Today I was browsing the New York Times website. Actually, just now I saw what I'm about to talk about, and broke from reading a really interesting article on public health stocks that are doing well in the market. It also talked about the little known disease called lymphatic filariasis that is quietly working its damage on billions of people in the 3rd world, really interesting stuff. But I broke away from all of that to write this up.

What I saw was an ad for teeth whitening on the panel on the right. It has a picture of the lower half of the face of what looks like a really attractive woman. She's breaking into a smile, one marred by rampantly discoloured teeth. Below this picture are these words:

"We often underestimate the importance of having a brighter smile. Aside from your eyes, which FIRST IMPRESSION characteristic do people usually remember ABOUT YOU? (Click here for 3 tips for Whiter Teeth!)"

For the sake of completeness, I've just clicked the link. And as expected, it goes to some page with a comparison of online teeth whitening products.

I'm aghast. Trying to ruin your idea of your self-image just so you can buy something that brings you up again?! Disgusting. But you can't unthink the thought, so now I can't help it to think back to my friends I'm quite happy about with bad teeth, remember how I pushed away the guilty thought of, "wow, his/her teeth are pretty bad", and am now thinking that since the ad says we all do it, maybe it was OK to notice. Now imagine I go around thinking about this every next person I meet. Without helping it, I make everyone around me insecure. Infected, I've become an agent for the industry, drumming up business for them as I go on my daily rounds, to say nothing of the $200 plus I could do for them if I actually gave a crap and wasn't lucky to have a fairly indifferent set of 32.

Like, how on earth is this OK? How can it be alright to capitalize on human misery?! Legally! Sure, feel the way you do about your body, we'll always have our hang-ups over the way we look. But for a business to stoke your insecurities in order to peel off a few bills from you seems completely inethical. To me it's no different than a cigarette ad that encourages you to smoke, I can't see why we don't have standards across the board. It's about the principle, not the outcomes. Cigarettes kill people, and no one dies of teeth whitening addictions, granted. But anorexia claims lives, and given the ruthless nature of weight-loss advertising, couldn't one say the industry has a little blood on its hands? Then how many people's lives are worse because they're always thinking about teeth they can't afford to fix? What's your take, is the line sufficiently blurry now?

This isn't the first time I've seen ads of this sort, but maybe it's because it's the New York Times I was aggravated. MS Office serialz and pirated tv show websites, I'd shrug, but I expected so much better from the NY Times. Shows how mainstream this all is. I guess it's been that way all the while, now that I think about it.

While sure, to sell you something you want, I'll have to point out something you don't have. Often, one has to aggressively insist. But a line should be drawn somewhere around the sacred area of physical and mental well-being. There ought to be some standards about this kind of thing. Not necessarily legislation, even just some standards bureau would be helpful, or some independent ranking system for both buyers and sellers in the ad industry. Given how inescapable and pervasive advertising it, I think there should be more thought about what we're putting into people's heads on such a mass level.




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