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Tag: Katy Perry

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.”

Be alert about sexualising kids but don’t make boobs of ourselves.

Brooks, KarenThis week I’d like to share a guest blog post written by Dr Karen Brooks. Karen is an author, social commentator, columnist, academic and public speaker. Karen’s book Consuming Innocence is one I would highly recommend to all teachers and parents who want to know more about the impact popular culture is having on our children and on the family unit. This post was originally published in the Courier Mail and is reprinted here with her permission. I am hoping this will stimulate discussion – what do you consider to be harmless fun, and what should warrant caution, or indeed alarm us?


Pop princess Katy Perry made global headlines last week for singing a duet with Sesame Street Muppet, Elmo, as part of the show’s 41st season. After numerous complaints, the skit was pulled from the proposed line-up (but remains on YouTube).

What were the complaints about? Perry’s attire, cleavage and breasts.

Others have now leapt to both the creator’s and Perry’s defence.

In the midst of the fuss, the makers of Sesame Street uploaded another clip, also featuring Muppets; this one a parody of the popular and very adult fantasy HBO-TV series, True Blood.

Based on Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, True Blood is full of sex, blood and fangs. The Muppet parody, True Mud, while using puppets designed to resemble characters from the TV program, focuses on rhyming to create a lesson for its very young viewers.

Vampires are now “Grouches” and their desire for a drink of synthetic or “true” blood is transformed into a need for a mud bath.

Preschoolers learn about words such as “spud”, “dud” and “thud”, before a mud bath is wheeled out.

The end result may be dirty, but is the execution? Depending which side of the road you’re on, the air might be sweet, but Sesame Street is no longer “A OK”.

Is it just conservative wowsers, or are the complaints about Perry’s low-cut dress and the references to a vampire series valid?

Do the Sesame Street skits really deserve to have so much attention focused on them?

The answer is yes. Especially when they succeed in being pleasing, perplexing and push boundaries.

The Sesame Street producers have always intended to cater primarily to young children. In her book Buy Buy Baby, Susan Gregory Thomas says when the show was conceived in 1968, the producers not only used developmental psychologists, who drew on the principles of complementary but very different approaches to cognitive growth in kids, but also they saw the show as a guiding social agent, for at-risk children.

To judge from current commentary around the Katy Perry and True Mud skits, it seems that all kids are at risk from the offerings of this stalwart of children’s television.

Is this fair?

Like any successful product designed to capture children’s hearts and imaginations, the creators of Sesame Street also have to ensure that there is enough content to please the gatekeepers – parents and guardians – as well. This means that like other products developed for young (and older) children, they will embed many meanings and levels in the one tale so it can appeal simultaneously to children and adults.

Arguably, any child with responsible parents would never make the connection to True Blood or Katy Perry’s, ahem, body of work either.

Nonetheless, catering to children while appeasing adults will always be a task fraught with difficulties that often attracts a critical eye.

As the chief executive officer of Enlighten Education, Dannielle Miller, points out, “there are plenty of other artists who might like to hang with Elmo … choosing Katy Perry continues to blur the line between childhood and the adult world of raunch”.

But the complaints about Katy Perry’s attire and her breasts can also be read as a type of “slut-shaming”; something Miller also recognises.

This is when, by drawing attention to certain female displays and performances, a society shames young women into controlling their sexual self-expression and covering their bodies. It is a public way of taming and thus policing (and limiting) burgeoning female sexuality.

There’s no doubt we have to be so careful when it comes to being alert to the sexualisation of children in culture.

What the Perry incident draws attention to is how easy it is for something to be read in multiple ways – sweet and appropriate, tasteless and inappropriate, adult and childish – by a very wide and hyper-critical audience. When children are the target demographic, the scrutiny only intensifies.

But we also have to be careful when engaging in these kinds of debates not to make boobs, literally and metaphorically, of ourselves.

If you are interested in finding out more about the issue of the sexualisation of children, apart from Karen’s book I would  recommend you read some of my previous posts as it is a topic I also  feel very passionate about: Lady Gaga’s Toxic Mess, Girls in Trouble in a Post-Feminist World, and “She’s just a cute tween…” to name just a few.

I urge you too to find out more about the wonderful work being done by Julie Gale at Kids Free 2B Kids, and Enlighten’s own Catherine Manning at Say No 4 Kids. After reading Karen’s book you may also like to purchase a copy of  Melinda Tankard Reist’s excellent collection of thoughts on the topic by some of Australia’s most prominent child experts:Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls. My book, The Butterfly Effect, also explores how parents can help their girls move beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers. I am thrilled at the support my book has received and was thrilled that channel 10 did a news story on it just this week. I am hoping we can all help keep girls issues on the agenda.

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