Yesterday was all about how advertising is playing on the insecurities of teen girls while trying to play on the insecurities of adult women when it comes to their bust. Today we’re moving to fat women and skinny men. And it’s not like he’s totally wrong about this either. Even in my time we had the ads where Charles Atlas celebrates that skinny guy who gets his girl taken and sand in his face because he lacks muscles, only to push guys around when he gets muscles. I don’t think that was the attitude Atlas was trying to sell, but I’m more surprised Dr. Wertham doesn’t call him out on it.

As for women and weight, phony weight loss plans, and plans that don’t work for everybody but will only tell you that in the fine print, are something that we deal with today as well. However, we’re lucky nowadays as there is a movement to tell plus-sized women that as long as their health isn’t affected being big isn’t necessarily bad. My mom had thyroid problems and other people do have a naturally larger figure. It’s also good to hold up those large breasts the other wonder cure didn’t give you. The problem is again that Wertham is blaming the comic rather than the advertiser and that’s where he’s after the wrong villain. Then again, his anti-comic bias is universal.

Remember to read the chapter first if you haven’t.

Some adolescents, depending on their type of constitution, pass through phases of growth when they are apt to be chubby. Is that something unimportant, which most of them will outgrow? No, comic-book ads say. There are “valuable secrets on how to get the most out of your life!

This is important to note. What Wertham forgets despite acknowledging it at the beginning (as I noted yesterday), teenagers will pick on other teenagers. Girls can be especially cruel to other girls if certain movies are to be believed (and we know Hollywood never gets anything wrong–sarcasm is hard to showcase in text), especially if there’s competition for the boys. So no matter how much you claim some teens go through a “chubby phase” it won’t matter if the other teens believe it or even care.

No matter what part of her body a girl may be sensitive about, skillful advertisements take care of every eventuality and scare her with the supposed ugliness and serious import of BUMPS AND BULGES” ($2.98).

Special attention is drawn to “buttocks”:

Just wait a few decades.

Modern medicine has definite scientific knowledge about weight reduction. Expert medical authorities have clearly expostulated this knowledge to other physicians in medical journals. And in popular writings addressed to the non-medical public, it has been made available to adults. But to children we teach exactly the opposite of the well-established scientific truth.

Dr. Frank H. Krusen, chairman of the Council on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, at the request of the Council on Foods and Nutrition, wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “No form of external manipulation is capable of removing adipose tissue from a particular region of the body.”

We get a brief bit about those shaking machines that are or at least were popular for a while. I never understood how those were supposed to work. Krusen is also quoted as saying that only eating less food will help you lose weight. Oddly no mention of exercise, but that could be on Wertham’s part. The case could be made that the “spot reducers” are exercising that area but it looks more like teaching how to do The Twist at the wrong speed.

Of course adolescents who pass through a slender growth phase are not forgotten:

Skinny Girls are NOT Glamour Girls!

Insert supermodel running gag here. Surprisingly there is less spent on weight loss than there is bust size. Insert your own joke there. From here Wertham goes on to talk about perfume ads. Now print ads in the 50s–heck, any ads in the fifties–lacked being concise. They had a tendency to ramble, as if trying to use up as much space on the page as possible. And in print that continued at least through the 1970s. Today’s ads do use the “it draws men” thing, and men get that from cologne and now body spray (Axe pushes that thought hard), and everybody gets it from antiperspirant, but it’s also about smelling good. Or if you’re Old Spice, living in Wackyland. The problem here may be more about rambling than anything else. And then we jump quickly to pimples.

Skin conditions are another field for comic-book scare advertisements. Acne, pimples, blackheads and complexion troubles of all kinds are a cause for worry, inferiority feelings, anxiety and, on account of superstitious beliefs, guilt feelings about sex. This effect they are apt to have not only on insecure children, but on the rank and file of children in general. “Acne affects adolescents at the time of life when their appearance is of most importance to them,” writes Dr. Marion Sulzberger. “It often produces feelings of inferiority and psychologic and emotional damage which may be permanent and which often color later life.” The main trouble with these mild skin conditions is that they upset people, especially children, so seriously. Comic book advertisements do all that they can to make boys and girls extremely self-conscious about their skin, and to feel miserable when there is the slightest blemish. They promise instant, miraculous cures.

Maybe they upset “children” because their peers do make fun of them for it. I didn’t have bad acne but I did get pimples in questionable places (I even had one on my eyelid once) and I still use a daily face wash in the morning because every now and then until a year or so ago I would still get the occasional zit. Maybe the MRSA cured that? Who knows? Point is, it may be a “small problem” to Dr. Wertham, but to to kids it’s a big deal, and there are reasons dermatologists exist.

A full page advertisement begins with this dialogue:

“Ask your friend Tom.”
“Tom, why don’t Sis and I get invited to proms and parties?”
“Frankly, Jim, it’s those ugly blackheads.”

I keep expecting Rifftrax to comment on this. Then Wertham writes something that confuses me.

Another statement in the advertising is, Those ugly blackheads give others such a wrong impression of you! Some boys take this as a reference to masturbation and react with worry, guilt feelings and withdrawal. The advertised cure is to use a gadget to extract blackheads mechanically ($1.00).

How do you tie ugly blackheads with masturbation? I thought the deterrent was hairy palms or something?

Many of the advertisements give the children the impression that buying such a product is like going to a doctor, thereby keeping them away from real medical advice which might either reassure them quickly or really help them.

Admittedly this is a problem, but again, instead of going after the publishers who don’t have time to test these products, why not go after the people who are responsible? Because he couldn’t attack comics if he did.

Some children get so worried about acne and the repeated failure of the costly comic book cures that they withdraw socially to such an extent that they look like – and have been diagnosed as – incipient schizophrenia.

The unwary physician who does not remember that one has to gain a youngster’s confidence first and make the diagnosis afterwards may fall into this error. I have seen a number of such cases of skin-sex hypochondriasis.

Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not sure what it means but I don’t think it’s that, and I don’t even want to know what “that” is. I just know the internet.

All examinations and tests ruled out schizophrenia. A high school student was presented to me at the Clinic by one of my assistants with a history of liking to be by himself and brooding. He had been previously diagnosed as incipient-schizophrenia. I elicited that what he had were not irrational worries, but very understandable and comic-book-ad inspired ones: “Ever since I was getting out of public school I worried about it [acne]. I read the full-page ads in the comic books and I did what they said, but it didn’t help. There are times when I withdraw completely. I can see myself standing there in front of the mirror. I scratched this – I can’t remember . . . [weeps].”


Oh, wait until we get to the part about Charlie here turning boys gay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had acne issues too, but no comic ads. I had other reasons for wanting to be by myself. I was either creating something or avoiding bullies. Or both. And I was creating comics. There’s also an odd shot at ads for better hair. Were you in need of another sentence or two to make a word quota? From there we finally reach that beloved icon of stupid comic ads, Charles Atlas!

Advertisements for boys cover different areas, but appeal to the same kind of susceptibility to juvenile hypochondriasis as those for girls. The concern of boys with growth and body build is exploited in advertisements illustrated with photographs of supermuscular he-men (often with big genitals like some of the comic-book heroes). I have seen a number of cases of boys who were developing more slowly than some of their friends, who were only mildly concerned about it until comics ads made them feel downright ashamed. These advertisements go like this:

How to Make YOUR Body Bring You FAME instead of SHAME! Are You Skinny? Weak? Flabby? . . . I know what it means to have the kind of body that people pity! . . . I don’t care how old or young you are or how ashamed of your present physical condition . . . I can shoot new strength into your old backbone . . . help you cram your body so full of pep, vigor and vitality that you won’t feel there’s even standing room left for weakness and that lazy feeling! . . .

Yeah, we’ve all seen these ads. Here’s the point I think Wertham, and probably the people who bought into these various bodybuilding ads of any age group, missed and it’s one that professionals try to stress today. This isn’t some magic program. You have to work to get this kind of a body (steroids aside), and work hard. It doesn’t happen overnight. The workout needs 15 minutes a day but it may take months to get that body and there’s more to it. Proper diet is important. Sticking to whatever program you go with is important. Even if you took every body sculpting pill GNC puts out you still have to eat right and take care of yourself. “Dynamic tension” may help but that’s all it’ll do. This is why you always read the instructions.

The large art photos of male nudes wearing only scanty trunks are a special comic-book feature. Of course there are boys who look at them admiringly because they are interested in body development. But he must be an inexperienced psychologist indeed who does not know that these photos of supermales serve also other purposes. Boys with latent (and sometimes not so latent) homosexual tendencies collect these pictures, cut them out and use them for sexual stimulation. One of my patients started to cut out these photos at the age of eleven. One ordinary children’s comic has no less than fifteen such photographs!

Oh you thought we were done with the sex part, didn’t you? Pay attention people! Wertham comes back to anything he can. Violence may be his #1 but sex is his #2. Maybe he understands marketing better than we think?

Many children get hurt in two ways by these he-man ads: They get disappointed when they do not get results, and they get homoerotic fantasies from the photographs. One ten-year-old boy was treated at the Clinic because he had prostituted himself to men. He looked a little too small for his age. He told us how he studied comic-book ads to correct this: “I have one of those books at home. It is no good. I got several. I started doing it for thirty-five days and nothing happened. I tried it for my arm – you know, ‘mighty arms.’ I thought I could be strong, but it didn’t work. All I did was keep the pictures of the wrestlers and boxers and photographs of strong men and muscle men.”

This is why you see a doctor before starting a regimen. He or she can tell you if you’re body type can handle a certain form of exercise and if it will help, and what you should do alongside it to achieve the results you’re after. If you don’t, you turn gay. That’s how that works, right?

Some of these advertisements hint at worries and guilt feelings based on the superstitiously supposed effects of masturbation.

BUNK! Nobody is just naturally skinny! Girls snickered at me behind my back. Are you always tired? Nervous? Lacking in confidence? Constipated? Suffering from bad breath? Do you want to gain weight?

I don’t know how you made that connection, doctor, but I’m curious how working out gives you good breath and makes you “regular” on the potty. Why look for stupidity that doesn’t exist when the stupid you already have is dumb enough?

Emphasis on the region of the “crotch” in some ads directs attention to a similar line of thought, as do “supporter” ads ($2.98) and remedies for “itching” which “may go . . . to the crotch of the legs.” ($1.00). It is not only a fraudulent claim, but an invitation to sexual hypochondriasis when an ad says:

Do the best science knows for you to do to GROW MORE VIRILE HAIR IN 30 DAYS.

I…I don’t even know what to say here. No wait, two things. What is Wertham’s obsession with hair in this chapter, and why are we assuming they’re showcasing the crotch instead of the muscles? Or do anti-itch remedies help you “perform” better…what am I missing here? Maybe the kid has VD, in which case he should be worried? Was this a time when pubic hair was a sign of sexual prowess…somebody explain this paragraph to me!

This is a good stopping point as Dr. Wertham switches from his #2 to his #1 as comic advertisements cause violence. Fair warning: the second amendment debate is going to come up tomorrow. And yet we’re talking BB guns and kitchen knives. This book goes into stranger places than the comics it’s attacking sometimes.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

One response »

  1. Sean says:

    Thanks for showing that 1992 Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back” video. Ah, the early 90s….a great time for hip hop and R and B music. I say this because the hip hop of 2017 is mostly pure garbage.


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