When Advertising for Beauty Services goes too far

by Paris B on · 27 comments

in Discussions

rubens 3 graces

Recently there’s a series of advertorials on TV lightly disguised as a series of half hourly TV programmes, sponsored by beauty service companies. The series focuses on 3 areas most affecting women (and some men) – hair loss, skin problems and weight and ironically, the title of the programme is something along the lines of “My Confidence”.

I don’t have a problem with such companies advertising their services on TV. What I do have a problem with is the way such blatant advertising is done via a weekly programme. Preceeded by a short skit, the girl or woman (its usually female) with the problem is usually shown being laughed at or ridiculed by strangers, friends and even family.

The case stories are usually quite trite:-

  • People purporting to be good friends ignore a girl who has bad acne when they take photos – the friends have flawless skin
  • Husband scolds a wife for being fat and unattractive
  • Colleagues snigger and poke fun at a girl who has thinning hair

In all cases, the girl in question always ends up a wreck – crying, desperate, in despair and then like a ray of light, hope comes in the form of a beauty service which purports to give you a free trial to cure all your ills and turn you from cygnet to swan.

Free trial sessions are a way to hook you in and can be expensive

A first hand experience of a “free trial” at a slimming salon teaches us that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The services in question are usually very expensive and may in some cases, take you nowhere. Also not everyone can resist the hard-sell of the sales people who, lets face it, are out to make their commission.

The treatments may have worked for the ladies in the case studies but no mention is made of how much they had spent on those treatments, how long it took or whether they had been sponsored by the companies. I’ve been to one of those salons for a free trial (for skincare – its named after the Big Apple 😛 ) and I was quoted a “discounted package price” of RM6,000 for 10 sessions with “free double mask”. When I protested, the price miraculously dropped all the way to RM2,888. Needless to say, I never signed up.

Beauty services that prey on insecurities are unethical

I must confess that I watched some of those advertorials for want of something better and out of morbid curiousity. What struck me as a recurring theme was how desperate these women were portrayed to be and how insecure and brow-beaten they were made to feel by the community at large and even by family.They only purport to regain their confidence after going for the beauty services advertised and turning into a swan after a full makeover.

In one case, a husband who paid no attention to his wife’s pigmentation or melasma had a sudden about turn when he saw another woman having the same condition, making his wife feel awful about how she looked. What was significant to note was that the other woman was happy in the company of her friends and not cowering under the weight of her skin condition thereby showing you can be confident too even if you are battling a skin problem.

These beauty companies know that such insecurities are common among women and they are preying on it, purporting to offer a solution to “restore your confidence” but what they neglect to tell us is how much the solution would cost. This is the part I find unethical. I would be more willing to consider them credible had they mentioned the time taken, and the cost involved to turn such women from what is perceived to be a wreck to a dazzling beauty queen. Also, whether maintenance is required and how often and how much that would cost.

No instant solution except through hard work and education

Of the 3 common insecurities faced by women as depicted by the advertorials, I’ve experienced 2 – I’ve been overweight and I’ve had problem skin. I can tell you from experience that nothing can solve the problem bar hard work – healthy eating and exercise and allowing your hormones to stablize and learning the benefits of proper skincare. If I knew then what I know now about skincare, I might have had less problems! In very serious cases of acne, antibiotics might be the best solution – a good dermatologist though pricey may be a better bet than a facial salon pressing you to buy products that may or may not work. I’m not saying none of the services work – some might, but a lot of the success is attributed to education whether on the merits of eating a balanced healthy diet or having a proper skincare routine.

BUT throughout my weight and skin problems I never had anything but full support and love from my family and friends so I did not have my confidence undermined like the women on TV – perhaps that’s the key; and it saddens me that not only is society behaving such, there are companies that would exploit this on television, making even more women feel insecure about their looks and weight.

TV stations should not allow degrading advertorials

I personally feel that TV stations should exercise their discretion more astutely to NOT allow such blatant advertising thinly disguised as a tv series, especially when a large part of it shows women being degraded for how they look, even if they may be wonderful mothers, sisters, daughters or friends.

It seems to send the message that you will only be loved or have friends if you are thin, clear skinned with a full head of hair. Ironically, in one case, the girl’s boyfriend had been with her from when she had skin problems. Of course he admitted to the interviewer that she looked better with clear skin but the point remains that he saw beyond her superficial beauty to fall in love with her and be her boyfriend when she had bad skin, not after her skin cleared up. And that I feel, is the moral to take away from the show – that someone can love you any way you look and that is the confidence we need, not mere outer beauty.

Have you seen these advertorials on TV? Do you have any thoughts on it or on the degradation of women in such advertorials? Do share any thoughts you may have :)

Stay beautiful

Paris B

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[ 27 comments… read them below or join the discussion ]

geekchic September 8, 2009 at 9:26 am

Oh I can write a book about wanting to kill the copywriter or the tv station for allowing such ads be aired. In australia where it’s a leetle more liberal, you’ll find really insulting ads by beer and men’s deodorant companies. Usually degrading and objectifying women. Chances are, once they’re aired, they get pulled off immediately. While we’re on the subject of media behaving badly, do a google on “kyle sandilands lie detector” and see how badly this excuse of a human being behaved.

And I still haven’t finished whinging :)


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Hi Geek

I googled that case and yes that was sick. There was a recent lie detector programme on local radio too. I think at least 2 marriages broke up because of it. I thought it was utterly sick. Sometimes what we don’t know doesn’t hurt us :(


Coral September 8, 2009 at 9:56 am

Bravo! This is an awesome article. We would not feel good about ourselves even if we have perfect skin, body but have low self-esteem.


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Hi Coral

Thank you and you’re right. Sometimes even the most perfect looking people have insecurities – we just don’t know it.


sweetlikechocolate September 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

Oh I think I have seen this TV programme. It’s really sad, to think that those beauty companies prey on women’s insecurities to get sales. I hate the part where the husband was shouting at the wife for being overweight. It really does give bad vibes to viewers. There are probably better tactful ways to tackle these problems.

Personally I think if a person wants to lose weight, eating right and exercising will be much more effective in the long run. And you don’t need a fortune to do that :)


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Hi sweetlikechocolate

Yep I couldn’t understand how people can do that to others especially if they are married or have kids. Sometimes the women might have put on weight or have pigmentation because of the kids but that isn’t highlighted. I fully agree with you that eating right and exersise is the best way to go about it.


September 8, 2009 at 10:07 am

i have not seen the ad on the tv (without tv at home), but i read about the write-up in the star few days ago. as much as i hate being fat, but i think it is very ridiculous and unethical of them to put women down like that. i have had friends who work in the slimming centers, each time they see me, they would look as though they are x-raying me and it annoys the hell out of me! but sometimes, i do admire people who are not afraid of how they look, and are still confidence. i think i still have along way to achieve that since..i, sadly, is also one of the weak preys of those unscrupulous companies :(


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Hey prettybeautiful

Aww… the point to note here is that you KNOW they are being unscrupulous in wearing you down so you just have to strengthen yourself against their wily ways :) At least you know the enemy :)


beetrice September 8, 2009 at 10:20 am

amen to that! it’s bad enough that SAs at beauty counters spill over with comments about your skin/weight/wrinkles/cellulite/etc, but now on TV too? i’ve taken up a few of those “free trial” sessions in my younger days, and swear those places have mastered the art of bad lighting and mirror placement that emphasize and mock every imperfection… o.O

simply said, all us ladies (and men!) should band together and boycott ALL these demeaning brands/services. i reckon our hard-earned $$ should be spent on something that makes us feel good, not feel even worse right?


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Hey Beetrice

Yes! But you know what, on the flipside, aren’t cosmetic companies doing it too? Making us feel we need a wrinkle cream or whitening product to look better? Hmm… 😛 At least the majority don’t resort to being degrading to us to make a sale because I walk away from any counter that does that to me!


sesame September 8, 2009 at 10:43 am

Wa, that’s bad. We do have sponsored programs here but if I recall correctly, the girls were not treated so badly but the drift is still that they have low esteem.

Beauty has become so superficial and the worse is, women actually buy into such ads/stories. *sigh*


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Hi Sesame

Yep it appears that such companies have perfected the art of subliminal advertising so those who have a little problem immediately think its a big one.


September 8, 2009 at 11:13 am

What a great article Paris!!

It’s just not right to prey on other people’s insecurities and earn money from that! Ugh!


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Hi Jenn

What I’d like to know is what is the percentage of success vs the unsuccessful stories!


Yani September 8, 2009 at 11:23 am

Great piece, Miss B! You nailed it – I’ve stopped paying attention to shows/ads like the ones you mentioned. My gripe is this, it’s not just tv, we Malaysians have this bad habit of greeting friends with “eh, you lost/gained weight ka?” instead of “how are you?”. I never had issues with my weight till my pregnancy – I gained 25kg! (But everything tasted sooo good!, haha). In the process of trying to lose it, but hating the comments I’m getting from friends/acquaintances on my weight gain. How can it not affect a woman’s self-confidence? I say enough already!


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Hi Yani

You said it! I don’t get that “Oh you lost weight” “Oh you put on weight” thing. What’s important is that we are healthy no? You look great lah… no need to give in to comments 😀


September 8, 2009 at 11:48 am

It’s annoying and frustrating to watch ads like that. It’s bad enough for so-called features in women’s magazines which are actually advertorials, and now there’s TV shows too?

On a separate note (but similar to the style of advertisement you mentioned above), over here we have massive billboards in every suburb, with huge words “Want Longer Lasting SEX?” with the word “sex” blown up. Only to find much smaller print at the bottom of the billboard to contact AMI (Advanced Medical Institute – allegedly popular for some nasal spray that can apparently make the men last longer). There were even TV ads bringing down men for premature ejaculation, but the govt pulled these ads because they were too degrading.

Oh yeah, I agree with Geekchic, go google the Kyle Sandilands case. It’s sickening, and I can’t believe they actually let him back on air.


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Hi Tine

I did google the case and it was sick. At least in Australia they pull the ads. Over here the advertorial as been running for MONTHS! With no comments and its only recently that some women have raised it in the media through letters to the papers. Still I don’t see any action being taken.


Reese September 8, 2009 at 11:50 am

sigh, i have relatives who called up to ask me to sign up for weight management programmes just because I looked heavier than before.. Like Yani, my acquaintainces and friends monitor my weight as if its their problem, and told me I look pretty if I stay thin. Hello, my BMI is healthy so budge off! But that motivated me to stay discipline to regular exercises and eat healthier though.

PB, I am not sure the advertorials are actually produced by my friend is the Marketing Manager of a leading slimming company (named after a place in London, I think), I have not watch the ads, if its true, she will be getting a earful.LOL!


ParisB September 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Hi Reese

You too look great so don’t give in! Not all of us have to be stick thin and anorexic. I personally prefer looking at a woman with curves vs a skeleton and we wear dresses better too with curves 😛 As for the ad, um… I guess you could say its that group of companies 😛


Saintangelius September 8, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I guarantee you that those ‘sad excuses for ads’ didn’t come from an advertising agency worth it’s salt. The scripts written for the skits were so thoughtless and downright disgusting. Only a complete chauvinist would write such trash like that… or the boss of said Slimming company ^^;;;
I chanced upon one of these episodes when I was watching tv with the boyfriend. The both of us were watching with our eyeballs popping out. Never had we seen anything like that particularly on Malaysian TV. It was pretty blatant. But the good thing about it, is that it opened an avenue of discussion. As indie film makers and creative people (and bloggers!) we should make it our priority and effort to show people that there are better ways to inform society about issues. And also that you can tell better stories than that if you put some effort into it.


ParisB September 9, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Hi Saintangelius

Even for advertising I think it was too degrading. You’re right that there are better ways to sell a product than to show someone scolding another for being fat.


Connie September 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Wonderful post! Those advertisements are definitely very degrading. I blame mostly the society and it’s even worse in Asia. Girls are expected to be petite and have fair skin otherwise, they’re ugly. I’m hot by Moroccan standards but not Malaysian Lol. That actually makes me more confident because I know guys generally won’t come to harass me. Why do you think Andrew’s so secure with himself? :p
But these companies, even though you’re already fair and petite, they’ll still find something to criticize and “fix”. A friend of mine who is already underweight (eats like a pig but she simply can’t put on weight) and when she went for some slimming centre free consultation (for fun), they were pin pointing all of her supposed flaws and calculating her fats… the girl doesn’t have flabs for goodness sake!
Ugh, I remember seeing one of those slimming advertisements, the girl wasn’t even overweight to begin with based on the figures they stated.
Oh! just last week, I went to the game shop that I haven’t been to in a while and the dude that works there was at the back talking to his colleague so he didn’t come over to us (we were talking to the shop owner). He acknowledged me, waved “Hi” and then made a sign that basically translates to “You’ve put on weight. why?” -_- was that even necessary? I gave a weak smile and didn’t linger long enough for him to actually come over and say that verbally.

ok, I’m done rambling…


ParisB September 9, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Hey Connie

You are NOT fat and people should learn to say “How are you” instead of “Put on weight?” It irks me.


Sylvia September 8, 2009 at 3:12 pm

I know exactly who are the 3 companies that advertise these misleading short films. All 3 of them are branched out from one same company that provide services for hair loss, slimming and facial solutions. I saw the slimming solution short film just last week and took pity of any audience that may fell prey.

But there was another discon advert some time ago, which I found witty. :)
A girl with slim silhoutte received a call from ex-bf, begging her on the phone, “Fei Fei, please forgive me. Please come back to me.” At which Fei Fei (means fat girl in Cantonese) angrily put down the phone. She’s obviously been dumped when she’s fat and now when she is a slim hot chick, her ex-bf wants her back.


ParisB September 9, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Hey Sylvia

Yep they’re all the same people which is sickening. The ad you mentioned is kinda cute. Its a bit of reverse psychology without being degrading.


Jooj September 10, 2009 at 1:51 pm

I agree that such practices are unethical and sickening. What’s even more sickening is how many people will brush it off, laugh it off or just turn around and accuse US of having a big fat stick up our arse.


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