You're beautiful, as long as you can still buy


SKIN SELLS. THAT'S CERTAINLY the lesson to be learned from a trio of advertising campaigns out there that aim to get women to take better care of theirs. Two of the campaigns feature naked women. In the third, women just bare their souls.

Two products produced by Unilever -- Vaseline and Dove -- are enjoying the buzz created by television spots banned in the U.S.

Vaseline's poetic ad, "Sea," features a sea of naked humanity in an evocative tribute to the amazing qualities of skin and urges women to keep it that way.

There are lots of women with sagging breasts and men with big, round bellies in this ad, so it is not about just the beautiful people. It is being shown on television in the United Kingdom, but you can see it in the United States only on YouTube, the default venue for ad campaigns these days that can't get past the network censors.

The other campaign, Dove's Pro-Age campaign, features 50-plus and 60-plus women who are naked -- and confident and happy -- photographed by the ubiquitous Annie Leibovitz. There is no frontal nudity here, but, again, the commercial couldn't get past the censors so you can find it on YouTube.

Still photographs of the women are out there, part of Dove's campaign to get women to think of products in a different way -- not anti-aging, but pro-age. It is a fine point that might be lost on many in the target audience.

And finally, Pond's is looking for five "sexy, sassy and confident" 40-something women to share their beauty philosophies in commercial vignettes.

Pond's is teaming this promotion with The Starter Wife, a USA Network miniseries about a Hollywood wife who gets dumped by her producer husband and sets out to retrieve her self-esteem. The show, which airs beginning May 31, stars Debra Messing, who is sexy and sassy and confident, but not yet 40. Let the lies begin.

Candidates for the Pond's commercials have loaded their testimony on the Pond's Web site. And I guess it is no surprise that many of them have been posted by women who have rebuilt their self-esteem after their husbands leave them.

The bottom line here is that boomers have something like $2 trillion in spending power and most of it is controlled by women and these companies want to get a piece of that by convincing us that they share our celebration of life -- and nakedness -- after 30.

I am not sure how I am supposed to feel about all this, but celebrating does not immediately come to mind.

It is not that I am unhappy about not being under 30 any longer. But I am pretty sure I am not the stuff of X-rated commercials.

I am not ashamed of my body, but I don't think it can be successfully used to sell anything. I abhor the cultural obsession with youth and physical perfection like everyone else, but let's get real here -- sex sells. But middle-aged sex doesn't sell.

If you want to sell me moisturizer, can't we at least pretend that it will make my skin supple and taut like the skin of the young beauty on the TV screen?

Whatever you do, don't put my worst nightmare out there and try to convince me that, like her, I am still some version of beautiful.

Don't you know I don't see my real reflection in the mirror anymore? I know just how to turn and squint so that I see some kind of edited dream of myself instead.

Likewise, a man would have to be an idiot to leave Debra Messing, but there are plenty of women out here who know they are only good until a better one comes by. I am pretty sure their stories of reconstituted self-confidence are ones they would rather not have had to tell.

Trust the beauty industry to try to convince us that our worst insecurities are actually our strengths. And then try to make a buck off of us.

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