Front and center on the online Times today is a story headlined, “The Body as Billboard: Your Ad Here.” The copy speaks for itself.


TERRY GARDNER, a legal secretary in California, returned home from work recently to find two police officers waiting. They said her brother had told them he thought she might be having a breakdown because she had shaved her head.

Ms. Gardner, 50, said in a telephone interview that she had told the officers that she was fine and had shaved her head for an advertising campaign by Air New Zealand, which had hired her to display a temporary tattoo. She turned around and showed them the message, written in henna on the back of her head: “Need A Change? Head Down to New Zealand.”

Ms. Gardner was among 30 of what the airline calls “cranial billboards.” For shaving their noggins and displaying the ad copy for two weeks in November, they received either a round-trip ticket to New Zealand (worth about $1,200) or $777 in cash (an allusion to the Boeing 777, a model in the airline’s fleet).

There is even more.

In 2005, Andrew Fischer, then 20 and living in Omaha, set up an eBay auction offering his forehead as a site for a temporary tattoo advertisement for one month. Green Pharmaceuticals’ Snore- Stop won with a $37,375 bid, and Mr. Fischer appeared on national programs, including “Good Morning America,” and in scores of newspapers and Web sites. Soon afterward, Mr. Fischer sold his forehead a second time — to Golden Palace — but got just $5,000 and scant media attention. His forehead has remained ad-free since. . . “For 40 grand, I don’t regret looking like an idiot for a month,” said Mr. Fischer, when reached by telephone. “But it’s not like the most fun thing in the world to walk around with a big ad on your face.”

Golden Palace has gone the farthest in testing the boundaries of taste. In 2005, through an eBay auction, the casino paid Kari Smith, of Bountiful, Utah, who was then 30, $10,000 to permanently tattoo its Web address on her forehead in large block letters. . . . It has also paid several pregnant women to display temporary tattoos on their rounded bellies, which they agreed to bare at malls and football stadiums.

All this is just another case of turning the body into an object for sale. A modern rendition of the world’s oldest profession. Treating the body in this way is related to all the coverage of A-Rod’s use of performance enhancing drugs that has captured headlines this week. More complex is the issue of surrogate birthing. But all have the common feature of selling the body as a thing, rather than treating individuals as human beings. Some economist will eventually use the data from Mr. Fischer to compute the value of an inch of forehead space.
(Image credit to Edward Carreon for Air New Zealand)

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