Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Billy Joel said it best: We love you just the way you are.

In something of a departure from the norm, we're going to talk a bit about products today. And, in a further departure, there's a good deal of "mature content" below, so please be forewarned. Finally, I don't intend for any of this to come across as patronizing. Regrettably, I am limited by the biological/psychological fact of being male. I therefore have no choice but to address the topic from that vantage point.

As noted in my book, of the many flaws one finds in the self-help universe, the most diabolical may be SHAM's way of "putting you in a buying frame of mind" by first persuading you that there's something wrong with you. The net effect is that millions of everyday Americans who, once upon a time, were leading basically normal, reasonably satisfying lives are now convinced they need help. Needless to say, the guru is only too happy to turn right around and sell them that help.

I should mention at this point that I'm skeptical of a lot of the products and services that are supposed to make our lives better, not just those that hail from SHAM-land. I wonder, for example, why anyone would want an antacid preparation whose most common side effects--by its manufacturer's admission--include nausea, bloating, cramping and diarrhea. (I'll take my chances with the stomach acid, thank you very much.) Still, there's one group of "self-improvement" products that, to me, are a special category of loathsome. These are the ones that make American women think they need all sorts of remediation in order to become suitable for being loved or mated with.

Let's start with something relatively innocuous--lingerie. Now, lingerie is nice. I seldom complain or switch the channel when a Victoria's Secret ad comes on. And I know (lord knows I've been told often enough) that women like lingerie in its own right, for their own sake. Fine. But women, never feel that you "need" lingerie in order to interest a man (which is the implied thrust, if you will, of too much of the advertising). And if you do need lingerie in order to interest your man…get a new man.

As for those ubiquitous commercials for "personal warming fluid"… Would someone please tell me what's up with that? I'm tempted to be really graphic here, but suffice it to say I can't imagine the existence of a woman who actually requires that product in order to provide her lover with a pleasant sensory experience. Personally, I have never known a cold one. We'll leave it right there….

As it happens, there's a current commercial of this genre that I do like--but it's aimed at men, not women. It's the new twist on Old Spice deodorant that shows an attractive woman dancing with great vigor and abandon. I like the commercial not so much for the attractiveness of the woman, but because it finally tells the truth about sweat. We like it...on you. As the ad puts it, "When she sweats, it's sexy." We like it especially well if it's late in the day, and we're getting cozy with you, and we become aware that your deodorant is giving out amid the stress of your growing ardor for us. Trust me on this: Few things in life are more of a turn-on than realizing that your lover is actually sweating for you. Which is why I grit my teeth and curse the screen every time I see one of those damn deodorant ads (the ones aimed at women, now) where some poor girl is horrified to discover that her "all-day deodorant" is quitting at the worst possible moment, i.e. when she’s just about to jump into the arms of her beloved. Give me a break!

Of course--and this would be a good place to reiterate the "mature content" warning--when it comes to making women feel bad about themselves in order to sell the supposed remedy, there is no more obnoxious offender than the growing movement that leaves women thinking they need to disguise or remove their natural female scent in order to interest (or, more precisely, not repulse) a man. Hence the proliferation of douches, floral-scented sprays, "intimate body washes" and the like. Making women feel dirty or even just self-conscious in that regard is all the more reprehensible because the "given" on which it's premised is nonsense. Real men have been telling their women as much for centuries now, a notable case in point being Napoleon. (Lore has it that when Gen. Bonaparte was on his way back from battle, he'd send ahead a courier instructing the lovely Josephine, pictured above, to stop bathing in preparation for his triumphant return.) Indeed--little-known factoid--alongside Java Man, archeologists found a cave drawing in which the prehistoric male is telling the prehistoric female he’s dragging by the hair, "Mmmm, me-um like-a you natural, sweet thing...."

OK. If right about now you're thinking, Oh geez, Steve, do we really need these kinds of posts in SHAMblog?--you're making my case. That very mentality--that these topics are "unfit for polite conversation"--is what the industry counts on and thrives on. An honest dialogue, wherein men tell their women how they really feel and women confess to each other their insecurities and annoyances, is what’s called for. That and a loud uprising against a marketing phenomenon that, if you think about it, is designed to make women feel awful in order to extract money from them. That's the bottom line, people, in multiple senses. This is another reason why I begrudge women's magazines, who are complicit in promulgating/circulating these unfortunate misconceptions and stereotypes. Half the advertising in any given issue of Cosmo or Glamour or [pick your favorite] is intended to make the reader feel that she doesn’t measure up. That's "self-help"??

I would also, at this point, enlist the cooperation of moms and ask them to stop the insanity: that is, stop passing this crap on to another generation. With a handful of exceptions, we men like you women just the way you are. (They seem to know that over in Europe, at least to a larger degree. Why not here?) We don't care if your breasts aren't as firm as they were before you had kids. Breasts are lovely and sweet and endearing, and you can pretty much assume we’re going to adore yours, no matter what they're like--how big or how small, etc. And we don't care about stretch marks after childbirth--you had a baby, for crying out loud!

Maybe you do care about all this, and that's your prerogative. We really don't. So if you're going to do it, please don't do it for us. And I beg you, don't ever do it FOR THEM....


Cosmic Connie said...

Excellent post, Steve, and yes, it does have its place in SHAMblog. But when you think about it, marketers have always made money by making people believe there is something wrong with them.

I was just looking through this old book called, “They Laughed When I Sat Down: An Informal History of Advertising in Words and Pictures,” by Frank Rowsome Jr. The first page I opened to was a full-page ad from the 1920s. The headline was, “You wouldn’t care to meet Marvin.” It showed a pensive-looking guy on the beach, with two women looking on in apparent disgust. Although “in all New York there was no abler man in his field,” poor Marvin had been given the nickname, “the prince of pariahs.” And why? It was because he had the “damning, unforgivable social fault” of….halitosis. I am sure this ad was very effective for Listerine. Many decades later, far more sophisticated variations of that same ad are still hard at work every day, eroding the self-confidence of men and women alike.

Still, I think you’re right on target in your criticism of the beauty/cosmetics/fashion industries. These have been some of the worst offenders for many decades, playing on, and exacerbating, women’s insecurities. I personally have little use for underwear, fancy or no, because it just gets in the way of getting nekkid. I have never worn a Wonderbra or the Victoria’s Secret equivalent, and I still have no idea why Victoria’s Secret was trying to get women to wear angel wings a few years back. Did they actually sell those things in their stores? As for “feminine hygiene” deodorants and related products, what an insult. (I still recall the distressing advice given by either Ann Landers or Dear Abby, who wrote, on more than one occasion: “Men should bathe once a day. Women cannot bathe often enough.”)

OMT: Women aren’t the only targets of the cosmetics industry now, as evidenced by all those metrosexual male products that are taking up shelf space in the stores. I can’t stand the thought of guys exfoliating anything, or getting their chests waxed, or using eyeliner. Truth be told, I don’t even like smelling cologne on a man. I think men smell wonderful naturally (if they bathe at reasonable intervals, of course). To me, most of those snooty designer men’s colognes are oppressive; they smell like the stuff old ladies wear to try to cover up their old-lady body odor.

Well, I need to go exfoliate. So…carry on!
~ CC
And have I mentioned I love your blog?!?

Rodger Johnson said...

Thongs and warming jellies have little to do with guys getting their rocks off with that lovely female friend. I suppose the jelly might help if the guy's going solo.

In my opinion, guys and girls need to be having more sex; we wouldn't be listening to all the marketing hype if we were.

Excellent post!

Steve Salerno said...

Connie and Rodg, thanks for the vote of confidence on this. And you know, I myself recall being incensed "on behalf of women" by that remark about how women "can't bathe often enough"--I thought it was Ann Landers who said it. One doesn't want to get too political here, but the most dangerous people in any social-reform movement are not the outright opponents--you pretty much know where they stand, and can deal with them--but rather the traitors within the movement itself: the people who portray themselves as sympathetic to the overall cause, but take specific stands that actually do more harm than good. That's my basic complaint against the women's mags, actually.

Anonymous said...

wow, that's some pretty intnese stuff for this blog. not bad, just intense and unexpected. food for thought though as always--

Anonymous said...

You know, if this country had its priorities straight, warnings of "mature content" would be reserved for violence, not sex...