Soap

The dermatologist I went to as a teenager used to call me “Moose.” He had an avuncular manner and always wore a visor with two inset magnifying eyepieces so that he could get a good look at his patients’ hideously clogged pores.

I think “Moose” was supposed to set me at ease or maybe make me feel better about having acne because the doctor was willing to pretend I was some kind of impressive specimen? 

I found it humiliating.

“Moose” is a nickname for a hulking linebacker type, whereas I was whatever type brings along a biography of Ginger Rogers on the eighth grade class camping trip.

Maybe this dermatologist called a lot of his teenage male patients “Moose.” Maybe he figured we all wanted to be Mooses. Meeses. Whatever.

But considering the doctor probably encountered a daily parade of zit-plagued youth, you’d think he’d have the emotional intelligence to know that a good number of them were already feeling awkward and vulnerable due to their bad skin or their general uncoolness or the confusing erection they got out in the waiting room while leafing through a photo spread of Ricky Martin in Entertainment Weekly.

So maybe have a heart and don’t give pitiful pubescents like that (e.g., Clinton-era me) any nicknames that might feel like sarcasm. 

I guess the people in that office had a narrow, Moosey conception of masculinity. During another visit, a nurse told me that the best bar soap for me to use in the shower would be Dove—but she hastened to add, “I’m sure you don’t want to use Dove!” As if using Dove, which was marketed exclusively to women at the time, would be like shoving a tampon up my rear end.

Instead, the soap I shower with is Dial, not because it’s manlier (is it manlier?) but because that’s what my parents bought when I was a kid, and sticking with something unquestioningly because it’s what your parents did is how personal care brands—and religions, for that matter—stay in business. 

Besides, what do dermatologists know anyway? I didn’t follow my doctor’s prescribed skin care regimen to the letter, in part due to his penchant for sending me home with topical creams that felt like they could burn through the hull of a battleship. Yet my skin cleared up in spite of my halfhearted approach to caring for it. I think the dermatologist was just biding his time till the zits went away on their own and he could take credit. 

If, as I suspect, skin care is a racket capitalizing on consumers’ anxieties surrounding youth and beauty, then I figure there’s something trustworthy about how Dial has never, as far as I know, produced a memorable advertising campaign. 

That’s more than I can say for Ivory, with its eugenicist-sounding claims of being “99.44% pure,” whatever that means, or Zest, whose old commercial jingle (“You’re not fully clean unless you’re Zestfully clean!”) has been stuck on my head for several decades.

The other thing I can never forget about Zest is that for a science fair during elementary school, a kid in the class below mine did an experiment where she subjected several soaps on the market to the drip, drip, drip of a faucet to find out which bar would last the longest. A local TV station was covering the fair for the evening news (riveting journalism), and when the reporter interviewed the pint-size soap scientist about which product was the longevity champ, the kid answered, “Zest.”

Only she had a lisp so it sounded more like “Theth.” I mean, how could you not put her on the news? That’s adorable.

I’m not so sure, though, that it’s a strong selling point for soap to be impervious to water torture. Are indestructible ingredients gentle on skin?

I’d ask my dermatologist but I’ve been nursing a grudge over that Moose thing for 25 years.

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