetic surgery serving to address existing weaknesses that impede people’s lives either physically or psychologically or are these new procedures actually generating anxiety and perceived imperfections out of the normal variations among us?

Let me illustrate this quandary using the prescription lash enhancement drug Latisse. You have likely seen the advertisements for this product featuring gorgeous spokesmodel Brooke Shields. The preparation itself was originally (and still is) used as an eye drop to treat glaucoma when it was noted that patients using the solution developed thicker, longer eyelashes. Result: Latisse. The cosmetically marketed product is brushed on the lashline, and about 12 weeks later you have longer, darker, thicker lashes. Of course any substance seeking FDA approval to be sold by prescription requires a valid medical indication. And this is the kicker. Allergan, the company marketing this “medication” has identified a medical condition called hypotrichosis, defined as “inadequate or not enough lashes”. That’s right, if you are a person born with thin, lightly colored or short eyelashes, you now suffer from a treatable medical condition. The bad news is that hypotrichosis is a chronic, debilitating medical condition that will plague you for the rest of your life. There is no known cure. The good news is that the good people at Allergan have come up with an effective treatment. As long as you keep using Latisse you will have longer and thicker lashes. But you can’t stop using the solution or your eyelashes will shrink back to their original form. Hypotrichosis requires lifelong treatment.

Beyond the now routine procedures such as Botox, Restylane, lasers, implants, tummy tucks and liposuction, the cosmetic surgery industry has progressed to produce processes to “treat” the natural variations that make us unique and distinguishable from one another. Enemy number one is any natural sign of aging. Newer additions: surgery to fix a cleft chin, liposuction to treat “cankles”, turning an outie bellybutton into an innie, iris implants to turn brown eyes blue, abdominal etching (selective abdominal liposuction to give the appearance of a “6-pack”), butt implants, bicep implants, calf implants, and even pubic hair implants. What next??

Cosmetic surgery can be a touchy subject with people feeling strongly in one direction or another. There are those who feel that any attempt to be physically altered is wrong. Others are more accepting of such a metamorphosis. I find most people are in the middle. The majority of us see some of our traits as requiring reinvention, while other deviations from the middle ground are the result of simple human uniqueness. Whether demand is influencing supply or vice versa, it seems that as people continue to seek physical perfection, advancements in the cosmetic surgery field will continue. Perhaps we need not attack the industry itself, but rather take a hard look at the way men and women are represented in the media and society as idealized specimens. Finally, we have to remember that we have the autonomy to refuse to buy into the message that we are being sold. We still have free will until it goes out of style.

Why do you buy? (And no one asked you Karl Lagerfeld!)

June 13, 2012

The June issue of Elle Canada magazine features an article by Ben Barry (a modelling agent) titled “New Business Model” which basically summarizes his Ogilvy Foundation funded, Cambridge University thesis research regarding how “models-depending on their size, age, and race-influence purchasing decisions.” He notes this research differs from the majority of research into the use of extremely thin models in advertising which has traditionally focused on the impact this can have on women’s body image. As in it has already been scientifically proven that looking at gorgeous, thin, photoshopped models makes women feel crappy. Mr. Barry used a study group of more than 2 500 women aged 14 to 65 and sizes 0 to 18 from a variety of ethnic groups. He had them look at fake fashion ads all featuring the same product but with different models. The models differed in size, race, and age. He asked the women their purchase intentions when they looked at the pictures of women with similar and dissimilar sizes, ages and races as themselves. After the study, he also facilitated focus groups to discuss with the women why they may have made the decisions they did.

I think pretty much most women can guess what the results were. Women increased their purchase intentions more than 200% when the models in the mock ads were their size. When the women were over size 6 this increased to 300%. Purchase intentions also increased substantially (175%, 200% in women over 35) when women saw models their own age. Black women were 1 and a half  more likely to buy a product if the model was black. Why? In focus groups women explained that they could better imagine what the product would look like on them when the model looked like on them.  Would it look good on their body type? Would it be age appropriate? Would it look nice with their complexion?

Mr. Barry did not just do this research for his own interest’s sake. His ultimate intention is to show fashion companies that it would be fiscally wise for them to use a more diverse range of models in their ads and in their fashion shows. That it would attract a broader range of customers. As most of us are aware, most models in magazines are strikingly similar in terms of body size and shape. Even so-called “plus size” models are often smaller than the average American woman. And when was the last time you saw a woman in her late 30’s or 40’s (or older!) advertising anything fashionable? It is rare, unless it is an actress who has botoxed herself back to before she married Ashton Kutcher. Barry quotes the legendary and distasteful Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld (most recent offense being calling singer Adelle fat) “Unreachable beauty is a reminder to make an effort. But if you see something, and you can reach what you see, then you do not have to make an effort anymore.” Blech. I guess that explains his face.

Oompa Loompa

Karl Lagerfeld

While I agree that doing sit-ups with a picture of Gisele Bundchen on your ceiling may be quite motivating, I doubt most women would look at her in a bikini and want to run out and buy the same one. Watching the Victoria Secret fashion show does not make me feel like any sort of angel. The recent trend of using very young actresses to sell adult designer clothing lines, such as Dakota and Elle Fanning for Marc Jacobs or Hailee Steinfeld for Miu Miu is very perplexing to me. I don’t look at a child in an outfit and imagine myself in the same one. Most children and young adults I know could never afford designer clothing. It would only seem rational to target advertising to the middle aged women with established careers who are actually buying these clothes. On the other end of the spectrum, many ads show women my age (30ish) wearing incredibly short shorts (bum cleavage? Please!), jeggings, crop tops, or neon. I have no desire whatsoever to relive my teens. I have also seen ads  for skirts, suit jackets with bras underneath, or see-through  button-downs portrayed to be career wear. If I get fired, will Karl Lagerfeld hire me in Oompa Loompa Land? If I promise to keep reaching for that unreachable beauty?

Once and a while you will see a glimpse of a model in a magazine who doesn’t look emaciated, or who has a wrinkle on her perfect forehead. More and more fashion shows will send out 1 or 2 “plus size models” down their runway. Perhaps research such as Barry’s will help to convince fashion companies that diversity and a touch of reality in fashion is not a bad thing. I think Karl Lagerfeld is a lost cause. However the fashion world is ripe with successful female designers both established and up-and-coming who will hopefully have a better grasp on the female market and on the female psyche. Until then we will just have to rely on our own common sense, honest friends and camera phones to guide our purchase intentions. Just never trust the change room mirrors. They lie.

15th Century Masterpieces Revamped: Photoshopping Famous Nudes

April 12, 2012
art
The Sleeping Venus by Artemisia Gentilischi

We have all seen the paintings. In museums or art history books, magazines or as prints on people’s walls. The famous nude Venuses, painted by revered artists such as Botticelli, Ingres, and Velazquez. They are infamous beauties of their time and are still studied by people hundreds of years later. But looking at the original works we can see that these Renaissance women would not likely be cover models in today’s modern world. Cultural ideals have changed drastically throughout time, and at one time, it was considered ‘chic’ to have the sensual round curves of a woman. It represented prosperity as well as fertility. The goddess Venus in each painting depicts a woman with a rounded stomach and hips, and womanly thighs. These are real women.

Anna Utopia Giordano, an artist, model and actress decided to explore how cultural ideals have changed since these paintings were created using modern digital technology. She says on her website: “I was retouching some photographs from a shoot for a friend’s book and while I was playing with the skin tones and using corrective brush strokes, I was reflecting on society, social networks and the need to be accepted”. As a result, she decided to use the same tool that media outlets use to digitally alter advertisements and magazine stories for print in order to transform the buxom portrait goddesses into modern waifs. Photoshop. She drastically slimmed down their figures to the types of unrealistic proportions we would see in today’s media images. She also increased their breast sizes.

The result is a series of 10 revamped paintings which is now on display on her website:

http://www.annautopiagiordano.it/venus-ita.html

Says Giordano “Art is always in search of the perfect physical form – it has evolved through history, from the classical proportions of ancient Greece, to the prosperous beauty of the Renaissance, to the spindly look of models like Twiggy and the athletic look of our own time.” From her web site: “Apart from highlighting once again the amazing possibilities of digital technologies applied to art, this job from Anna Giordano is indeed a good cue to reconsider both the subjectivity of cultural standards (in facts, ours are so different from the past ones) and the inclination of modern society and advertising companies to edit most images of  feminine body in order to reach a fake perfection, corresponding to an unreachable reality.”

What an interesting experiment. This offers us yet another perspective from which to view just how much our vision of female beauty has been skewed. When these these paintings came to be, there were no cameras to capture images. Images came only from the minds eye, and their accuracy was dependent on the viewpoint or artistic judgment of the artist. The women in these paintings represented the pinnacle of beauty at that time. Similarly today, every image can altered and edited until it is almost unrecognizable from the original. In that way, photographs in the media are not really realistic representations, but really a rendering of what the ‘artist’ wants the subject to look like. We classify everything today as art: fashion, hair, makeup, jewelry etc. But it is how the people who showcase these things wear them and carry them that make them stand out. Our bodies really are an art form, and we need to reevaluate why the new modern classic is a size 00.

Will you buy what the kids are selling?

March 27, 2012

Dakota Fanning for Marc Jacobs Lola perfume

 

There has been a lot of controversy lately surrounding the use of very young actresses as the faces of campaigns for everything from makeup to perfume to high end designer clothing. Dakota Fanning was the cover girl for a Marc Jacobs campaign at the age of 12, and now at the age of 17 she is the face of his Lola perfume ads. Her younger sister Elle (13) is showcasing his Marc by Marc Jacobs line. 14 year-old Hailee Steinfeld, best known for her Oscar nominated role in True Grit was the face of the 2011 Miu Miu campaign. 15 year-old Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass) has just been named the MaxMara 2012 face of the future and is doing an advertising campaign for them. 19 year-old Emma Watson has been doing campaigns for Burberry since 2009. Using young celebrities in advertising isn’t a new concept. In 1980, a 14 year-old Brooke Shields was the young centerfold in Calvin Klein jean ads, alongside the very suggestive logo “Nothing gets between me and my Calvins”. However the number of underage girls in the media seems to be increasing, and their age decreasing. Also, with the technology of today, media reaches a much broader demographic of people. It is hard to believe there is any race, culture, economic class, religion or age of person who is not affected by advertising today.

Hailee Steinfeld for Miu Miu

 

It is true that a lot of models are ‘discovered’ at a very young age, sometimes as young as 13 or 14. They can be doing runway shows and booking fashion shoots while still going through puberty. But let’s face it. When you see a stream of models walking down a runway, one angular, expressionless girl after another, you can’t really distinguish a teenager from a 25 year-old.  No one has any of the features that distinguish them as women, such as breasts or hips. These girls and women are alike in their androgeny. Case in point: one of the biggest models in the runway world right now is Andrej Pejic, a gorgeous Serbian who has walked numerous high-end women’s runway shows this last season. He is a man. Looking at him in the stream of other models, one would never guess he was any different from any of the female models on the runway. It is bizarre that designers believe their clothing looks best on women who look nothing like women at all, but instead like prepubescent children.

So why is hiring very young celebrities for designer ad campaigns any different? First, my soapbox: In general, I think that the modeling world is very hard on young girls, and when a teenager is put in a position where her success is based solely on how she looks, it can set her up for a lot of disappointment, rejection, and self-esteem issues. It can also send the wrong message to girls regarding what is really important. But if a parent wants to allow her daughter to model at a young age, I think it is important to look at the appropriateness of each job with respect to what that girl is selling and how she is selling it. It’s appropriate for a teenager to model a teen clothing line. If a teenager is modeling for an adult line and she is made up to look like an adult as many teens can, it may be appropriate as long as she is not placed in inappropriately adult or sexualized poses. When it comes to celebrities, these girls are household names. People are aware that they are young, underage girls, so automatically people are going to question the appropriateness of hiring them for adult clothing lines, even if they are made up to look older. The reality is that for a lot of these campaigns these girls are purposely painted and posed in order to highlight their youth and innocence. They are put in pretty dresses, or in silly, childish poses. In some of the more sinister photos, such as the Lola perfume ads featuring Dakota Fanning, there is a juxtaposition of Dakota’s youthfulness with her ‘sexuality’ where she is sitting in a cute frilly dress looking innocently at the camera, holding the bottle of perfume with a large flower top in between her legs. There are other ads that use a similar juxtaposition showing extremely youthful celebrities wearing very adult clothing and posed in a very adult manner. The Lola perfume ad was banned in the UK for sexualizing a child. The company that makes the perfume, Coty, responded that it did not feel the perfume was inappropriately sexualized because Fanning is over the age of consent (16), and also because no body parts and no sexual activity is shown. To them, the ad is “provoking, but not indecent”. Hmm. A Miu Miu ad featuring Hailee Stenfeld was also banned in the UK because it showed her wearing a very short skirt and sitting on a train track. It was banned not for the skirt, but because it showed the child in a hazardous or dangerous situation. They are referring to the railway track and not the fact she is 14 and already a sex object.

Casting a celebrity for an ad campaign is very different from hiring a beautiful yet unidentifiable model. When hiring a model, the designer is only looking for the person whom they feel will best showcase the brand. Is she beautiful? Will the clothes look great on her? When hiring a celebrity, that person will be recognizable to the general public. Celebrities have predetermined reputations to take into account, and designers have to additionally think about whether the person will affect the integrity or image of the brand. Often that is why celebrities are used, to reach their vast number of fans and help to expand the brand’s consumer base. One has to wonder what a designer is thinking when he decides to hire a child for a women’s clothing campaign. What message is it designed to send, and what message are women receiving? I can only speak for myself, and when I see a 14 year-old in a dress on a billboard, it doesn’t make me want to go out and buy that dress. It might make me say “Awwwwwww…”, but I don’t know any 30 year-old women who want to show up at a party in the same dress as their 15 year-old niece. Are these designers then trying to reach out to a younger client base? Are they trying to expand to the preteen/teen crowd? This could be a risky move. While these starlets will likely attract the attention of girls in this age range, I don’t know that a lot of them will have the allowance to purchase the digs from Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu, or  Burberry. The demographic most likely to buy these brands would relate much better to actresses that have been in movies that do not begin with Twi and end in light. Many women who covet these labels may not even know who these younger stars are, and therefore would not be swayed by their use in ads. It has been suggested that a reason for using such young stars in ads is because our culture is obsessed with youth. There may be some truth to that. But I certainly have no desire to relive my teenage years. Looking at a girl in an ad campaign who is 13-17 years of age doesn’t make me think: “Oh, to be young again”. It makes me think: “That poor girl, she doesn’t know what’s going to hit her”. (I mean emotionally, as in those hard teenage years, not literally, as in that train that is apparently going to hit Ms. Steinfeld on the railway track). Show me a 20 year-old in an ad with gorgeous, wrinkle-free, flawless skin, hair that shines, and a radiant, youthful glow, and yes, I’ll buy what she’s selling. I may even get the urge to run to the next Botox clinic. But when I see a kid gyrating against a bottle of perfume in a magazine? I just want to call her mother.

Chloe Moretz for Max Mara

 

For $1000 it better be better than a face lift!

March 21, 2012

Is it worth $1000?

Estee Lauder has just launched their luxury skincare line ‘Re-Nutriv Re-Creation’. The face cream and night serum will set you back a hefty $1000 while the eye balm and night serum for eyes is about half that amount. The active ingredient in all products is ‘Glacial BioExtract’, a concentrated essence which is purported to boost the skin’s collagen network, restore skin’s strength and resilience, improve skin’s clarity and inner radiance, optimize hydration, reduce lines and fade discolorations. In short, they seem to be promising a miracle. According to the April issue of Flare magazine, the Glacial BioExtract is actually a glycoprotein that “switches on dermal fibroblasts, which are cells that crank out the proteins needed to keep skin youthful.” It was first discovered in the Antarctic in bacteria which were able to withstand the treacherous conditions as a result of this protective glycoprotein. It is now produced in a lab, and the process is very costly. The cream also contains other high end ingredients: ancient algae, micro-minerals, colloidal gold, South Sea pearls. Much thought and money was also invested in the aesthetic appeal of the product. The packaging is streamlined and elegant, but not gaudy or showy. The bottles are grey and gold, and come on ‘pedestals’ for display.  It is lightly scented with water lotus, hyacinth and orchid, and feels silky to the touch. It is designed to make you covet it. But the question is-who will buy a $1000 face cream?

 

Estee Lauder is certainly not alone in the luxury skin care market, although this new skincare line is one of the pricier ones, especially from one of the more recognized department store brands. Other exorbitantly priced products include Revive Peau Magnifique ($1500 for a 4 week supply), Revive Intensite Volumizing Serum ($600), N.V. Perricone M.D. Neuropeptide Facial Conformer ($570), Kanebo Sensai Ex La Crème ($500), and Cle de Peau Beaute La Crème ($475) just to name a small handful. If sales of these and other luxury brands are any indication, it seems there are a lot of people willing to fork over a thousand dollars for a face cream. According to CNN, in 2010 prestige skincare sales in US department stores was 2.7 billion, an 8% increase from 2009. So if people are buying, these creams must be delivering on all of their promises, right?

 

This is a hard question to answer. It seems that every cream claims to be able to turn back the hands of time, offering ‘clinical evidence’ of anti-aging and damage reversing effects. In addition to being physically appealing, the most costly creams also contain the most lavish and valuable ingredients. These include things like caviar, crushed pearls, gold, and extracts from plants found only in exotic locales. Other ingredients which drive up the price are proteins and other cellular components that are involved in cell renewal and other processes which make them useful against aging skin cells. The problem is research and development as well as production can be very expensive. Is all of this money well spent?  Forbes.com states that “In the cosmetic industry, the term “clinically proven” is often more marketing than science. Typically, the phrase means that at least one component of the cosmetic product has been shown, in one study or another, to have had some biological action, such as helping wounds heal faster by stimulating cell division. That the product has been demonstrated by a well-controlled, independent clinical study to have significant effects in skin, however, is not necessarily true”. Unlike drugs, cosmetic products do not have to undergo rigorous, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies to prove their efficacy. Claims made are often subjective rather than measurable. “80% of women saw a reduction in wrinkles”. Even when outcomes are measurable, they are rarely measured against outcomes from similar products. Tools called corneometers can measure skin’s hydration level before and after application of a face cream to prove it is increased by said cream. So while all of the ingredients in a $500 cream sound luxurious and are ‘clinically proven’, how do we know a $10 face cream would not increase skin’s hydration just as well? The drug store brand creams, while costing significantly less, make similar claims of efficacy to the much more expensive department store creams.

Being 31, I’ve started to look at products that use words like ‘reduce’ and ‘minimize’ rather than ‘prevent’ when referring to lines and wrinkles. I have noticed a line on my forehead that seems to be there even when I’m not furrowing my brow in thought. There are a couple of ‘laugh lines’ under my eyes which I would like to prevent from becoming ‘crow’s feet’  although I’m not sure of the distinction other than I prefer the sound of the former. I’m not alone. Women spend billions of dollars annually on skin care in order to reverse the signs of aging and reclaim their youth. I recently had to buy a new eye cream. I was at a “beauty mart” where several brands were displayed side by side. I felt overwhelmed by the seemingly endless choices in front of me. I was not looking at couture brands, but mid-priced department store brands ranging from $20-$50. All made essentially the same claims, to reduce wrinkles, firm skin, reduce circles etc. I must admit, I felt more drawn to the more expensive creams. Part of it was that the packaging of the more expensive lines was more appealing. However, I think the main reason is that on some subconscious level I believe that the more expensive something is, the better it must be. I have heard similar comments from others, and not just about skincare products. If there are 2 brands of olive oil, the more expensive one is better quality, brand name must be better than generic, the most expensive car is the best.  I ended up buying a $46 cream. I still have wrinkles under my eyes, but I’m certain I will be one of the 80% who will notice an improvement in 4-6 weeks. Another reason women may be shelling out cash for youth in a bottle is to increase their happiness. A study on PsychCentral led by Cornell University researchers showed that people were more likely to make more expensive purchases when they were feeling low, and they were most likely to pay with their credit card, perhaps to offset some of the guilt about the purchase. It seems that purchasing a luxury item, like an overpriced face cream, can temporarily lift a woman’s mood.

Many women swear to the effectiveness of these very expensive luxury creams, to the extent that some of them even have a cult-like following. Crème de la Mer is revered by so many Hollywood celebrities you would think it was Botox in a bottle. So, if you have $1000 to burn, go ahead and try Estee Lauder’s Re-Nutriv Re-Creation Collection. Just don’t expect a miracle. Me, I think I’ll just work on embracing my wrinkles. (While continuing to use my antiwrinkle serum, day cream, night cream, dark circle minimizer, eye cream and blemish fighter).