So Fresh and So Clean: Acne Edition

Image: Flickr user SA_Steve

I can’t say I know anyone who embraces acne. But if you are an already-self-conscious adolescent (or a young adult with the more-than-occasional breakout), these ads can seem unnecessarily cruel. The above ad is disguised as a comic strip entitled, “No one at the Hootenany gave a ‘hoot’ about me (because of my oily complexion).”

The narrative centers around Lynn, a young woman tormented with the horrors of acne. We learn in the first frame, which depicts a party of guitar-strumming guys surrounded by smiling, acne-free girls in the background, and Lynn all alone in the foreground, that acne leads to social ostracization. “That’s why no one notices me,” Lynn laments to her friend.  Luckily, Lynn’s friend comes to the rescue with Fresh Start. Lynn tries it out, actually feels it “tingling on her skin,” and at the next Hootenany, Lynn gets serenaded by a guitar-strumming blond guy, and all ends ‘hoot-ily’ ever after.

Image: Flickr user SA_Steve

The next ad starts out with the ‘happily ever after’ success story, featuring a young woman who “has the loveliest face!” because she uses Golden Peacock Bleach Creme.  It was not always the case, though. “Once muddy skin, freckles and blemishes made her actually homely,” the copy reads. With this bleach creme, “in only ten minutes a week,” a young woman can obtain clear, “dazzling white” skin.

My question for you, ModReaders, is what about the guys in these ads? They seem to be the reason these girls are so desperate to achieve a clear complexion, but do they face the same pressure to have clear skin? If so, do you think the pressure they experience as young men is as  intense as the pressure these young women experience? Why or why not?

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  1. Sydney 06/29/2010 at 1:57 pm #

    Ugh. These ads are ridiculous.

    As somebody who has been dealing with acne for oh, about 10 years now, I know that it can be really, really hard. But these ads kind of make it seem like you’re less of a person if you have bad skin, and that’s just mean.

  2. brianna 06/29/2010 at 3:32 pm #

    in all honesty men don’t have the pressures women have because we do it to ourselves! why do you think people say “women dress for women, not men” if women were just slightly more supportive with other women it maybe wouldn’t be like that. men look at their acne and maybe think “oh i need to wash my face more” or “oh i don’t care!” women on the other hand see acne as something other women will scoff at. sad but ture

  3. Amelia 06/29/2010 at 3:54 pm #

    eww, bleach creme, that sounds sickening! It’s also annoying how easy these ads make getting rid of acne look. Instant results! Hmmph, yeahh right!

  4. Katharine Ellis Tapley 06/29/2010 at 4:47 pm #

    What’s wrong with freckles? I love mine!

  5. Katie 06/29/2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I don’t know what the circumstances were when these ads came out, but nowadays where I live anyway, the pressure for guys and girls to have clear skin is about the same. I know plenty of guys who stress about their acne just as much, and sometimes more, than some girls.

  6. Birta 06/29/2010 at 6:33 pm #

    I agree with Brianna.

  7. Jenny Lee 06/29/2010 at 6:44 pm #

    I’m with Katharine. I love my freckles as well!

  8. Stacy 06/29/2010 at 9:26 pm #

    I agree that women need to be way more supportive of other women, but from what I’ve witnessed, guys struggle with skin issues, too. I’ve seen my nephew try to fight his with various cleaners and creams and his breakouts make him self-conscious. I think one difference is that, often, guys crack self deprecating jokes, which makes it seem like it doesn’t bother them.

  9. Jayme 06/30/2010 at 9:44 am #

    I enjoy these posts so much. I know guys who struggle with acne and I know a lot of them feel self-conscious; but the way that acne is gendered in these ads is fascinating. Are there any ads, either from back in the day or more recently, that target men and frame acne as something that will keep them from getting girlfriends? (Which, hello heteronormativity, eh?)

  10. C 06/30/2010 at 10:40 am #

    I’ve struggled with acne too for a LONG time and some of the stress is from not wanting people to see, but a lot of it is just that it’s uncomfortable and bothers me. Guys would probably feel the same thing PLUS the shaving issues and no make up. I would say it evens out.

  11. Michelle 06/30/2010 at 10:56 am #

    My bf struggles with acne and has been for almost 10 years. For the longest time thats why he thought he could never get girls because of his face. Men have just as much of a problem with it as girls do….but girls talk about it more openly. Plus the media is more focused on women anyway.

  12. Julia 06/30/2010 at 12:36 pm #

    I agree that men and women are pretty much equal targets for the “acne is embarrassing! buy acne medication and get an instant improved life!” thing… but I do think women are targeted much more viciously in the sense that they need to “buy” their validation as women… cosmetics, hair styling products, diet pills, clothes, interior decor… the list goes on and on. Everyone feels like they have to have nice things to get ahead, but I think women feel the consumer pressure (and the pressure ravages their self esteem) the most.

  13. fawn 06/30/2010 at 3:03 pm #

    I think men undergo the same struggles. There may be even more cultural pressure on them to pretend that they don’t. Those forces are just as insidious as the more blatant ones damaging the female psyche.

  14. Kellie 06/30/2010 at 6:44 pm #

    I’ve had acne my entire life, but I’ve seen guys struggle with it just as much. Honestly, sometimes I think acne can be even more of a problem for guys than it is for girls, since it’s not nearly as socially acceptable for boys to use concealer and foundation to hide blemishes. At least when I have an embarrassing breakout, I can cover it up wihtout feeling awkward about it.,

  15. Bri 06/30/2010 at 9:29 pm #

    Jayme, to answer your question, there is a very recent ad that features a boy sitting in a drugstore, waiting for the right acne medicine to come along. when he eventually finds it, and his skin is clear, it shows him confidently talking to girls while waiting outside of a concert. so, guys can be featured in ads. but im not sure about ads in the past…

  16. Bri 06/30/2010 at 9:32 pm #

    side note: i think freckles are adorable, and i really miss mine!

  17. Jayme 07/01/2010 at 9:40 am #

    Thanks for the info, Bri! I hadn’t seen that ad.

  18. Jess 07/02/2010 at 5:36 pm #

    I have to say, I’m a little more disturbed by the second ad’s valuation and assumptions of ‘whiteness,’ consequently threatening that acne, blemishes, and freckles are not accepted markers of ideal whiteness. Rather, such things are thus implied to signify not only imperfection, ‘homeliness,’ and defect, but also being ‘less than’ white. This creates the polarization of whiteness/perfection and ‘everything else,’ exploiting the fear of being anything but the white ideal. And if one cannot achieve this ideal even through their ‘dainty’ creams (so do we ALL have this ‘natural’ whiteness?), whether it be due to acne or skin color, she can never belong with those deemed worthwhile and desirable.

    Anyway, I bet that bleaching is painful as hell!

    • Victoria 10/28/2010 at 1:34 pm #

      I have to agree with Jess. It concerned me they were discussing the muddiness (brown ness) of her complexion, while here in the southern US, my white daughters feel the pressure to be brown to fit in with all their friends. No one should be ashamed of the amount of melanin in their skin!!!

  19. bonita 07/08/2010 at 11:02 pm #

    I think that girls find the pressure of having to have clear skin harder. I think guys feel ostrasized by acne, but not in the same way.

    They don’t have to face off yards and yards of air-brushed models, because most of the time the real worlds likes guys slightly scruffy.

    Whereas girls/women will always be comparing themselves to the standard of feminity held up to us by the media.

    With not so clear skin my self, I know how self concious it can make you….

    b. of Depict This!

  20. Emily L. 08/17/2010 at 5:48 pm #

    I love my super-pale skin. I also love my freckles! Silly bleach cream. Though I might use a bleach cream to be even paler if they weren’t so dangerous. I happen to be very pale, and instead of trying to tan, I embrace it.

    • Victoria 10/28/2010 at 1:36 pm #

      They still use those bleach cremes in India, to lighten their skin and look more “beautiful”. Lol. If they could only have pale skin for a year! I can’t even go out in the sunlight without getting burned.

    • martina 11/07/2011 at 2:15 pm #

      I totally agree. I think tans are tacky. My skin is fairly medium( well for a caucasian person, anyhow) but I generally like it best when I have no tan. Then my eyes look really blue, and my hair looks really intense.

  21. martina 11/07/2011 at 2:10 pm #

    Yeah. I love my skin as pale as possible too. And yes. Men have similar concerns. For example height. Men who are short are at an extreme disadvantage to men who are tall. People see short men as less effective, weaker, and more nervous. The same goes to a bad complexion of course. People associate a bad complexion in both men and women with bad health, dirtyness and bad eating habits. Even though its likely just genetic. Beauty is a great asset to a man or a woman, and it is certainly true that a less attractive man can use finances as an inducement, a woman can not do so very successfully. Many features of beauty are simply indicators of good health and youth. Like slenderness. A thin woman is far more likely to be healthy, active, and live longer. Which is great in a mate. Men are very visual and place a high premium on looks, which I absolutely enjoy, personally.

  22. Kirby 02/01/2012 at 9:42 pm #

    The second ad is a little harsh against people who don’t have “natural whiteness” too.. Not only do you have to have perfectly clear skin to be attractive, you have to have creamy white skin. I have a Greek background so for the duration of summer I have olive skin (in winter I’m paler). Someone with my skin could be shamed into feeling like their colouring was the wrong kind or ugly because of this ad.

    P.S. It’s funny that some of you are saying you prefer pale skin. I’m Australian and you rarely see (Australian produced) commercials of women with pale skin. Here we have an unhealthy obsession with being bronzed. For that reason we have a fair few anti-tanning, skin cancer ads on tv too.

  23. Britny 03/30/2012 at 7:09 am #

    The sad part is is that this is so still true today with the men! Have u seen some of the men who get into movies? They have big crooked noses, or wrinkled skin and huge eye brown and spots all over their faces, and way overweight, but there are no women actresses who are huge with all of these things! It’s just not right!

  24. Lori 05/15/2012 at 4:17 am #

    I am brown and very beautiful, I live in Germany where being brown skinned is not frowned upon. I am constantly complimented for looking healthy and for having amazing beautiful black skin. My husband is German and I am Jamaican and when we start having a family, he hopes that the kids will get my brown genes.

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