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Tag: Jennifer Love Hewitt

More than skin deep: Helping your teen with her changing skin

I didn’t have pimples very often as a teen but when I did get them, they were huge. Naturally, on the day we were having school photos one year, right in the middle of my forehead a pimple appeared that was so big I felt like a unicorn. Really, I am not just being dramatic here! It was a study in humiliation. So I get it when girls are deeply upset about having pimples.

And, of course, so do the companies who make acne treatments, who play on teen girls’ (and boys’) deepest fears in order to move their products. You know the ads: Girl has a date coming up and a pimple appears. The end is nigh; social ruin and a life of compulsive Farmville playing beckons, with only a houseful of cats for company. But wait! Magic tube of ointment makes the zit vanish in two seconds. Cut to girl confidently smiling at the adoring hunky boy.

Ever noticed that the girl is always impossibly thin and gorgeous — in a computer-enhanced, international-model kind of way — and has the most perfect complexion you’ve ever seen, except for one barely noticeable bump? Think how it looks to a teen who actually does have pimples: if the girl on the pimple-cream ad has perfect skin and is anxious out of her mind, just how anxious should she be? Awesome, now teen girls can feel not only the crushing anxiety of having pimples, but also play the compare-and-despair game with a TV fantasy girl who doesn’t even represent what a real girl looks like!

I love this example of the genre — partly because it’s so painfully obvious it’s dubbed from an American ad, but also because I’d really like to see the school where this young lady is able to waltz in and interrupt a class in order to deliver a note to a boy:

Marketers also use the scientific approach, using fancy words (that usually sound made-up to me) and promises that their product will help girls “control” their breakouts. It’s an interesting word, isn’t it? As a teen you feel like you have so little control, so how appealing this must be.

Another highly successful tack they take is the celebrity endorsement. Proactiv costs more than many products on pharmacy shelves, even though it shares the same active ingredient as the majority of over-the-counter acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide. How do you get people to pay more for the same ingredient? Have stars that teen girls adore — such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne — give testimonials for it. (By the way, Jennifer Love Hewitt, whom you may remember from a past blog post as a champion of the fine art of vajazzling, refers to Proactiv as her “ultimate companion”. Okay, Jennifer.)

I worry that by manipulating girls’ fears of social doom because of pimples, advertisers are encouraging them to use too many harsh chemicals, which strip their skin raw and then cause more problems — which, of course, they then need more products to fix.

I asked Dr Alicia Teska, a cosmetic physician in Melbourne, if girls can harm their skin by misusing over-the-counter acne products, to which she replied, “YES!! YES!! And YES again!! People think that if a little bit of something makes a big difference to their skin, then using a hell of a lot more of it will be a good thing for their skin, and it’s actually the reverse. If they overuse medicated products, they will not only strip the outer dead layer of their skin down too much and therefore make it far more susceptible to sun damage, they can create incredible irritation and sensitivity in their skin.” This can lead to the development or worsening of eczema.

If you have a girl in your life right now with pimples, it’s important to tell her that she’s beautiful on the inside and outside, no matter what. It’s equally important to listen to her concerns and help her find out the best way to treat acne, rather than just fall for advertisers’ promises of instantly amazing skin. Acne really is an issue that needs to be addressed — for instance, a woman I know actually wagged school a couple times as a teen because she felt so ashamed of her skin. So I asked Dr Teska for some practical advice on what girls who have pimples can do.

Home treatments

“You don’t need to spend a lot of money on skin care,” says Dr Teska. “Cleanse regularly with a combination of mild soap-free cleansers once daily, and AHA or BHA cleansers (or a daily gentle AHA/BHA scrub) once daily to encourage increased turnover of keratin and dead skin cells, as these will easily block pores.” (AHA and BHA are types of acids.) “If black- or white-heads have already formed, a night-time treatment with an AHA/BHA gel or topical Vitamin A product (preferably low-strength retinoic acid, not retinol) will be necessary.

“The key is not to rely on only one approach. One needs to attack acne from multiple angles to get a fast response.” Dr Teska suggests balancing acid-based products with non-acid-based ones, such as Australia’s ASAP and the French brand Avène.

GPs, cosmetic physicians and dermatologists

Dr Teska suggests that girls with any type of acne, even mild cases, should go and see an expert for advice. “If your GP has an interest in skin, your GP might be a suitable point of reference.” She says that GPs tend to prescribe long-term antibiotics or the oral contraceptive pill, or may refer patients to dermatologists for the drug Roaccutane. If you are wary of jumping straight to medication, you may want to get an opinion from a cosmetic physician, because while they can prescribe antibiotics and the pill, they also give non-drug-based skin treatments that GPs do not provide.

Does makeup make pimples worse?

A lot of girls want to hide their pimples with foundation or concealer, but wearing makeup to school is a thorny issue in many households, not to mention the old advice that it makes acne worse. “The last thing any teen girl wants to hear is that they can’t wear makeup to school anymore,” says Dr Teska. “I always say to the girls I see, ‘If you feel the need to wear the makeup to cover your acne, then that’s okay for the short term.'” Once a girl is on a treatment program and seeing improvement, she encourages them to gradually wear less makeup. “Obviously the sort of makeup they’re wearing is important . . . Anything that’s oil based is going to dramatically aggravate the acne.” Dr Teska suggests girls use only oil-free formulations.

To squeeze or not to squeeze?

I asked Dr Teska about the truth behind the advice that squeezing pimples causes scars. And yes, your mother was right. When you squeeze a pimple, “you’re introducing infection and trauma . . . and can cause permanent scarring.”

Don’t wait

Dr Teska’s final words of advice are: “Whatever you do, please ensure that even mild acne problems are treated rapidly. This is a critical time of your teenager’s identity development, and issues such as mild or moderate acne may seem trivial to parents, but to a teenager they can have enormous consequences.”

Hands off our vaginas

I lament the use of terms such as “liberation” and “empowerment” to sell women more and more product. In this post I want to particularly question the use of terms implying female empowerment in the growing trend to convince women to change what is surely something quintessentially female — our vaginas.

Case in point?  The latest series of advertisements for Schick Quattro’s TrimStyle all-in-one razor and bikini trimmer. The ads invite you to “celebrate your inner confidence” and, using the language of liberation, “free your skin”.  According to the company’s PR blurb,  five everyday Australian women were photographed and filmed for the campaign wearing nothing but lingerie, in and around some very public locations in Sydney’s CBD.  Men are shown gawking at them, whilst other women look on admiringly. The women do have inspiring stories — there is a single mother and a cancer survivor — yet surely as the advertisement is for a bikini razor and they are seen posed in lingerie, we can only assume that their confidence actually comes from having well-groomed vaginas.

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Speaking of well-groomed vaginas reminds me of one of the most flabbergasting moments in talk-show history. In January last year Jennifer Love Hewitt famously discussed on American TV that she had devoted an entire chapter of her new book on relationships to decorating her hairless vagina with jewelled decals — a practice known as “vajazzling” that is gaining in popularity here, too. Hewitt told her host “Women should vajazzle their vajayjays . . . It really helped me.” She went on to say, “After a breakup, a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady . . . and it shined like a disco ball.”  It really “empowered” her, she insisted  (although apparently she was not quite empowered enough to use adult terms for her anatomy).

Forget the war on terrorism — if the amount of ads for decorating, shaving, waxing and electrolysis are anything to go by, it is the age of the war on women’s vaginas.

Actually, it is not just grown women who are being told they should doubt their own genitals. During the formal season last year, beauticians noted a huge increase in the number of young women wanting “intimate” grooming treatments. Girls as young as 14 were asking for Brazilian waxes. Enlighten Education’s Program Manager for New Zealand, Rachel Hansen, who is also a women’s health and sexuality educator, tells me of a school in NZ for Year 1 to 13 students that ran a beauty salon’s ad for Brazilian waxing in the school diary. Imagine pulling out your five-year-old daughter’s homework diary and an ad for Brazilian waxing jumping out at you.

It seems teens no longer even know what “normal” is. In episode one of the UK’s 2009 Sex Education Show, when teens of both sexes were shown images of women with pubic hair, they gasped in what seemed to be shock or disgust. The producers had set out to show that in reality “we all come in all different shapes and sizes. From penises to pubes, bums to boobs whatever you’ve got it’s all perfectly normal.”

Cosmetic surgeons would have us believe otherwise. As if waxing, plucking, electrolysis and decorating is not enough, far more serious procedures are being widely promoted by surgeons as  important for restoring women’s “confidence”. Researcher Karen Roberts McNamara argues that women are going under the scalpel to have their vaginal openings tightened and their labias made smaller because they have been convinced this will “normalise” them and thus give them confidence:

The sanitized ideal of the clean, delicate, discreet vaginal slit, so widely used in the plastic surgery industry discourse, functions in such a way as to cast the bodies who have not undergone these procedures as necessarily dirty and unsightly . . . Scholars have noted that in years  past, women rarely had the opportunity to see other women’s vaginas and thus had no sense of how a typical vagina might look. Yet with the mainstreaming of the adult entertainment industry, the situation has changed dramatically. Now, a beauty standard has emerged, one established primarily through porn actresses, nude models and strippers . . . The irony of this situation is that in pornographic films and photographs, everything from eye colour or stretch marks, to genitalia, can be modified digitally.

Amanda Hess, in her excellent piece “The Problem With Defending The Sacred Choice To Vajazzle”, concludes with a call-to-arms of sorts that I am taking up, and that I urge all girls and women to take up.

For now, the more extreme performances of femininity, like breast implantation, vaginal ‘rejuvenation,’ and Vajazzling aren’t considered the norm for women. I’m not going to be met with shock when I remove my pants and reveal to my sex partner that I haven’t converted my pubic mound into a shiny disco ball. But these days, it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for him to be shocked that I’m not perfectly waxed. The body hair ship may have sailed, but vaginal modification is at a point right now where we are still in a position to fend off the tide. And my greatest fear is that someday, we will wake to find that our girls are being routinely Vajazzled upon puberty, and realize that we never stood up to say, ‘This…is . . . ridiculous.’

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