I ruin lives. I know it. My co-workers know it. My boss knows it. But your teenage daughter doesn’t know it. She doesn’t have a clue. She thinks I’m making her life so much better. And depending on her particular side effects, maybe I am.
My daughter is 13 years old. She’s everything to me. My former wife and I got married way too early. She was 19 and I was 20 and we were so sure we had it all figured out. We knew that we were young, but we were dedicated.
We shouldn’t have been dedicated; we should’ve been committed.
We were married for 18 months before we realized how young we truly were. Who wants to spend their 20s having sex with only one person? My wife sure didn’t. And the one thing that almost held us together was my daughter’s birth.
At 21, you don’t have any grasp of what people mean when they reference the “beauty of childbirth.” To be honest, the phrase sounds more sickening than enlightening. It’s the ultimate had-to-be-there experience and once I was there, it all locked together in my head. This person you’ve created, this new life, this tiny version of your relationship with another person. You only need to see her for a second to become irrevocably attached to her.
One look at her face was all it took.
I knew there wasn’t a soul on earth I wouldn’t destroy to protect her.
My little Charissa.
Things didn’t work out with my (now ex-) wife. That’s how life goes sometimes. However, things with my daughter are great. She’s the reason I try my best every day to be the best version of myself that I can be. We’ve always had a close relationship and alot of my better ideas have come from conversations with her.
Some would even say my best idea came from her. I guess it all depends on how you define “best.”
I was talking to Charissa one afternoon when she told me about a book. It was about an ordinary girl who fell in love with a perfect boy. Of course, the perfect boy felt the same way about the ordinary girl. I asked my daughter if she thought this was a realistic book. She’s smart, so she said “No, of course not.”
“Why do you read it?” I asked.
“Because it’s what I want to believe,” she replied.
And that’s when I finally noticed the underlying thread of every single product marketed to young teen girls is: “You don’t know you’re beautiful.”
That was it. Young girls associate with characters who don’t think they’re beautiful because most young girls feel exactly like that. They’ve been barraged with magazines and tv shows and movies that are filled with perfect, beautiful girls. Girls with perfect faces, perfect bodies, and perfect boyfriends. How should a chubby, awkward 13-year-old feel by comparison?
But tell them they’re secretly beautiful and you’ve got their strictest attention. Bella Swan, Cinderella, Katniss Everdeen. These are physically attractive characters that don’t know they’re attractive. They’re so very obviously attractive, but they don’t know it. A teen girl can’t help but think “maybe I’m the same way…”
You wanna believe that you’re being sold these characters because they’re strong, empowered role models for young girls, but they’re all part of a con.
I work in cosmetics. It’s a long story, but basically I’ve always had a natural understanding of science. It paid my way through college and landed me a job at a company that sells products I’ll never use in my entire life.
Charissa’s having trouble at school. Bullying. They call her “fat.” They make up stupid rhymes and nicknames for her. She comes home crying and frankly I’m getting tired of it. I’m tired of seeing tears that belong to the one person in this world I love. I’m tired of not making enough money to move her to a better school. That’s when I realized the connection between my job and Charissa’s issues.
We called it “True You.” What a stupid name. I never agreed to it, but I didn’t have any better suggestions, so that’s what stuck. It’s your basic foundational cream. Apply it in the morning before school and watch as it “enhances your pre-existing beauty.” Every cosmetic ad in the world claims it will make you more beautiful; mine claims to show everyone how beautiful you already are. Why? Because would you rather become beautiful, or have everyone think you’re beautiful the way you already are? For teen girls, the answer was the latter.
We got the product endorsed by every kid that’s ever spent more than 2 seconds on the Disney Channel. We got commercial time during the Kids Choice Awards. We had a float outside the VMAs. If you had a television, you saw something claiming to reveal the “True You.”
Within a few weeks, the money came in it like it was gushing from a broken dam. Charissa’s classmates might have called her “fat” but they certainly never dreamed of calling her “poor.” It wasn’t long before I moved her to a posh private school where our cashflow meant she’d never be bullied again. My little girl was going to be the teacher’s pet, the prom queen, and the student president. And I was going to be the proud parent who signed the checks that made it all happen.
Now before you start judging, let me say this: we did lots of testing before the product went public. We tested it in every way we knew how. But between the test phase and the release phase, I may have made a slight alteration or two. Or six.
I knew I was tampering with something dangerous, but I didn’t mean for it to happen like it has. I accept what’s happened, but I certainly didn’t plan it.
Your pores are very susceptible. Let’s just start there. And what I mean by that is that things can get into them easily. Certain chemicals can cause your pores to widen, making it easier for certain…let’s call them “ingredients”…to slip in.
I wanted to ensure that my product was successful. I didn’t want other young girls facing the kind of self-esteem-destroying ridicule that Charissa was going through. So I amped things up.
I added several things, but one of them was a chemical I’d been testing called rhymothil. It was my own composition and it basically acted as a drug that you could take through the pores in your face. It wouldn’t make you delusional or anything like that. It would just be a slight euphoric sensation. It might, perhaps, make you feel a little more confident. A little more like you were better than you previously thought. A little more like the “true you.”
The product went out 11 months ago. There have been a few…incidents.
In northern Maryland, a 15-year-old was using the product before going to a school sporting event. The euphoria she experienced became so intense that she was convinced she was completely alone as she crossed a busy intersection. Unfortunately, she wasn’t alone at all. It seems wrong to say “thankfully,” but thankfully, the body was too mangled to show any proof that our product was to blame. It’s a widely accepted theory, but not a provable one.
In Ohio, a young girl who’d been using “True You” was discovered dead in her bathroom one morning. She’d dug her fingernails so far into her face that she’d caused herself to bleed to death. That can happen when your face doesn’t stop itching but you don’t feel pain. As of right now, the case is still tied up in court. With lawyers like ours, it’ll stay that way until the other side simply gives up.
There’s another incident that didn’t make the news though. It’s currently taking place in Chicago, Illinois. A girl there hasn’t used the product a single time, but she’s doing great. She’s well-liked at school, her self-esteem has never been better, and all the teachers love her. Her name? I’m sure you already know. Everyone around here does. They all talk about what a great kid she is.
And how much her dad loves her.
And how he’d do anything to ensure that she feels beautiful.