Skin Deep Video

Author(s): April J. Taylor
Date Published: July 18, 2006
Source: (Political Environments #6, Fall 1998)

I first met the producers of Skin Deep, Deb and Alex, several years ago at a women's health forum. At the time, they were in the midst of producing a video on the controversial contraceptive Norplant. As a health activist, I thought this was a long-overdue project and wished them luck, and extended any support I could lend. I am happy to say, after many years of struggling to get financial support, Skin Deep has now arrived.

Skin Deep is a fifteen-minute exposé of the lives of several young women in Illinois, Maryland and Wisconsin. The video begins with outlining the subtleties of marketing to entice women to use Norplant. We see pictures of lovers, or young defiant looking women with 'Norplant' as the caption below them. We also see something rare: the surreal moment of Norplant insertion into the upper arm.

Afterwards, we are taken through a journey of testimonials of women who did not fully know all the problems associated with Norplant use: hair loss, excessive bleeding, fatigue, hormonal contraindications and weight gain.

We are then taken to Baltimore where the first introduction of Norplant in a public school setting took place in the early 90's. We hear how Norplant was introduced into the school system from a public health official and the community responses to that action. Community women who are critical of the method are given a voice. The video raises concerns about the exploitation of the poor, racism, class and gender bias and connections to the exploitation of Third World women. We also hear from Julia Scott of the National Black Women's Health Project in Washington, DC, who talks about hormone usage and young women.

Despite all of these great attempts made at documenting the side effects and the politics of Norplant, there is no mention of possible HIV/AIDS transmission with the use of Norplant because it is a non-barrier method. In an age where Black and Latina women are disproportionately affected with HIV/AIDS, we cannot endorse any contraceptive method that does not protect women from transmission of this disease. Additionally, more information should have been fleshed out as to the debilitating side effects of this method, i.e. the economic consequences, the effects on the woman's relationships, libido etc.. The producers could have also explored and deconstructed the concept of 'women's choices' as a new marketing tool to entice and manipulate women.

Overall, Skin Deep is a much-awaited video to add to the growing number of feminist empowerment videos. Use it as a teaching tool to educate yourself and women in your community.

Skin Deep, 15 minutes. Co-produced and directed by Deb Ellis and Alexandra Halkin, 1997. For more information contact the producers at: 145 Lakewood Parkway, Burlington, VT 05401. (802) 864-9085,