Thursday, January 21, 2021

Pathologizing the Pretty

July 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Body Image

Kate Harding was an original contributor to we WeAreTheRealDeal, but had to move on to bigger and better things! Enjoy her post below.


Did you know that “inadequate or not enough lashes” is a medical condition now? It’s true! Just check out this commercial for Latisse, which I found over at the brilliant Sociological Images.

If you don’t have Brooke Shields’s eyelashes naturally, you may have hypotrichosis! (And obviously, Brooke herself totally had puny lashes before discovering Latisse.)

A little background on Latisse: It’s actually the glaucoma drug Lumigan, which was found to have a side effect of making eyelashes longer and fuller. So of course the pharmaceutical company, Allergan, got approval to repackage it, charge 4 times as much for it, and convince women they have a medical condition that justifies buying Latisse instead of a $5 tube of mascara.

As Lauredhel at Hoyden About Town put it when she wrote about this back in February:

Latisse joins Botox, Lap-Band, Natrelle breast implants, and collagen injections and implants, in Allergan’s fleecing-women stable of products. No matter what part of your body the Patriarchy has made you feel insecure about, if you have heaps of time, pots of cash, and a devil-may-care attitude to the potential for adverse effects, Allergan has something you can brush on, inject, or implant in the hope that bodily adjustments will buy you happiness. Advertised results not typical. Standard disclaimers apply.

This is happening more and more. Looking “healthy” is increasingly conflated with meeting conventional beauty standards, so now it’s not just the beauty industry but the pharmaceutical industry trying to sell us products we don’t need to fix flaws that aren’t real. These days, your physical quirks aren’t just “unsightly” but pathological.

If you feel “inadequate and not enough” because you can’t live up to an impossible standard of beauty, you might suffer from Bullshitosis. Ask your doctor.

-Kate Harding



39 Responses to “Pathologizing the Pretty”
  1. Geosomin says:

    Wow. There’s a name for that?

    sheesh. I’ve always had long lashes (they leave marks on my glasses…it’s annoying) but why would you make someone feel inferior to sell them something?

    • Milla says:

      Hey there Geo…
      Well they do that because they think ( and the sales show that) it works. Fear, self-loathing and inadequacy are powerful motivators that drive people to seek a short- term, long-term, chronic, or even potentially harmful solution to the problem they have been convinced that they have. This coupled with intensive “training” of doctors in the field with “continued medical education”, being “detailed” by pharma reps, what is said at congresses and meetings, and what is published in the medical journals ALL of it sponsored and paid for by the people who can profit the most for it ( the pharma , device, biotech whatever companies) and you have an unbeatable 1-2 punch that makes people run and “ask their doctor if (crappy, expensive and potentially harmful) drug X, is RIGHT for them”.

      • What I find incredibly insidious about this in addition to what Milla has already mentioned is that this trend in “disease mongering” (great phrase) also makes people suspicious of genuine chronic medical conditions that disproportionately affect women. There are reams of people (including doctors) out there who don’t believe that, say, PCOS or fibro exists, because clearly they were just invented by Big Pharma to delude women into shelling out cash. Which is awful, but, you know, not unreasonable, given that Big Pharma wants you to think your normal eyelashes are a disease, too.

  2. .C. says:

    If you feel “inadequate and not enough” because you can’t live up to an impossible standard of beauty, you might suffer from Bullshitosis. Ask your doctor.”

    Ha!! I forgot to check who wrote this one, but when I got to that I KNEW it was Kate. Love it. Anyway, I was going to say that I think inadequate eyelashes could be a medical problem, but only if you were practically missing them altogether. I think if they keep dust and crap out of your eyes so you can see (their original function; looking pretty is a bonus) you’re fine. Incidentally, my… significant other, I don’t know what to call him, has lashes WAY longer than mine, or pretty much any girl I have seen. Not something that would be generally accepted on a guy, but no one could say it looks anything but highly attractive on him. Just goes to show that it’s about the individual person, not some one-size-fits all thing.


  3. Milla says:

    I know all about this… because I am one of the people who does it.
    See, I am a medical writer. And this is a marketing technique that the pharma industry that bioethics people have accurately monikered as “disease mongering”.
    A disease is created out of something that is and should be merely a physical characteristic, emotional state, or genetic trait to sell a prescription medication and justify the risks that are usually involved with any and all prescription medications. Oh and of course if it is not a bonified “pathology”, then it will not be covered under insurance prescription plans or national formularies.
    Many, many pseudo diseases have been created and marketed that way. The market is nurtured years, sometimes decades in advance by recruiting scientists and doctors (known as KOLs, key opinion leaders) that in congresses and meetings tell other doctors all about the importance of these pseudo conditions.
    I talk about it because I find it hard to live with the guilt and because in all seriousness as a scientist I think it is wrong.
    If the product is effective and safe it will actually sell, perhaps even more as a cosmetic.
    All without harming people’s self-esteem by making them think that because their eyelashes, bodies, skin, moods etc don’t meet these ridiculous ideals they are diseased and sick.
    More importantly, the money used to research and market the products directed to “treating” these pseudo diseases could be ear-marked to research and develop treatments for REAL diseases like cancer, schizophrenia, HIV, crap… even the common cold…LOL
    That would make me feel a lot better about what I do for a living and would indeed make the world a better place.

  4. I’ll stick to mascara, thanks.

    Meanwhile, is it just me or is Brooke Shields EVERYWHERE these days? I’ve seen her in more commercials lately…Latisse, sunscreen…I know there’s a ton of others…

  5. Kate Harding says:

    Wow, Milla, really interesting to get the inside perspective. And, you know, totally depressing.

  6. Suezette says:

    I love that the “problem” is not enough eyelashes, but the side effects might be permanent eye color change or turning your eyelid brown.

  7. Milla says:

    Geezus Kate, not only depressing bu scary. I have admired you for many, many years for your courage to say the TRUTH about the booga, booga, booga obesity epidemic. As someone who has never met the criteria for (bullshit) “healthy weight” and who was driven to eating disorders by what medicine, the media and the fashion industry (not to speak of the ballet world… I am so crazy, I was a dance major my first 2 years in college) pelter women with.
    I mean I was trained as a bioethicist. Then I go work for big pharma… and really because I have been terrifically unable to silence my conscience (or my mouth or my fingers on the keyboard) I am fairly miserable and unsuccessful at my job. I am trying to change directions in my career and become a regulatory affairs professional which would be more in-line with who I am and with my conscience. Well that and I want to leave pharma behind for good and dedicate myself to designing fabulous plus size clothing which is my true passion. I went to school for that too.
    But you know all about that already 🙂

  8. Kate Harding says:

    Yeah, Milla, there are obvious parallels here with the health hysteria about weight, but I didn’t want to delve into that here, since I don’t have time for the “but fat IS unhealthy!” convo today. 🙂 Even if fat were every terrifying thing they say it is for every last person with a BMI over 25, the sick tangle of beauty standards and “health concerns” there should still be obvious.

  9. Leeandra says:

    Ladies, go get some damn mascara if you want to look like you have longer, thicker lashes. Very long, thick, or weirdly-growing eyelashes are a total pain in the ass or rather, in the eyeballs.

    I’ve been naturally “blessed” with very long, thick, dark eyelashes (which go right along genetically with long, thick, dark body hair, a unibrow, and a moustache), and once eyelashes reach a certain length, you have to cut them if you wear glasses. They also shed continually, and end up under your eyelids and irriate the snot out of you.

    Unless you’re totally missing your eyelashes, this isn’t a medical condition.

  10. Kate Harding says:

    why would you make someone feel inferior to sell them something?

    Because it’s incredibly lucrative. The beauty and weight loss industries in a nutshell.

  11. Deborah says:

    Wait, where are you getting mascara for $5?

  12. Milla says:

    MGL mascara is a time-tested classic! Tried everything else but nothing is as good. Specially for the price….

  13. Forestroad says:

    “Ha!! I forgot to check who wrote this one, but when I got to that I KNEW it was Kate. Love it”

    Me too! Except I knew it the first time I wanted to copy and paste something into an away message (“Looking “healthy” is increasingly conflated with meeting conventional beauty standards, so now it’s not just the beauty industry but the pharmaceutical industry trying to sell us products we don’t need to fix flaws that aren’t real. These days, your physical quirks aren’t just “unsightly” but pathological. “) and that Bullshitosis line just solidified it 🙂

  14. Forestroad says:

    Oh and it’s not my away message right now bc I’m not ready to give up that “magic boobie-giggler vision” line from the other day 🙂

  15. Pegkitty says:

    This commercial came on when I was watching something with my boyfriend; I turned to him and said “If I ever decide to paint prescription crap on my eyelids to make my lashes grow longer, please check into the rest of my medications.”

  16. Skinner says:

    Oh wow. Just when you think they’re running out of things to make people panic about, there’s suddenly an epidemic of eyelash pattern baldness…

  17. Caitlin says:

    The word “inadequate” is wonderfully telling. This ad couldn’t be more clearly intended to communicate “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH” if they put it in capital letters in the subtitles.

  18. Amber says:

    guys, come one. its not all about vanity, a lot of people really don’t have eyelashes. yeah, theres a beautiful woman on television marketing this product, but thats how you sell anything. i think just assuming everyone who has okay eyelashes is being bombarded to rub crap onto their eyes is ludicrous, some people really don’t have any. my grand mother in fact didn’t until she started using eye drops, which have similar side effects. and i know someone is going to think “even if you don;t have enough lashes you should deal with it!” but that leave you open for a lot of eye allergies because your lashes aren’t full enough to keep the dust pollen and dander out of your eyes! i’m just saying, theres a purpose for everything.

    • Meg says:

      This medication claims to give you longer, fuller, darker lashes. How do *DARKER* lashes help prevent eye allergies? This commercial is set up like a cosmetics commercial where the product has some kind of gimmicky semi-permanent result, not a commercial for a serious medication. Aside from the requisite health warnings, it was pretty much the same as that commercial for the lipstick that supposedly changed your lips to the color of the lipstick with enough use. (Was that a Cover Girl thing?) Or the moisturizers that slowly give you a natural-looking tan, or tooth whitening stuff. “If you buy this and use it every day, you’ll be PRETTY like this model! We have proof, just watch these successive pictures of the pretty lady’s changes over 7/14/30 days!!!” Also, most non-cosmetic medications don’t have a “before and after” picture gallery on the website, or a sales pitch from a makeup artist, or a page on the history on “lash enhancement” that is actually a history of eye makeup.

      If they were marketing it to people who really didn’t have enough lashes to protect their eyes from stuff, there probably would’ve been some *actual mention of that problem* within their marketing campaign, you know? The condition you’re talking about doesn’t sound fun, and it might be what the FDA approved Latisse for, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that Allergan is counting on women whose eyelashes are functional but not Brooks Shieldsy enough to ask for prescriptions en masse.

  19. Anon says:

    I saw this commercial a few days ago and my immediate thought was umm… even for cosmetic reasons why would you do this? I mean, how many guys (and gals) are checking out a woman and go hmm.. nice bod, pretty face, confident smile, but OH NEVERMIND, not enough eyelashes!

  20. Mmm says:

    I have to admit that i use the stuff and love it. Thanks to genetics, my hair starting falling out big time in my 20s… and having 3 kids and hormonal fluctuations hasn’t helped at all. I am painfully self-conscious about my bald spots, my thinning eyebrows, and my skimpy eyelashes.

    I’ve come to terms with being fat, but for whatever reason, the hair thing just continues to make me sad. The stupid eyelash stuff has made me incredibly happy. It’s nice to have eyelashes again… wish i could put the stuff on my scalp and have it work.

    I can’t justify it. It’s a foolish indulgence, really. But it puts a smile on my face every day. Lame, i know. (And fortunately have managed to escape all side effects after 4 months.)

    • Nikki says:

      This is my problem with people saying stuff is “wrong” or “bad.” Using Latisse makes you happy and isn’t causing you adverse side effects. You’re not hurting me or anyone else. So you should not feel like it’s foolish to use a product that makes you happy!! I wear mascara every day, so I guess I’m foolish, too.

      I would probably try Latisse myself except that I like my blue eyes and I don’t want them to turn brown. Do I even have the side effects right? Would this stuff potentially make my eyes brown or just darker blue??

  21. onesillyme says:

    I use the prescription version of these drops–for glaucoma! I haven’t noticed that my lashes are darker or thicker. However, everyone HAS noticed that my eyes are chronically red and that I have dark pigment on my upper lids to compliment the deepening of the natural shadows below. I am a Social Worker and I have to constantly assure my clients that I have not been crying and am not acutely ill.

    To add insult to injury, the drops aren’t doing enough, I’m intolerant of the other med choices, lazer surgery didn’t work (3 times) and now I have to have traditional surgery. The kind where they cut a hole in the eye and hope it won’t heal so as to relieve the pressure before I go completely blind in my left eye. Afterward I have to give up my contact lenses (which give me better vision than glasses) because of the rest-of-my-life increased risk of infection.

    What I have IS worth the risks of these drops. Someone who has few/no lashes and is getting debris in their eye (risking infection, corneal scratches, etc.) would probably find these drops worth trying. They are NOT, however, appropriate for someone who just wants to quit buying mascara! I’ll argue with anyone who tries to tell me different!

  22. Lisa says:

    Another post about Latisse over at HappyBodies.

  23. Nikki says:

    Sometimes drugs have an effect that the scientists didn’t foresee. For example, accutane was originally a chemotherapy drug but the scientists found that one of the side effects was permanent decrease in oil production which helped acne patients. If you have ever known anyone who suffered from severe cystic acne (or if you have suffered yourself) you know it’s not just a cosmetic issue. Accutane has its risks, but it’s a godsend for some people.

    I know severe cystic acne isn’t on the same level with “inadequate” eyelashes… But if there are drugs that can help people feel better about themselves and the person acknowledges and accepts the risk, how is that hurting anyone?

  24. Lu says:

    As comments above prove, BS marketing like this works because you can always find a grain of truth in it, even if that grain is only there because we’ve already been conditioned to understand and respond to marketing.

    Yes, there are people who have lashes that are inadequate for the physical function that lashes perform (e.g. keeping things out of your eyes). But what Kate’s talking about is the pathologizing of a normal state of affairs. This marketing makes women worry that their lashes are inadequate, that they have a disorder that fortunately can be cured by this expensive cosmeceutical. I assume the first groups to respond to the product will be people who always have stuff blowing into their eyes, and those who already are very self-conscious about their functional but aesthetically inadequate eyelashes. Then it will spread to other women who use mascara but want to try another option. Then it will seep into people’s beauty standards, and people who never gave a f*** about their eyelashes before will start wondering if they measure up.

    It’s just like the teeth-whitening and veneer craze, the cosmetic dentistry stuff. There used to be a somewhat wide range of aesthetically “acceptable” teeth. If you didn’t have any big gaps, and they were fairly straight and not brown, and you could chew without pain, you were probably happy with your teeth and no one hassled you. Then the marketers got to work, and renamed your teeth your “smile,” and made it a potential point of weakness or inadequacy for people to worry about. Voila—ubiquitous fluorescent chiclet teeth and big, shiny, fake smiles.

    And boob jobs. And eyebrow-shaping. And six-pack abs. For any physical characteristic, there are always some people who are so far beyond what is perceived as the norm (or believe themselves to be beyond it) that you can understand why they would be driven to make certain modifications, even though it would be wonderful to have a world where people didn’t have to feel self-conscious about it, of course. It’s the job of the marketers to the rest of us feel like we ARE ALL those people, or at least as many of us as possible. So yeah, that’s why even though you can find a use for this new product, in making that argument, you’re working in tandem with the marketing team whose job it is to make you think that way.

  25. Lu says:

    P.S. In case that essay weren’t enough, I want to make sure the point doesn’t get lost that it’s not that people don’t deserve to “correct” whatever they are able to if they really want to. No one’s blaming the customers. It’s the marketers who are out there *creating* a whole new category of customers who never before thought that their eyelashes were a big enough problem to use a fricking glaucoma drug to solve it.

  26. Rebecca says:

    This is sort of a sore spot for me, because I have a serious mental illness that was unknown to everyone but professionals for years on end, until they discovered that antidepressants were effective in treating it. (It’s social anxiety disorder, aka social phobia.) The marketing for the pills was aimed at people who might have it but hadn’t been diagnosed yet, so it was mostly “Do you have difficulty socializing?” and stuff like that.

    Critics of pharmawhatchoomacallit didn’t like the advertising, of course, but instead of attacking what they thought was wrong about the marketing or how the drug was distributed or whatever, they went after the disease, and, by extension, the people with it. “They’re pathologizing normal shyness! Taking a pill to make you outgoing is ridiculous. If you think you’re too shy you should just buckle up, bootstraps,” etc. See, since they had never heard of it before, they assumed it was new, when really it had been studied since the 1930s. And they didn’t really bother to do any research about it.

    That started in 1999 when Paxil was approved for social anxiety disorder (incidentally, it was one of the first prescriptions I tried). I was diagnosed with it in 2007, and that controversy has made my life more difficult. It kind of sucks for me.

    What I’m saying is that hypotrichosis isn’t Bullshitsosis because you’ve never heard of it or because Brooke Shields is in a ridiculous TV commercial. The FDA certainly does not approve medications for medical disorders that the pharmaceutical companies made up.

  27. Lu says:

    Rebecca, I respect your objections, but I’m not saying that hypotrichosis is BS. I talked about that in my response, and my feeling is that Kate might be on the same page. What’s under discussion is the creation in peoples’ minds of a need to use a glaucoma drug in order to get prettier lashes. My mom uses that drug because she has glaucoma, and yes, she has longer eyelashes, but she also has stains all around her eyes that don’t go away unless she stops using Lumigan. (That is, I presume they would go away if she did.) This is a serious medicine for people who need it, people with hypotrichosis included, but the drug company is clearly seeking to make a lot of money convincing a whole bunch of other people that they need to use it, too. The FDA originally approved Lumigan for glaucoma. And in Dec. 2008, according to a WebMD article, “An FDA advisory panel today recommended approving Latisse, a drug to promote longer, thicker, darker eyelashes.” Do you think they’d be spending all this money on marketing if it were directed only to people who have a medical condition?

    Again, as I said, “Yes, there are people who have lashes that are inadequate for the physical function that lashes perform (e.g. keeping things out of your eyes). But what Kate’s talking about is the pathologizing of a normal state of affairs.”

  28. The problem is the marketing, not the product. If they had a commercial showing people talking about how their lack of eyelashes affected their health and self-esteem, and then showed someone with no eyelashes growing some, that would be ok. If they had a commercial showing someone with normal lashes getting super duper lashes and they called it a permanent replacement for mascara, which happens to require a prescription, that would be ok. But instead they put a scary medical term and the description “inadequate or not enough lashes” on a picture of an eye with normal lashes that got super duper lashes.

  29. Annass says:

    Where can I get this stuff? See…it works!

  30. Melissa Bray says:

    Is it alright to publish a number of this on my page basically post a link for this page?


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