Advertisers have long targeted women by pointing out the ways in which they are flawed, then offering fixes. And, once those problems are fixed, they’ll invent new ones. It’s a form of commercialized trolling that has migrated from Cosmopolitan and Glamour magazines to Facebook and Instagram feeds, stalking women across the internet.
Lauren Hallden, a Port Richmond resident, created the website Problem Bodies.
Courtesy of Lauren Hallden
Lauren Hallden, a Port Richmond resident, created the website Problem Bodies.

Recently, Lauren Hallden, a 34-year-old Port Richmond resident who is a tech worker at a Philly start-up called Stitch, had enough, and created her own answer to the marketing blitz. It’s a parody website called Problem Bodies (laurenhallden.com/problembodies) that allows visitors to diagnose their own flaws — “shiny palms,” an “out-of-control vulva,” a “meek right foot” — then instantly search the internet for fixes. (For those in denial, she even adds a veneer of fear mongering pseudoscience: “According to one study, people with undesirable ribs are 10 percent more likely to be passed over for promotion.”) The goal is, if not to help women realize their bodies aren’t just a mess of problems to be solved, at least to help them laugh about it.

What got you started on this project?

Earlier in the year, I wrote a Medium post about the number of bra ads and yoga legging ads I was seeing on Instagram. It was kind of a quick thing I wrote in half an hour while sitting in a coffee shop, but it seemed to strike a nerve. I hadn't realized how many women were inundated with this stuff and feeling aggravated about it. So much of what is sold to women is about their bodies. So I wanted to follow up on that, and I made this generator project that insults women about their bodies and then tries to fix it.

What is it about these ads that bother you?

There are a lot of products out there — there's this one I get all the time which is a product to make your eyebrows look darker, and I keep thinking about how women get told to make their eyebrows smaller, and then to buy stuff to make them darker again. It's like an endless cycle of work. There's all this technology out there — to get a pencil skirt that looks better on your butt or to get the right cup shape for your bra — and it just seems like a whole bunch of invented problems to me.

Do you see this as something driven by technology, or is it more about the cultural moment we're living in?

I think it's both. It's like women got to experience professional success, but we never really escaped the beauty standards our mothers had. I feel like every time I'm on Instagram, someone's blogging about their diet routine or their impossible workout schedule. I feel like technology has made it more pervasive in a way. It's hard to escape it, and the platforms don't let you tweak the ads you see — so if you don't want to be pitched diet food, there's no way to do that.

Women get told all the time that they're wearing the wrong bra size, that they should come in and get a professional fitting. I feel like they've upped it. It's never-ending. You can never stop buying enough stuff. One of the things that triggered me to write it was I kept getting these bra ads that asked: "Are your boobs side set?" I thought, "Are they? I don't want to think about this!" So I decided, instead of worrying about it, just to start making fun of it.

Courtesy of Lauren Hallden

There are so many very specific, bizarre potential flaws you've generated. How'd you come up with them?

I kind of divided them into categories and thought, "What can things be?" They can be the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong texture. So I divided things into categories and started putting words in. Then, I thought I was missing a bunch of things, so I went to Instagram and Sephora and looked at the ads there and started plucking words straight out of the ads. Sometimes when you're using the site, it makes these fake social media links — it will try to invent a Kickstarter campaign for a beauty product and link you to it. But sometimes, you'll click on the link and it's a real product. Like, I discovered that toe concealer, makeup for your toes, is a real product. Why do you need concealer for your toes? That was the funny part: In just generating nonsense, you realize how many funny products are out there.

What kind of feedback have you heard?

People have been DM'ing me the results they get and being like, "I didn't realize my elbows were so loose." But I would really like people to use it as a way to help other people feel not so bad about this stuff, or to think questioningly about the things they're being told to buy. I don't think that anyone's written to me in the vein of, "I can't believe some of the stuff women get sold to buy!" But that's definitely part of the point of it. I would like people to be thinking about that.

Courtesy of Lauren Hallden