Commercial Break

“Steroids are not magic,” I said. We were watching a documentary about performance-enhancing drugs, and my friend had wondered about the desired effect. About why the main guy hadn’t just won everything. I was not surprised. 

“I mean Barry Bonds without drugs was still a better hitter than almost everyone.” 

Steroids are not magic. They do, however take the baseline of the elite and move it up just enough that it then pressures all of the elite into taking some kind of supplement to stay relevant. But relevant at the celebrity level, not for us plebes. 

In middle school I really wanted brown eyes. All the cover models had brown eyes, and who didn’t want to look like Niki Taylor? The only green-eyed women I had seen were Maleficent, and the knock-off Belle doll at Big Lots. 

Katherine Heigl* was on the cover of Seventeen magazine in the fall of 1994, wearing a short plaid skirt that I desperately wanted, though I wanted to also look like her in it. I did not have the legs nor the confidence for such an outfit, but to be fair, Katherine’s actual legs were not what one would see in the photo. Air-brushing was an accepted norm, but even as such, I assumed it was to models what PEDs are to athletes - that you had to be abnormally beautiful for it to even have the desired effect. 

I imagined that air-brushing on a middle-school-me would turn me into just a warped copy of myself with a large head. 

In the back of those magazines was a section in which celebrity women would talk about all the things they carried in their purse. An accompanying photo of said purse showed the contents artfully splayed out with product descriptions, and absolutely zero pieces of lint, used gum wrappers, fuzzy mints, or the 87 bobby pins that are constantly in mine. 

Occasionally, of course, would be the actress with the good luck charm her grandmother gave her, or the discontinued perfume, but the woman from the Olay commercials had Olay products, as did the Noxema spokeswoman with her Noxema cream. And even dumb, 13-year-old me, searching for green-eyed role models with athletic thighs, even I, knew that they were paid to say these things even if they liked the products a whole lot. 

There is some controversy on Instagram currently, a part of which includes encouraging paid spokesmodels to label their paid endorsements with #ad or #sponsored. Do you really not know, though? Does anyone plug products without having a vested interest in them? You either like them enough to tell everyone about them, or you like them enough to get involved with them in a paid arrangement and then tell everyone about them. 

What we are lacking here is not transparency, it’s critical thinking. When presented with information in a commercial platform, do we accept it as gospel or do we do our own research and make our own opinions? 

I should never be able to create your opinion, no matter what my influence is. Sure, I have some responsibility to not be an asshole, and wouldn’t it be nice to live in a commercial-less society, but I can give you my opinion, and you can read up on objective facts from vetted sources and come up with your own. I cannot give you your mind. 

This is, of course, how we ended up here though, in a garbage-fire presidency, but at least athletic thighs are in now because I still want product info on that plaid skirt.




*Also has brown eyes. Originally I thought it was Niki Taylor on the cover of YM in 1993, but research brought up this photo below, so I may have conflated the two covers unless there's another one from 93/94 with a plaid skirt, which is highly likely.