By Josie Finlay
Dermatologists Hate Her: the real story of my scholarship project
It must be so fun to be an SCA staff member. Imagine brainstorming the scholarship project brief! I think they all sit in a basement lit by sputtering gas lamps: ‘How about…we get them to try and change the stock value of a large company…? Mwahahahah!’
When I saw the brief, I was amused and scared, and then I started jotting down lots of ideas, and began to get embarrassed. Ideas are annoying sometimes, aren’t they? As soon as you think about one for a second too long, or look at it from the wrong angle, it begins to curdle. My metaphorical wastepaper basket was overflowing with metaphorical scrunched up bits of paper: ideas I hated, although if I’d heard someone else come up with them, I probably would’ve thought they were OK. I was thinking myself into a roiling mire of decision paralysis and self-doubt.
My initial idea was to target Rentokil, and expose their methods of pest-killing as inhumane. I decided I’d stage a sit-in outside Rentokil HQ, which would involve me writhing and screaming in a human-sized mousetrap, or stuck onto the walls somehow, in the style of a glue trap. For some reason I imagined myself doing this naked, although I’m not sure how that would have helped.
Then the doubts and issues started to roll in. Firstly, Rentokil HQ is in a business park in Camberley, Surrey, which isn’t exactly a prime spot for a protest. Plus, there’s no obvious alternative location for a Rentokil sit-in. Loads of offices probably use Rentokil, and likely wouldn’t be ashamed about it. Also, does anyone really care about vermin welfare? Also, what glue would stick me to a business park wall without causing life-changing injuries? Also, I discovered that PETA already did the human-sized mousetrap idea a few years ago. (They actually were almost naked, but that makes more sense for their cause.)
I probably could have got around these problems using *Lateral Thinking*, if I’d really believed in the idea. But it was too late: doubt had taken over. Other ideas suffered a similar fate. Targeting perfume companies for their use of excessive packaging? Too obvious! Targeting Vue Cinemas for underpaying their staff? Too boring!
In the end I went for an unorthodox approach: raising a stock price. I chose Heinz, with the simple insight that they own Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, which I just really like. After some heavy research, I found that Worcestershire Sauce is made of ingredients that are really good for your skin. My concept: ‘Worcestershire Sauce Cured My Acne’.
I began to spread the word about the Lea & Perrins Cure, in the ‘One Weird Old Tip!’ ‘Dermatologists Hate Her!’ style of things. I wrote fake testimonials and outlined the Shocking Benefits of the ingredients, like anchovies (omega 3!) and garlic (antioxidants!). The climax came when I submitted my ‘findings’, along with Photoshopped before and after acne photos, to a sell-your-story-to-the-tabloids agency. To my surprise, the next morning, I got a voicemail from an agent. I looked him up – his previous clients include a G4S fraud whistleblower. I called him back.
Agent: I’m interested in your beauty story. Do you think you could send through any more Before photos?
Me: Yeah…I mean I was quite self-conscious during that time, but I could probably dig some out.
Agent: And I’m just looking at the testimonials… “Kim M – The results have been amazing! Basically free from acne and delighted to be so!” Who’s Kim? Could you get some Before photos of him?
Me: Umm, he’s my friend’s boyfriend. Yeah, I could ask him.
Agent: Okay, great, stay in touch!
I’ve never been in such a moral conundrum. Could a tabloid feature increase my chances of winning the scholarship? Maybe. It would also be really funny. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the kind of girl that circulates made-up health claims in national newspapers for my own financial benefit. Remember that Australian woman who built a wellness empire by faking brain cancer? Not super cool. And she was fined nearly half a million dollars. Hmm.
I decided not to call my agent back. Although I didn’t get the scholarship, I have no regrets about not making my name as a health hoax extraordinaire. But when it came to the scholarship deadline day, Heinz’s stock price had increased by 9% since the launch of the Lea & Perrins Cure. Maybe Worcestershire Sauce really is the acne miracle that the world’s been waiting for…