Accepted Paper:

Defining Skin as an Individualized Surface: American Post-War Marketing and the Products of Identity  


Maxwell Rogoski (University of Pennsylvania)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how American men and women began to regard their skin as a highly individualized organ in the 1950s and 60s. I show how this understanding emerged in part due to marketing of consumer goods (e.g. soap) drawing on the Ernest Dichter papers, periodicals and advertisements.

Paper long abstract:

In a speech before the Whitting Indiana Science Club in March of 1965 Ernest Dichter proclaimed: "The consumer of 1970 will be more of an individual.... 'My hair is different. My skin is different. My needs are different.' We find such statements occurring more and more in our research studies." Dichter, the noted leader of an American marketing firm, was positioned to make such a claim on the basis of hundreds of in-depth interviews his staff conducted on behalf of companies like Lever Brothers and Proctor & Gamble, in which they asked everyday consumers questions probing the psychology of their purchasing decisions. This included questions about how they felt about their skin.

Drawing on the the reports and papers of the Ernest Dichter collection, published periodicals and advertising materials I explore how American men and women began to understand their skin as a highly individualized organ in the 1950s and 60s. What did it mean for skin to be regarded as personal, unique, and differing from a mass norm? How did this understanding emerge and in particular what role did the marketing of consumer goods such as soap play in its development? This paper explores these questions situated within a growing academic literature on skin and complicates the admirable literary analysis by Claudia Benthiem that describes the body's outermost organ during this period as an increasingly closed, hard, or alienated surface.

Panel T166
Biotechnology, Personal Identity, and Boundaries Across the Globe