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Subject: AEJ 05 GolombiK CCS Anti-Aging Magazine Advertising and the War on Nature
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
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Date:Mon, 30 Jan 2006 05:04:28 -0500
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This paper was presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and
Mass Communication in San Antonio, Texas August 2005.
         If you have questions about this paper, please contact the author
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(Jan 2006)
Thank you.
Elliott Parker
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"Anti-Aging" Magazine Advertising and the War on Nature
Kim Golombisky
University of South Florida


Contact:
Kim Golombisky, assistant professor
School of Mass Communications CIS1040
University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Ave.
Tampa, FL 33620

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"Anti-Aging" Magazine Advertising and the War on Nature
Kim Golombisky, University of South Florida

Abstract
This essay examines "anti-aging" skincare advertising in women's 
magazines to wonder about the representational politics of midlife 
women. If culture defines beauty as a woman's greatest asset and 
defines beauty by youth, then it is no surprise that anti-aging 
advertising consists of a battle cry to wage a high-tech war on 
aging. But the impulse to counter-argue that aging is natural is no 
less problematic, for our understanding of nature depends on the same 
scientific discourses that align the feminine with nature and also 
position science to control both women and nature.

Key Words: aging, advertising, feminism, magazines, women

"Anti-Aging" Magazine Advertising and the War on Nature
Abstract
This essay examines "anti-aging" skincare advertising in women's 
magazines to wonder about the representational politics of midlife 
women. If culture defines beauty as a woman's greatest asset and 
defines beauty by youth, then it is no surprise that anti-aging 
advertising consists of a battle cry to wage a high-tech war on 
aging. But the impulse to counter-argue that aging is natural is no 
less problematic, for our understanding of nature depends on the same 
scientific discourses that align the feminine with nature and also 
position science to control both women and nature.
Introduction
In 1978 Williamson twisted the ideological lid off an Oil of Olay 
magazine advertisement that read, "Your age is no secret if your skin 
lets you down" (p. 68). Williamson (1978) pointed out that, first, 
the ad poised the reader in literal face-off that commodified her 
skin. Second, the young model with flawless skin in the ad's visual 
was positioned as a mirror for the reader. The Olay ad addressed the 
reader as "mature" but still possessing the "possibility" to be 
"attractive" with the help of Oil of Olay. The Olay ad suggested time 
betrays the reader because it "takes with it the youthful moisture 
that makes young skin young." In the narrative of this advertisement, 
women's own faces collude with time to rob women of their youth, thus 
beauty. But Oil of Olay—with its "blend of tropical moist oils that 
almost exactly duplicate our skin's own natural lubrication"—enlisted 
nature to save the reader's face from "wrinkle dryness."
Today's Oil of Olay, along with Olay's competitors, in many ways 
echoes this advertising story about the negative effects of time and 
the secrets women keep to hide their age. What is different today, 
however, is the lucrative demographic of aging boomer women this 
product category targets. Today's oeuvre is also more blatant and 
insistent in its "anti-aging" discourse, and the beautiful young 
model as a Lacanian mirror is less prevalent in current advertising 
for "mature" skincare. Additionally, while the 1978 version partners 
cosmetic products with a scientifically enhanced nature (Williamson, 
1978), the 2004 version enlists biomedical technology in a war on nature.
If culture defines beauty as a women's greatest asset, and if our 
culture defines beauty as youth, then it should come as no surprise 
that the rhetoric of skincare advertising that targets female boomers 
consists of a battle cry to wage war against aging. This essay 
examines the rhetorical magic of anti-aging skincare advertising to 
wonder about the representational politics of middle-aged women. 
Contemporary "anti-aging" advertising exists at the nexus of a 
cultural aversion to aging in general and aging women specifically 
and a commercial enterprise hoping to cash in on the considerable 
spending power of an aging female baby boomer population.
For the moment, however, this commercial enterprise seems to be at 
something of a loss as to how to represent female middle age visually 
in advertising imagery. In this study of contemporary magazine 
advertising for "mature" skincare products, I find an ironic emphasis 
on the "visible signs of aging" for a consumer demographic for which 
there are few visual conventions. As Sefcovic (1996, p. 2) observes, 
"American popular culture typically excises the woman who shows her 
age." Kitch (2003), however, notes that, as contemporary magazines 
have begun to sell female baby boomer consumers to advertisers, these 
advertisers are merely reproducing the same myths of youthful beauty 
sold to younger consumers. I have argued "that this absence of visual 
representations of female middle age reflects a contemporary cultural 
question mark on the subject of middle-aged women living in a visual 
society" (XXXX, 2004).
In what follows I first note that middle age is underrepresented in 
both popular culture and the literature, while "anti-aging" 
discourses grow. Second I provide a theoretical setup for analyzing 
these "anti-aging" discourses. Next I describe mature skincare 
advertisements taken from 17 magazine titles in 2004. Then I offer my 
critical analysis of this advertising. Finally, I conclude with 
ambivalent remarks regarding the difficulties of resisting 
"anti-aging" without returning to equally problematic discourses of 
nature and the natural.
Middle-Aged Women Missing in Action
Sefcovic (1996) writes, "There is little place in American—perhaps 
Western—consciousness for a middle-aged woman" (p. 2). She argues 
that the power of recognition for U.S. women hinges on youth and 
beauty and that "middle age seems to be the point at which females 
are deleted from public representations" (Sefcovic, 1996, pp.2, 4). 
While middle-aged women may be invisible, the aged woman is 
stereotypically unappealing. Arguing the need "to distinguish 
carefully between biological aging and aging that is produced by 
culture" ("encoded daily in the stories and advertisements of mass 
media"), Woodward (1999, pp. 5-9) writes, "It is thus not an accident 
that many women around age fifty experience aging…By experiencing 
aging, I am referring primarily to the internalization of our 
culture's denial and distaste for aging, which is understood in terms 
of decline, not in terms of growth and change." Indeed, little in 
popular culture—or academic theory—prepares women to interpret aging, 
except in terms of the visible physical as "caricature" 
(Cristofovici, 1999) or "disease" (Woodward, 1999).
Studies on media representations middle-aged women are virtually 
non-existent and studies of elderly women find them under-represented 
and depicted negatively (McConatha, Schnell, & McKenna, 1999; Miller, 
Miller, McKibben, & Pettys, 1999; Nett, 1991; Robinson & Skill, 1995; 
Vasil & Wass, 1993; Vernon, Williams, Phillips, & Wilson, 1990). 
Mediated representations of menopause also are depicted negatively as 
a disease (Gannon & Stevens, 1998; Hust & Andsager, 2003; 
Marcus-Newhall et al., 2001; Rostosky & Travis, 1996; Sefcovic, 
1996). Hust and Andsager (2003, p. 103) write, "Although women in 
their fifties are certainly not elderly, they are practically 
invisible in media imagery." In the absence of research on mediated 
depictions, representations, and portrayals of female middle age, 
including in advertising, it goes without saying that issues of 
representing race, ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation among this 
group remain unexplored as well. Kitch (2003), however, finds a new 
interest in boomer women among magazines and their advertisers: "What 
is new…lies not in how magazines are sold to readers but in how 
readers are sold to advertisers." Kitch (2003) writes, "(T)hese 
publications have replicated for older women the same kinds of 
unattainable ideals long presented to younger audiences."
	In sum, middle-aged women represent a significant U.S. demographic, 
whose presence has been less well represented in popular media and 
media studies. Nonetheless, as Kitch (2003) hints, we may be 
witnessing the media industries' attempts to articulate a "'new' 
middle age" reflecting "a profoundly commercial vision based on the 
fear of aging rather than its celebration." Offering credence to this 
observation is the surging popularity of reality and fiction 
television focusing on makeovers, plastic surgery, and even plastic 
surgeons, such as ABC's Extreme Makeover, Fox's The Swam, TLC's 10 
Years Younger and Plastic Surgery Beverly Hills, FX's Nip/Tuck, and 
BRAVO's Miami Slice. If the advertising industry is just beginning to 
develop conventions for representing the "'new' middle age," then 
"anti-aging" advertising targeting middle-aged women with "the beauty 
myth" (Wolf, 1991) should tell us something about our cultural 
interpretation of contemporary mid-life womanhood.
Like a Natural Woman
Williamson (1978) argued that advertising represents an ideology 
wherein we are encouraged to produce ourselves by consuming the 
products advertised to us. In the case of cosmetic advertising, she 
writes, "In the mirror, your external appearance, your face, already 
has the status of an object; so it can easily become an object that 
is the property of the manufacturers—but one held up as purchasable" 
(Williamson, 1978, p. 68). This commercial ideology participates in a 
larger cultural psychology of individualism and self-help that 
encourages us constantly to work on and improve ourselves (Dow, 1996; 
Payne, 1989, 1991, 1992; White, 1992). In the instance of cosmetics, 
self-help psychology is a gendered formula that encourages women to 
make a lifelong project of their appearance.
If Williamson unravels advertising as ideology, Burke (1931/1968, 
1941/1967) suggests that such pervasive ideological discourses may 
function as "equipment for living"—"a kind of problem-solving 
folklore that motivates audiences to adopt particular attitudes 
toward apprehending everyday life" (Golombisky, 2001, p. 70). 
Commonsense folklore creates the meanings we impose upon our material 
worlds (Burke, 1931/1968, 1941/1967, 1961/1970). Hence, our 
understanding of the "natural" order of things, such as 
self-improvement, is driven by human "logology," rather than 
"nature." In the present case, anti-aging discourses assume a 
commonsense wisdom assuring us that it is only natural both to want 
to look younger and to consume scientifically fortified products that 
promise to return us to our more natural youthful selves.
A commonsense critique may be tempted to counter argue that aging is 
the natural process, and that mediated discourses, even scientific 
ones, that exhort us to resist aging are unnatural. Haraway (1991), 
however, might disagree. Interested in histories of scientific 
discourses and sex/gender politics, Haraway (1991) argues that 
"nature," thus what is "natural," is a moving target in a Western 
exercise/exorcism to distinguish the limits of self/Other. Haraway, 
like Burke, emphasizes the ways we use language to order the 
"natural" world, often in arbitrary ways. Haraway, however, goes 
further to show how we use language to label what may count as 
"nature" and the "natural" world. Tracing the ways our understanding 
of "nature" parallels the trajectory of science along with the 
metaphors science appropriates, Haraway (1991, p. 42) writes, "In a 
strict sense, science is our myth." But even this myth is an evolving 
one, following the course of human scientific endeavor itself, from 
sociobiology as capitalist market machine to genetics and immunology 
as information systems and problems of mis/communication. So 
Haraway's (1991) work, first, cautions us against assumptions about 
what is natural, and, second, encourages us to recognize the 
scientific analogies and metaphors that anti-aging advertising 
appropriates. Additionally, as a feminist, Haraway urges us to locate 
the hierarchical binaries and sex/gender politics inherent in science 
narratives, whether academic or commercial.
Moving from the natural to the empirical, if the symbolic order 
functions as a lens through which we view the world, then our eyes 
may deceive us, according to Phelan (1993). Interested in embodiment 
and performance, Phelan is suspicious of visibility politics. 
Reminding us that "representations" are not "real truths" (p. 2), she 
theorizes an "unmarked" subjectivity that "cannot be reproduced 
within the ideology of the visible" (p. 1). The unmarked becomes 
more, rather than less, elusive the harder one tries to envision it. 
The usefulness of the unmarked lies in unsettling binaries and 
resisting equivalence to a visual real, thus upsetting our 
too-comfortable reliance on "seeing is believing." If U.S. media lack 
the visual vernacular for representing female middle age, then 
perhaps mid-life female boomers embody an example of an unmarked 
presence that remains a force—for the moment—outside formulae that 
equate visual representation with reality.
	Middle age is problematic within a symbolic order dependent on 
binary opposites such as young/old and definitions of age/aging that 
depend on visual recognition. Thus female middle age is indeed an 
awkward age difficult to associate with stereotypical correspondences 
to young or old, attractive or unattractive (to sexual partners), or 
reproductive or un(re)productive. Furthermore, if the "visible signs 
of aging" can be retarded, erased, and reversed, as "anti-aging" 
skincare advertising promises, then what we see in terms of the 
"visible signs of aging" is no longer necessarily what we get. 
Nevertheless, it is significant that without the visual conventions 
of some middle ground, women's choices are to appear as either young 
or old, and since looking old aligns with negative cultural meanings, 
middle age must align with youth. Put simply, no product is going to 
succeed by encouraging middle-aged women to expend time and money to 
make themselves look no different than they are today—or to look 
older. To visualize or embody old age is to acknowledge mortality, 
which renders consumption moot. Thus, as Burke and Williamson both 
point out, we cast magical discursive spells to mystify what we 
literally cannot face. In Haraway's terms, the form of the 
incantation is science. Even as the rhetoric of "anti-aging" 
advertising encourages us to consume products aligned with science in 
order to fight the nature of our aging faces, this "rhetorical 
technology" (Payne, 1989, 1991) cannot show us, visualize for us, 
visibly represent the very thing its continued existence economically 
depends upon: imagery of the aging female face.
Anti-Aging Advertising as Special Ops
This essay resulted from another study in which I asked, "What do 
middle-aged women look like in magazine advertising?" (XXXX, 2004). 
Advertisements for the first study were collected from 22 magazines 
with cover dates ranging from February to March 2004.[1] The original 
study pulled every advertisement containing at least one photograph 
or illustration of a middle-aged or older human figure, which, of 
course, became a series of judgment calls. Since few ads specifically 
note their models' or characters' ages, I was forced to consider the 
"visual" markers by which I might judge or misjudge age. However, a 
group of advertisements promising to "de-crease" the "visible signs 
of aging," already had catalogued those visual symptoms for me. That 
group of ads, with their fascinating language of "anti-aging," is the 
subject of this essay. (See figures 1 and 2.)
Below I outline themes that emerged from the advertisements, 
including anti-aging; visible signs of aging; secrets, lies, and 
hiding; time compression and reversal; the war against aging; 
high-tech science meets medicine; and the vocabulary of renewal. I 
also will show that these themes spill over into related and 
not-so-related advertising. Last I describe the visuals used in these 
ads, including the use of celebrity models, and a formula I call 
"cropped, chopped, and dropped."  Following this thematic overview of 
the ads, I offer my analysis and discussion.
Anti-Aging
	Among the skincare ads pulled for the original study, a rhetoric of 
"anti-aging" is unmistakable, particularly among products targeting 
"mid-life skin" (Estee Lauder), "mature skin" (Clarins and Lancome), 
and even "30-something skin" (L'Oreal). Often the names of the 
products tell the story, such as Neutrogena's Anti-Wrinkle Cream, 
Lancome's Anti-Age Spot Serum, and Roc's Age-Diminishing Daily 
Moisturizer.  L'Oreal's Winkle De-Crease product is billed as an 
"anti-wrinkle" treatment with "anti-aging action," and StriVectin SD 
advertises itself as an "anti-aging" "breakthrough." Bee-Alive 
describes its Bee-Moisturized product as an "anti-wrinkle cream," 
while Correctionist Crème promises an "age-defying treatment."
Visible Signs of Aging
	Age is written upon a woman's face, according to this kind of 
advertising, which catalogues the "visible signs of aging" for 
readers. The phrase "visible signs of aging" appears in advertising 
for Clarins, and "visible aging" appears in Estee Lauder's ad. Olay 
Total Effects 7x offers a list of "the seven signs of aging": "fine 
lines and wrinkles, age spots, texture, tone, dullness, dryness, 
pores." The other advertisers echo one or more of these and similar 
"signs" of aging.
A number of these ads also promise visible results. L'Oreal 
Wrinkle-Decrease Eye promises to "visibly correct lines." Another 
L'Oreal ad promises that users will "start seeing results in less 
than one hour." L'Oreal also reports that users "saw" fewer of those 
"signs" after use. Roc will "visibly reduce brown spots." Estee 
Lauder will "repair" "the appearance of deep lines and wrinkles and 
promises "you'll see" results. Clarins advertises "spectacular 
results," including skin that is "visibly smoother" and 
"youthful-looking." StriVection will "visibly reduce" the signs of 
aging. Bee-Alive, a product for "looking younger," also "reduces the 
appearance" of aging on the face, and those who use Neutrogena's 
"Visibly Firm Night Cream" will "see results." Olay's Total Effects 
7x provides "an overall more youthful appearance," and the "skin's 
appearance is visibly lifted and brightened" by using Olay's 
Regenerist Eye, although people will want to "peek" into users' 
medicine cabinets to see what product is generating these visible results.
Secrets, Lies, and Hiding
	The notion of women lying about their age is not new, and two 
advertisers make use of themes of secrets, lies, and hiding. Olay 
headlines read: "Lie about your age. Hide the evidence" and "Lie 
about your age. Bury the evidence." Olay's Total Effects 7x warns 
readers, "Don't hide it (the product) in your medicine cabinet"; 
"your secret's not safe" there because of those curious peekers. But 
"so what if you're not really 28. Your secret's safe with Olay Total 
Effects Night Firming Cream." Less selfish than Olay, Bee-Alive's 
founder shares her "secret" to "looking younger."
Time Compression and Reversal
	Ultimately, anti-aging skincare is about reversing the effects of 
time, as some of the advertisements promise. Worth noting, however, 
is the way the reversal of one's lifetime is compressed into quick 
results. Furthermore, some of the language states that these 
treatments "correct" and "repair" the implied mistakes of aging. 
"Stop the clock," Correctionist tells readers in a headline 
positioned under a visual that replaces the right side of a model's 
face with an analog clock. A product that "repairs skin damage," 
Correctionist states, "Erase time one line at a time with six 
clinically-proven wrinkle reversing agents in as little as four 
weeks." Neutrogena advertises "results in two weeks." L'Oreal 
"accelerates the natural rate skin repairs itself by up to 90%." 
L'Oreal promises results in an hour, but the full effect of its 
"wrinkle corrector" takes one to four weeks, so the ads states. 
Clarins' results are "confirmed after 6 weeks of use." CosmoDerm & 
CosmoPlast promise "no downtime" and "immediate results." "Leading us 
into the ageless future," Estee Lauder's Resilience Lift 
Extra-Firming Mask promises "New lift, new life. In just 10 minutes," 
and Estee Lauder's new DermSolutions is a treatment to "repair" 
damaged skin "6 times faster" than its "previous formulas."
The War Against Aging
	If these advertisements incline toward "anti-aging," then "fighting" 
aging requires an organized war effort. A Neutrogena headline reads, 
"Don't just fight wrinkles. Fight gravity." A Roc headline reads 
similarly: "The fight against aging doesn't stop at wrinkles." Olay 
Total Effects 7x copy reads, "Powerfully fights seven signs of 
aging." Olay's Total Effects Intensive Restoration Treatment 
"miraculously fights past damage."
But this war is more like the high-tech precision strike of a special 
operations team or an underground insurgency than a traditional 
battlefield confrontation. Olay's Regenerist Eye serum targets "three 
zones"; the line art in the ad's visual literally targets spots 
around the Olay model's eye in a way connoting Star Wars satellite 
imagery. L'Oreal also "directly" and "precisely" "targets expression 
lines," providing "instant intervention." Correctionist employs "the 
six most revolutionary wrinkle fighters." Estee Lauder builds the 
skin's "resistance" to aging. Lancome, placing its body copy on a 
map-like grid "delivers concentrated action through a unique Mela-NO 
Complex and a powerful bio-network."
High-Tech Meets Medicine
	In this high-tech war against aging, science and biotechnology are 
always allies, even if cosmetic surgery is not. StriVectin, claiming 
to be "better than Botox," snidely coins a new term for cosmetic 
dermatology—"cosmeceuticals." Bee-Alive employs a testimonial 
claiming its product is "like a facelift in a bottle." Olay offers 
results "without drastic measures." One of Neutrogena's 
advertisements argues, "There is another way" besides "injections" 
and "chemical peels." Estee Lauder's DermSolutions repairs "without 
acids or dermabrasion" and is "a wise choice when preparing for and 
rebounding from an invasive cosmetic procedure." Estee Lauder's 
"Advanced Night Repair Protective Recovery Complex" is "a coveted 
serum" containing "patented technology." One of L'Oreal's headlines 
reads, "Surgery can wait!" thanks to its new ingredient "Boswelox." 
Like L'Oreal's Boswelox and Lancome's Mela-NO Complex, many of the 
advertisers boast similarly bewildering technical names for their 
products' ingredients.
The Vocabulary of Renewal
	Not surprisingly, advertisers describe the post-war face using a 
language of spring-like renewal, suggesting these products replace 
the middle-aged woman's face or return it to its younger version. The 
vocabulary of postwar success includes verbs such as: refinish (Estee 
Lauder), regenerate (Neutrogena, Olay), rejuvenate (L'Oreal), renew 
(Clarins), replenish (Bee-Alive, Clarins, Neutrogena), restore 
(Clarins, Olay), resurface (Correctionist), and revitalize (Clarins, Roc).
Thematic Spillover
	An interesting spillover of these themes appears in another group of 
ads from the original study. Two advertisements for the Proactiv acne 
product line use actors for testimonials—one uses actor Vanessa 
Williams (the only woman of color represented among the ads in this 
study) and other, actor Judith Light. Both ads describe the women's 
"fight" against acne, the "terrible secret" of "hiding" acne, the 
visible signs of acne, and the products' ability to "attack" acne and 
"renew" skin using "prescription-grade ingredients." Crest 
Whitestrips promise to "take off 14 years in 7 days." Cascade Crystal 
Clear, showing images of glass stemware leaning on canes, wrapped in 
shawls, and sitting in rocking chairs, will "protect your glasses 
from the harsh effects of time." Here the visible signs of aging are 
etching, spots, and film.
	Most interesting, however, is a group of products falling under the 
dubious heading of "neutraceuticals." Symbiotropin, manufactured by 
Nutraceutics, runs this headline: "You'll say you're 29…they'll 
believe you." Symbiotropin's copy reads, "It's no secret, 
Symbiotropin is at the forefront in anti-aging." Garden of Life's 
Living Multi vitamin urges the reader to "fight back" against 
"premature aging." Rutozym's headline reads, "Be age-smart. 
Rejuvenate your heart." Rutozym's lead begins, "Red not only looks 
good on your lips, it's the component in blood that gives your skin 
its radiant appearance." Olay also now offers a vitamin line that 
promises health and beauty: "Total Effects Beauty and Wellness 
Nutrients." Last, Essence Formulas promise to "improve skin 
appearance…and more" with a growth hormone formula. In these 
advertisements, facial beauty remains the goal in the fight against 
aging, but beauty depends upon what you ingest, not what you apply.
Visual Imagery: Celebrity, Cropped, Chopped, and Dropped
	Williamson (1978) pointed out that cosmetic industry advertising 
tends to position a closeup photograph of the model's face parallel 
to the reader's eyes to represent a mirror of the reader's new and 
improved face after applying beauty products. But an interesting 
dilemma arises in "anti-aging" advertising focusing on the "visible 
signs of aging." How does an advertiser visually represent those 
"visible signs of aging" and visually prove the product's 
effectiveness at "visible improvement"? Before and after pictures 
would seem to solve the problem, except that the convention of before 
and after photos in women's advertising has associations with 
less-than-glamorous "quick and dirty" weight loss and breast 
enhancement advertising. Additionally, what does a closeup of a 
middle-aged woman look like? We have no visual conventions for such a 
shot; nor do we have the cultural equipment for decoding it. 
Furthermore, I suspect middle-aged women may not be inclined to 
identify with glamour shots of their peers because that mirror may 
reflect a little too much reality for buying into the scientific 
magic of anti-aging product results.
In this study's particular group of ads, the solutions have been to 
use extraordinarily attractive aging celebrities with name 
recognition; to tightly crop the models' faces in extreme close-ups; 
to chop the models' faces into a series of eyes, nose, and mouth 
shots; or to drop female models from the ad altogether. For example, 
similar to Proactiv's use of Vanessa Williams and Judith Light, 
Neutrogena and L'Oreal pose celebrity models Connie Nielsen and 
Claudia Schiffer, respectively, and then print the models' names 
under their photos. Likewise spillover ads for L'Oreal's 
hair-coloring products Excellence Crème and Superior Preference 
employ and label actors Andie MacDowell and Heather Locklear, 
respectively. Bee-Alive's only visual except for a cutout photo of 
the product is a tiny inset photo of the company's president, 
Madeline Balleta. I would like to suggest that in this group of ads, 
the recognizable celebrity or expert spokesperson invites testimonial 
recognition rather than fantasy identification.
In the "cropped" strategy, models' faces are tightly cropped, 
obscuring the background context of the photographs, such as the Olay 
Regenerist Eye ad alluding to satellite imagery, which reduces the 
face to topographic geography. Conversely, one of Estee Lauder's 
three ads in this study pulls its model back to a medium shot that 
reduces the size of her head to the point that makes scrutinizing her 
"visible signs of aging" impossible. Many of the "cropped" ads also 
use small inset photos of "chopped" up facial features, including 
tiny "cropped" before and after shots. The Claudia Schiffer ad, along 
with CosmoDerm & CosmoPlast and Roc use this strategy. Tightly 
"cropped" and "chopped" faces are less personal, less like flattering 
portraits or Lacanian mirrors. Williamson may argue that such a 
technique further transforms the reader's face into a foreign object 
to be battled rather than embraced. In a second version of the 
StriVectin SD ad, for example, the only visual other than the 
product, is a grid-like series of small extreme close-up photographs 
of eyes, nose, and mouth—all cut off from the faces that would invite 
mirror-like identification—like so many of Jean Kilbourne's 
objectified body parts. Another Olay Regenerist ad as well as the 
Correctionist ad literally cut the model's face in half vertically.
Finally, the "dropped" strategy avoids human models altogether. Two 
Olay Total Effects 7x ads represent the exemplars in this category by 
placing the product into a narrative landscape devoid of human 
characters, which, as Williamson (1978) argues, invites the reader to 
insert herself into the photographic landscape with the use of signs 
pointing to where the reader is meant to be. Both ads place the 
product in the foreground of background boudoir shots. Similarly, 
Clinique shows a close-up of the product rather than a stand-in model 
for the reader, and the product is framed by a close-up of the lens 
of a pair of eyeglasses, as if to invite close-up scrutiny of the 
product, rather than a middle-aged woman's before or after face. 
Lancome substitutes a large visual of a rose for the female model, 
and then bisects the rose (in the same way Olay Regenerist and 
Correctionist bisect the faces of their human models) to demonstrate 
a kind of before and after image. Ads in the "dropped" group may be 
the most effective technique because they obscure "visual reality" 
and leave the fantasy of a younger-looking face to each reader's own 
imagination. The ads in the present study, then, offer few visual 
clues with which to construct a representation of a middle-aged 
woman's face. The ads clearly hail a middle-aged reader whom 
advertisers assume is present, but her presence is a visual absence.
	The spillover ads suggest themes of anti-aging are not isolated to 
skincare products. Nor is anti-aging a new phenomenon. Popular 
culture tells us that women hid and lied about their age long before 
boomer women reached mid life. Of interest to me personally in these 
ads is the collision of visual culture with female baby boomer middle 
age and a disconnection between the inevitability of aging women and 
the cultural exhortation toward youthful beauty.

Figure 1
Magazines Represented in the Present Study

1.	Better Homes & Gardens 	March 2004
2.	Bon Appetit			March 2004
3.	Country Home			March 2004
4.	Family Circle			February 17, 2004
5.	House Beautiful			March 2004
6.	House &Garden			February 2004
7.	InStyle				February 2004
8.	Ladies Home Journal		February 2004
9.	Lifetime				February 2004
10.	O					February 2004
11.	Marie Claire			March 2004
12.	Martha Stewart Living 		February 2004
13.	More				February 2004
14.	Psychology Today		February 2004
15.	Real Simple			March 2004
16.	Redbook				February 2004
17.	Woman's Day			February 17, 2004

Figure 2
Advertisers & Number of Insertions in the Present Study

1.	Bee-Alive Bee-Moisturized (Woman's Day)
2.	Cascade Crystal Clear (Country Home, Woman's Day, Redbook)
3.	Clarins
  		Supra Serum (More)
Total Double Serum (InStyle)
4.	Clinique All About Eyes (Real Simple)
5.	Correctionist Crème (Lifetime)
6.	CosmoDerm & CosmoPlast (More)
7.	Crest White Strips
(Better Homes & Gardens, Bon Appetit, Family Circle, InStyle,
Ladies Home Journal, O)
8.	Essence Formulas Natural Growth Hormone (Psychology Today)
9.	Estee Lauder
DermSolutions (O, Real Simple)
Resilience Lift & Extra Firming Revitalizing Mask (More)
10.	Garden of Life Daily Multi (O)
11.	Lancome Anti-Age Spot Serum (Martha Stewart Living)
12.	L'Oreal
Wrinkle De-Crease (InStyle, Ladies Home Journal, Real Simple)
Excellence Crème (Real Simple)
Superior Preference (InStyle,Redbook)
13.	Neutrogena
Anti-Wrinkle Cream (Real Simple)
Visibly Firm Night Cream (O, More)
14.	Olay
Regenerist Eye (Better Homes & Gardens, Marie Claire)
Regenerist Serum (Ladies Home Journal, Redbook)
Total Effects 7x (House & Garden, House Beautiful, O)
Total Effects Intensive Restoration Treatment (Family Circle)
Vitamins (Country Home, Family Circle, Redbook)
15.	Proactiv (Ladie Home Journal, Marie Claire)
16.	Roc Age Dimishing Daily Moisturizer
(Bon Appetit, Ladies Home Journal, More, Redbook)
17.	Rutozym (Psychology Today)
18.	StriVectin-SD (Ladies Home Journal, Marie Claire, More)
19.	Symbiotropin Dietary Supplement (Psychology Today)

Cosmetic Magic, the War on Nature, and Commercial Cyborgs
In gendered terms, anti-aging advertising urges "mature" women to 
consume in order to recreate youth; in this logic, youth signifies 
female beauty or attractiveness (meaning literally to attract), and 
female beauty signifies women's social value. Steeping this narrative 
in Burke (1961/1970), we find the "visible signs of aging" as a kind 
of pollution, the assignment of guilt to time and the aging woman's 
face (an enemy if not within at least adhered atop), a purification 
or self-mortification ritual involving an increasingly complex 
anti-aging skincare regimen to "fight" the visible signs of aging, 
and rebirth and redemption in the reduction or reversal of those 
"visible signs of aging." The result is a rhetorical magic promising 
a cosmetic magic, a transformed face that has been "renewed," 
"rejuvenated," and "regenerated."
What is significant about this otherwise easy reading is the "natural 
order" implied by the logic: that time is an enemy, that women should 
be at odds with their faces, that the visible signs of maturity 
equate with personal pollution—a logic too easily lost in the desire 
to look at an improved version of ourselves in the mirror. This 
self-improvement myth is founded on an ideal white heterosexual 
feminine beauty that is synonymous with youth, and, as a female 
"characterology" (Payne, 1991), utterly dependent on the visual. As 
an increasingly common, insistent, and, as Williamson's (1978) Olay 
ad demonstrates, time-tested advertising formula, this women's 
"equipment for living" (Burke, 1931/1968, 1941/1967) equates female 
worth with beauty and womanly visibility, and it functions as an 
"active rhetorical technology" (Payne, 1989, 1991) urging women to 
improve their appearance rather than their character. In other words, 
surface impressions become more important than deeper physical or 
metaphysical health.
Haraway's (1991) description of the "biopolitics of postmodern 
bodies" makes an eerily similar observation. She argues a fundamental 
shift in the discursive medicalization of bodies between the late 
19th and late 20 centuries, a shift that among other things moves 
from metaphors of "depth, integrity" to those of "surface, boundary" 
(p. 209). The postmodern body, exemplified by a converged scientific, 
medical, mythical-heroic, and, I would add, consumer discourse of the 
immune system, is primarily concerned with envisioning the body/self 
as a territory subject to clandestine invasion by an Other disguised 
as self: "That is, the immune system is a plan for meaningful action 
to construct and maintain the boundaries for what may count as self 
and other in the crucial realms of the normal and the pathological" 
(p. 204). Indeed, Haraway argues, "The body is conceived as a 
strategic system, highly militarized in key arenas of imagery and 
practice" (p. 211).
Exactly 10 years after the publication of Simian, Cyborgs, and Women, 
9/11 and a new national preoccupation with terrorism, biological 
warfare, homeland security, and profiling and screening systems for 
identifying alien threats both domestic and abroad makes Haraway's 
(1991) thesis even more eerie. While immune system discourses 
associated with HIV/AIDS and their similarity to discourses of 
patriotism/terrorism certainly trivialize the "fine lines and 
wrinkles" associated with female mid life, my point is that what is 
discernibly different between Williamson's 1978 Olay advertisement 
and the 2004 version is way the women's faces became an enemy Other 
disguised as self. Williamson's Olay advert aligned with "nature," 
albeit a new and improved version of nature. "Anti-aging" 
(anti-terror, antibiotic, antiviral, antibody) in 2004 faces off 
against nature. It reads like high-tech warfare on the "visible signs 
of aging" by mobilizing biomedical science into covert 
search-and-destroy operations that may lie, hide, and now even bury 
the evidence of its top-secret missions.
Truly, the product-as-hero's activity reads nearly criminal. Post 
Iran-Contra cover-up and Gulf War bunker busting, and amid a newly 
insurgent war in Iraq, the thematic concoction of guerrilla warfare, 
technology, and secrecy in anti-aging advertising is noteworthy. One 
could argue the discursive distance traveled from mid 20th century 
Nuremberg to early 21st century Abu Ghraib, much as Haraway (1991) 
argued a similar discursive distance between World War II and Star 
Wars. If women's faces have become a militarized zone on domestic 
soil, then upon scrutiny the new homeland security's tactical strikes 
against aging bear an uncomfortable resemblance to illicit activity. 
Apparently, the visible end result of beauty justifies the ugly means 
of war (any means necessary).
What I find most fascinating about these "anti-aging" advertisements, 
however, is the interplay between visibility and invisibility: The 
"signs of aging" are visible, which, according to the advertising 
rhetoric of this product category, is precisely the problem for 
women. Yet the visual rhetoric of this kind of advertising contains 
no visual representation of female middle age. Anti-aging advertisers 
offer Francophile crèmes and serums that disappear once on the skin, 
but the results of using the products are purportedly visible. 
Consuming women are encouraged to hide the evidence of using these 
products, which, in turn, hide the visible evidence of consumers' 
ages. Williamson (1978, p. 68) wrote of the "thin masking layer of 
chemicals," which "coat" the face so that "the surface you see in the 
mirror may well be 'theirs', not 'yours'." While this observation is 
valid, Williamson was referring to Olay lotion in terms of a 
cosmetic, such as makeup. Today's "anti-aging" products, although in 
truth probably little more than cosmetics, promise far more than 
temporary makeup adhering to the facial skin. "Anti-aging" products 
advertise their ability to transform a woman's face. The consumer 
becomes one with the product, a reversal twice over. First, the 
product promises to reverse the visible facial changes time has 
wrought—facial changes that devalue a woman, according to culture. We 
must take this promise on faith, however, because these products not 
only are invisible once applied to the skin but also do their work 
sight-unseen at the minute microscopic cellular level, so they tell 
us. Second, the consumer trades her own natural face, cast as an 
invader in these ads, for a technologically enhanced one in which 
manufactured products become allies. Thus, these high-tech products 
literally yet invisibly become us.
In a themed issue of Communication Theory, Guest Editor Jennifer 
Daryl Slack (2005, p. 8) argues that "the biotechnological body 
matters" because "the hybrid body" has "been an undertheorized 
presence shaping bodily practice for some time" and because "the very 
permeability of body boundaries means that bodies are likely to be 
given shape in highly politicized contexts." At this point, Burke's 
(1954/1984) gargoyle flaps its wings, and Haraway's (1991) cyborg 
rears its prosthesis.
The cyborg evokes metaphors of "regeneration after injury, such as 
the loss of a limb, involves regrowth of structure and restoration of 
function with the constant possibility of twinning or other odd 
topographical productions at the site of former injury" (Haraway, 
1991, p. 181). But Haraway's (1991) feminist cyborg is premised on 
rejecting essentialist alignments between women and nature that are 
dependent on metaphors of reproduction. Perhaps Williamson's (1978) 
observation about advertising discourses that "cook nature" to 
improve it are based on her belief that nature is natural and need 
not be cooked. Nevertheless, while contemporary "anti-aging" 
advertising, promising to "regenerate" new younger skin, may seem to 
manifest the cyborg, "anti-aging" technologies merely promise to 
return women to their natural state of youthful beauty, a therefore 
somewhat contradictory logic given this advertising genre's war on 
nature. Nor is restoring nature and returning women to their natural 
beauty what Haraway had in mind with the cyborg as a strategic 
feminist politics.
The appeal and power of the cyborg metaphor as a political tactic 
lies in terrifying couplings that undo taken-for-granted territorial 
borders—between nature and technology, for example—and create new and 
strategically unstable coalitions. The cyborg functions as a specific 
instance of Burke's gargoyle, two unlike things sutured together both 
to shock and to reclassify or realign schema ("allies become 
enemies…as enemies become allies," writes Burke, 1954/1984, p. 113). 
Despite some similarity to the cyborg, "anti-aging" advertising 
taking advantage of an ideology of womanly beauty is not scary 
enough, although with its militaristic tropes it should be. Nor is 
the technologically enhanced more youthful, thus more attractive, 
woman radical enough to be a cyborg embodiment. The problem is 
two-fold. First, and most obvious, this coupling is invisible. The 
transitional gargoyle-ness of contemporary "anti-aging" advertising 
is not apparent or shocking enough to function as a useful 
transitional tactic. We cannot see the cyborg's alien-ness; the 
gargoyle is transparent. Second, and most important, this particular 
cyborg's politics are white, capitalist, and patriarchal.
One could argue that envisioning the aging woman as Russo's 
(1986/1995) "female grotesque," the "senile pregnant hag" with her 
"open, protruding, extended, secreting body, the body of becoming, 
process and change" (1986, p. 219), comes closer to cyborgs and 
gargoyles in their revolutionary power than younger-looking skin, but 
only so long as there is no assumption that the "unattractive" aging 
female is natural. Russo's "image of the pregnant hag is more than 
ambivalent": "It is loaded with all the connotations of fear and 
loathing associated with the biological processes of reproduction and 
of aging" (Russo, 1986, p. 219). Yet Russo's females grotesques, as 
excess, do bear remarkable similarity to Phelan's (1993) notion 
unmarked, not only in Phelan's discussion of the unmarked as an 
excess that resists the visual but also in her example of the 
pregnant body as unmarked because it cannot be fixed clearly as 
either one or two.
Or one could argue that maintaining a mysteriously youthful 
appearance as a prosthetic mask, or feminine masquerade, may have its 
tactical uses—either in Riviere's (1929) sense of masquerade as a 
disguise for nothingness or in Phelan's (1993) sense of masquerade as 
the "unmarked" surplus that resists the grasp of the camera, the 
negative, visual re/production and consumption, or equations of the 
visible as real. This leads to the observation that "anti-aging" 
advertising imagery seems hesitant to show us female middle age or to 
mark age upon the female body. If "anti-aging" advertising exhibits 
tensions between what we see and what we don't see, the greatest 
tension is the visual absence of the middle-aged female readers these 
ads hail. Burke (1954/1984) might call the inability to imagine the 
middle-aged woman's visage a "trained incapacity." Perhaps, 
anti-aging advertising is a case of an "accidental" politics of the 
unmarked, in which middle-aged women, for the moment at least, elude 
the tyranny of the visual (XXXX, 2004). From my perspective as a 
middle-aged white heterosexual woman with feminist politics, I find 
that possibility appealing as somehow also accidentally resistant. As 
Haraway says, "I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess" (1991, p.181).
Golden Guerrilla Girls
	In the case of female baby boomers reaching middle age at the height 
of their spending power, consumer culture seems to have painted 
itself into a corner with visual conventions that portray womanhood 
as either young and attractive (read as sexually available and 
reproductive as in the vocabulary of renewal) or old and unattractive 
(read as asexual and unreproductive). How to represent female midlife 
in advertising imagery? How to show the effectiveness of 
age-reversing products without alienating the target market with 
implausibly ideal youth or insulting stereotypes of the aged? And, 
while a rhetoric that locates a woman's worth in her beauty and 
exhorts women to wage covert war on their own faces via consumption 
is repugnant, instinctive counter-arguments that deploy "natural" 
aging are overly romantic. The notion of "natural" aging is 
questionable (although dignified aging has merit). Additionally, 
reframing "natural" aging as beautiful not only repeats the logic 
that values women for their beauty but also remains dependent on the 
visual. Like the gargoyle or cyborg, there may be something resistant 
and subversive for women in the possibility of masquerade and 
façade—camouflage, if you will. In this case, for example, 
appropriating the master's proverbial anti-aging tools for women's 
own purposes. But the danger there lies in popular culture as market 
machine and its tendency toward re-appropriation and co-optation. 
Advertising's rhetorical magic makes our crucial role in maintaining 
these rhythms of production and consumption disappear (Williamson, 1978).
Personally, I find Phelan's (1993) difficult-to-imagine "unmarked" 
subjectivity, embodied and performed, the more revolutionary move 
precisely because it does not translate into imagery. Phelan writes, 
"By refusing to participate in the visibility-is-currency economy," 
we "resist…fetishization" (p. 19). The unmarked is so radical that 
Phelan has difficulty showing us examples. I'm thinking here of the 
Guerrilla Girls, the art world's anonymous feminist critics who wear 
gorilla masks to do their public culture work. "By resisting visible 
identities, the Guerrilla Girls mark the failure of the gaze to 
posses, and arrest" (p. 19). The increasing fame of, thus the 
market's desire to commodify, the Guerrilla Girls, however, points to 
the limits of masquerade as well as the difficulties of grasping the 
unmarked, both intellectually and as political practice. Still, I 
would like to suggest these difficulties are both the result of 
visual culture and the way out of it. Phelan herself seems to agree: 
"Similarly, those concerned with understanding the relation between 
the real and the representational must also recognize that our 
failing eyes may be insufficient organs for measuring the terms and 
meanings of the transformative alchemy between them" (1993, p. 180). 
Within the context of advertising's visual rhetoric and a discussion 
of aging women, Phelan's (1993) insight is humorous: if we depend on 
the visual to define the real, our aging eyes inevitably will fail us.
Because female baby boomers symbolize profit, it will be interesting 
to follow the evolution of female middle age in advertising, the 
bellwether for consumerism and popular culture. For the moment the 
middle-aged woman retains some force as accidentally unmarked, which 
offers an accidentally resistant standpoint with exciting 
possibilities from this feminist's point of view. But I do not hold 
out much hope the situation will last.
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9

Notes
[1]  The original 22 magazines represent classic and contemporary 
titles targeting mostly women. I first included the seven sisters 
(minus the now-defunct McCall's/Rosie)—Better Homes & Gardens, Family 
Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, and Women's 
Day—as well as newer magazines such as InStyle, Lifetime, O, Martha 
Stewart Living, More, and Real Simple. All these titles were 
prevalent at the checkout counters of a local Super Target store. 
Also prevalent at the Super Target and so included in the study were 
Country Home, House Beautiful, House & Garden, and Marie Claire. 
Additionally, I had predetermined to include Ebony, Essence, and 
Latina magazines, which required a trip to my local newsstand, where 
I also located Architectural Digest, Bon Appetit, and Psychology 
Today because they index well for older female readers. It is worth 
noting that the issues of Ebony, Essence, Latina, Good Housekeeping, 
and Architectural Digest included in the original study contained no 
anti-aging skincare advertising, thus are not represented in the current essay.

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