Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Groupon is Medicalizing Beauty... and it's NOT "Good for Your Health"

On Monday morning I awoke to the usual smattering of 50+ new emails in my inbox. I weeded through a handful of "I love your book!" and "You're so fat and ugly and stupid I can't believe anyone let you out of your cage to write a book!" messages. (I'll discuss creepy jerks another day. For now, just know that I was not "let out" but escaped from my cage and it's been grande!) I soon came across an email from, titled "These Deals are Good for Your Health." 

Screenshot of THE email.

I've been a Groupon customer for years. I LOVE getting a great deal on the variety of services and products I consume. Thanks to Groupon, I've tried numerous new restaurants, snagged a few indulgent mani-pedis, spent a romantic weekend in wine country, and had my car immaculately detailed in an urgent post-puppy-puke situation. I usually love these folks. So when I saw the heading "These Deals are Good for Your Health" I was psyched. Bargains! Health! Yay!  

I opened the email ready to pounce on discounted dental cleanings, yummy yoga class passes, chub-rub-resistant workout gear, some therapeutic (aka, relaxing) massage, a new ergonomic keyboard, or maybe the latest 28-inch NASA-patented skittles-filled mattress pad. Instead I was offered the following deals, for my "health":

75% off of Laser Hair Removal
58% off of Brazillian Waxes
70% off of Microdermabrasion
56% off Laser Lipo Treatments
55% off Phytobiodermie Cellulite Reduction
69% off Fractional Laser Treatments

To be precise, the "Good for Your Health" promotion email contained all six of the above and two vague offers for discounted "Spa Services," (one turned out to be a fairly benign mani-ped + massage and the other offered a "deluxe oxygen facial" + "microdermabrasion; infrared sauna; herb enriched detoxifying wrap"). But that's it. No yoga passes, no dental cleanings, and the "herb enriched detoxifying wrap" didn't even include medical marijuana! (j/k. Grandmas Ruth and Rita, I would NEVER!) Instead it was just a bunch of beauty "treatments" in disguise.

That Groupon email was one of the finest most blatant examples of "medicalization" I'd seen in a while. In sociology-speak (quoting from this EverydaySociologyBlog essay), the term medicalization

"refers to the practice of redefining a behavior, concern, or practice as a problem to be 'solved' by doctors" 
Sociologists study the medicalization of all sorts of things, including childbirthing/delivery, misbehavior/ADHD, fatnes s/obesity, and sexual "dysfunction". (My all-time favorite example of medicalization is "hysteria," a catch-all diagnosis that Victorian era physicians treated through "fine gentle massage"... of the lady parts!) Medicalization isn't inherently bad. I, for one, I'm grateful that a lot of mental health issues are now therapy + doctor things instead of "bad mood" or "just eat" things. But "There's a lot of money to be made from telling healthy people they're sick." I love it when companies solve my problems, but not so happy when they invent them!

So I'm pissed off at Groupon. It's bad enough that these primarily aesthetic "treatments" are described as "Good for Your Health" despite the fact that none of the body bits (pubic hair, wrinkles, cellulite) pose any legitimate health risk in their natural state. But, to make matters worse, almost all of these "services" involve physical pain and/or impose health risks due to the treatment itself. Not such a great deal after all...

Now, I enjoy my own beauty routines as much as the next gal. I reward my "writing fingers" with weekly manicures, wear some makeup most days, and even had a brazilian or two back when I was still trying to impress my husband. I'm not angry at women who want to be beautiful. I get it. I want to be beautiful too. However, I am angry at bullshit beauty advertising. Hate the game, not the players, ya'll.

This cartoon = me + Michael when we first started dating. Ha!
Women deserve a world in which we are free to express individuality and authenticity through appearance, allowing us the pleasurable creativity of self-expression. In this world we would not be so harshly judged for our beauty or our beauty-related choices. We obviously aren't there yet (hence, the "you're too 'fat-n-fugly' to be allowed to speak" emails I've been getting), but in the meantime I'd really appreciate it if Groupon would stop trying to convince us that tearing out our public hair at the root is "good for our health." 

Enough of my rant. What do YOU think? 
Do any of your beauty routines make you healthier? 
Have any of them caused pain or - egads - a trip to the ER? I'll show you mine if you show me yours!


  1. I knew there were groupons for b-waxes (since I heard someone telling me they used one), but had no idea they were being billed as "good for your health." Most health insurance policies have a clause or two that says cosmetic services are not covered because, guess what, they aren't necessary to improve or maintain your health. No matter what groupon says.

    1. No joke! I can't decide whether to change my groupon settings or what... I really want that dental cleaning! :D

  2. The sad part is that it was probably nothing more than a subliminal message for most people. Yes, the title is in big, bold letters, but I will bet you that people just clamored to the deals. Even if they read the title, most probably didn't give it a second thought but those services are now associated with good health in their minds.

    Also, I got a good laugh out of this: "No yoga passes, no dental cleanings, and the "herb enriched detoxifying wrap" didn't even include medical marijuana! (j/k. Grandmas Ruth and Rita, I would NEVER!)" Haha!

    1. Ha! Glad you got a kick out of that. I was sooooo tempted to request "herb enriched" recipes from folks, but thought better at the end. Not everybody lives in California where you can get an accidental second-hand high by walking in most parks!

  3. I love my brazilians, and I get them only for myself, but I agree that labeling these treatments "good for your health" goes farther than being misleading~ it's a flat-out lie. It diminishes Groupon in my esteem and reiterates the need for critical thinking skills.

    That being said, who is responsible for blocking the association between purely cosmetic procedures and good health? This will prompt a conversation with my 9 year old daughter about medicalization, to dovetail with the conversations we have about television commercials and propaganda. I do not discount subliminal messages, but they didn't even come close to making me feel like I NEED cellulite reduction for good health.

    Another great, thought-provoking blog, Kjerstin~ Thank you so much for the work you're doing!!

    1. Thanks for your note Impetuous1! I used to "like" getting brazilians too, but the last one I had was a traumatic experience that left me unable to WALK for two days, much less share the goods with Michael! He told me "never again" - not that I needed any convincing!

  4. While I agree these treatments totally fall into the beauty category rather than health. It can be said that getting a beauty treatment can make you feel better and improve your mental health.
    I'm definitely going to feel more confident at the beach if I've just had a cellulite treatment; around day 3 post Brazilian wax,I will feel sexier in my little nighty. That could lead to an ultimately healthier mental status.(until you realize the cellulite treatment lasts a week and the wax only slightly longer)
    I suppose the injury would be that one already feels they need the service to feel sexier, probably from adds even as cost efficient as Groupon.
    I do have a microdermabrasion horror story. Years ago I lived in Manhattan and had become a spa service connoisseur I had everything on my body rolled, steamed, pumbled and, soaked in various potions. I did get facials every few months but, always the calm, massage your face, extract a few blackheads, leave all glowy feeling variety.
    I was convinced by a great 50% off special they were running on microdermabrasion to give it a try. At the time I was 25, had clear wrinkle free skin. Why on earth did I need micodermabrasion? I didn't but, it was on sale. I got the treatment and it hurt, it really stung most of the time (sign things were not going well). My beauty proffesional assured it was normal,finished, put some oil on my face and sent me on my way.
    I went to the gym, I did look especially fresh faced and revived when I got there.
    I started working out and my face was on fire!!! I was nauseous and went to the showers after about 15 minutes, I showered (face burning)and when I got out my face was bright red and it looked like I had a solid sheet of rug burn from my nose down to my jawline.
    I was freaking out and in pain. I went to a real dermatologist, no appointment mind you, I literally walked out the gym door to the first dermatology office I saw and walked in crying.
    They had removed down to the dermis of my face and I was basically an open wound for weeks. I couldn't do anything to sweat because that would sting my face, I couldn't wash with water because that would wash away my new skin.
    For two weeks I could only dip my face into whole milk (to calm it) and slather on an uber expensive prescription cream (one tube of the cream cost 3Xs as much as my one "deal" microdermabrasion)
    I learned that 25 year olds do not need microdermabrasion treatments and I ended my love affair with spa treatments. Tweleve years later and I've not had a facial of any kind since!!!

    1. Mom-2-4 OH MY GOD. Your microdermabrasion story sounds terrifying and horribly painful! Glad you survived to tell the tale. (so... you're telling me that 70% off isn't such a great deal after all?)

  5. in groupon argentina those are never under the "health" category, and I think they shouldn't be. the fact that most of these procedures need to be carried out (or supervised) by doctors makes some people think they're health treatments, but they're not. hairs in your legs are not a health problem, fat in your buttocks is not a health problem. in our society, they are a cosmetic issue, but you can easily imagine a society in which having hairs or fat in your legs could be considered beautiful. I think a health problem is more of an "universal" thing.

    OK, I think cosmetic and spa treatments (in a reasonable amount) can make you feel a little better with yourself, I think they can be psychologically positive. but that does not make them "health treatments" at all.

    in addition, like you said, most of them have serious risks. and in my experience, it's not the best idea to buy any of these via groupon without checking first. I know people who had very bad experiences because these treatments were not carried out properly, or because they rushed into buying without knowing what was the best for them. In these cases it would have been healthier to ask a doctor BEFORE commiting to a treatment, that finally put their health at risk.

    1. "psychologically positive" is a great way to say it. I wouldn't call that "good for health" or even "good for mental health" since the anxiety these treatments "solve" is kind of created by the treatment providers themselves. Nevertheless, I too enjoy an extra spring in my step after a professional hair cut or manicure!

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  7. Great review! I have gotten laser hair removal, but haven't had the cash to go in to get extra body parts zapped. I have tried the no-no to miscellaneous results, so possibly this is what I'm looking for. Thank you for sharing these details. More power to you and to your site laser hair removal.

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