Self-Esteem For Sale

Fat MoneyToday I have seen multiple commercials for diet companies and beauty products and it reminds me of something that my friend CJ Legare says – that the companies take our self-esteem, cheapen it, and sell it back at a profit.

The basic process is that first they make a normal human experience (wrinkles, eyebrows, cellulite, short eyelashes, large bodies) into a “problem”.  “Do you suffer from the heartache of short eyelashes?”

Because of social conditioning and the real benefits to getting as close as we can to the stereotype of beauty (and the real punishments for not trying to do that) some people will start to worry about this right away, others take more convincing.  That’s ok because the advertisers aren’t done yet, there’s a second level:

The goal of the second level  is to remind us that we only have value in as much as men want to have sex with us (regardless of whether or not we’re interested in having sex with men, what we want is not part of this calculation.)  Men are subject to this kind of advertising as well but I’ll focus on women for the purposes of this particular post. “Men love long, lush lashes.” Insert image of woman with long lashes in the arms of a man.

The idea here is to prey on our insecurity – to blame normal human conditions like being single, or going through a rough patch in a relationship, on something aesthetic that we can buy their solution to fix.

Then there is a final step that ups the ante.  Maybe it’s because the product doesn’t work (*cough* dieting *cough*), or because of the side effects (your lashes are longer so just ignore that permanent eye discoloration), or the risk (side effects include:  growing a third arm, homicidal tendencies, and death).  For this, the products tend to tap into the big ideas that have been heavily cultivated over time, specifically:  if you’re not young-looking, thin and in a relationship you are a failure.  Then they create enough fear or pain to override the logic that might normally cause us to decide that the risks are not worth it (like perhaps getting a smaller body is not worth the risks of stomach amputation like permanent constant nausea, malnutrition, a high failure rate, and death.)

It’s easy to fall into this, I’ve certainly done it.  It’s not the same as buying red lipstick because you love red lipstick – it’s going through all the foundations desperate to find one that will hide my splotchy cheeks, until I remember that there is nothing wrong my splotchy cheeks.

Once our self-esteem has been cheapened it’s hard to rebuild the value.  So I think the trick is to interrupt the pattern at the beginning.  There is an old Simpsons episode where the advertisements come to life and Lisa figures out that the solution is to just not look at them -when they stop getting attention they cease to be alive.  She even sings a little song and I tried to find it for you guys but my Google-fu has failed me.  It’s pretty straight forward, the lyrics are:  Just don’t look.  Just don’t look.

The secret here is that they can’t have our self-esteem unless we give it to them.  We can make decisions to purchase based on what we truly enjoy rather than the fear that we won’t be enough without a product.  We can choose to spend our money on products that advertise to us without trying to make us buy their products through fear or self-loathing.

We can also decide that there is nothing wrong with aging, short eyelashes, or bodies of every size. These companies that treat us so poorly and sell us products that don’t work or have horrible side effects only exists because we give them our time and energy and money.  We can make it stop and each person who opts out makes a difference, every dollar we don’t spend on their products is a dollar that they can’t spend marketing self-hatred back to us.  I don’t know about you, but they can have my self-esteem when they pry it from my cold dead hands – it is not for sale.

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23 thoughts on “Self-Esteem For Sale

  1. I have decided this works for a lot of things. My eyes are the things that tend to lead me astray. If I want to avoid buying certain things when shopping or just don’t have money to get anything other than what I came for, I simply have to have tunnel vision while walking down the aisles. I cannot look to the right or the left lest I feel somehow diminished because I don’t have That Thing. I like myself today just as is. I don’t need That Thing to complete my life or fulfill me. And I don’t need That Insecurity in my life.

  2. The eyelash thing makes me…I don’t even know what. I use the same drug, in my eye rather than on it, for glaucoma. The darkened skin is for real although my lashes never got any longer. What’s really annoying is that since they are selling it in higher volume you’d think the price would go down, or maybe the cosmetic use could subsidize the medical? Nope!

  3. Again, I have to thank my mother for her early training. Some of my earliest memories of TV are of seeing commercials and having Mom ask me to tell her what they just said… including the stuff they didn’t actually say. I would come up with my answers, and then we would talk about what I had and hadn’t noticed. It was great. I got a critical thinking exercise with every commercial break. The day I noticed something Mom didn’t was a proud one for me, and for her.

    I think that overall, it’s made me more resistant to advertising. It’s made me think about what I actually want and what is simply social conditioning. I’m hardly immune, but I have tools to help me decide when to listen and when it’s in my best interests not to do so.

  4. Not too long ago Iooked up the reason why women started shaving their legs. It was because razor companies wanted to sell more razors.

    In the Little House books, the Ingalls women want to know what the latest fashions Mary needs for college. The turned to Godey’s Lady’s Book.

    Advertisers have been doing this for a long time. I find it rather disturbing.

  5. We got rid of satellite television in large part because of advertising. It was depressing the hell out of me and I kept thinking, “Why am I PAYING to let these jerks into my home to tell me how much I suck and need their product?” (The other reason we got rid of satellite tv is it seemed everything was reality tv–ick).

    I watch everything on hulu or netflix. Yes, I still get advertised to but not in the same volume and, thankfully, so far most ads on hulu are for cars or credit cars. Very rarely do I see an ad telling me I suck.

    It has made a big difference not having to see those diet commercials all the time.

    1. I love my DVR for this very reason, and on Youtube, I make sure NOT to listen to the commercials before many videos. I get a kind of satisfaction if they don’t present their product name in the first five seconds because most of us have clicked off by then and they’ve just lost their hard-earned ad money.

  6. “the companies take our self-esteem, cheapen it, and sell it back at a profit” …. so well put, I must remember that phrase.
    And it’s really disturbing how deeply these messages get ingrained in ourselves and our society. Just now I read a person claiming that it’s a pity that people don’t make the best out of themselves (does one say that like this in english? I’m not a native speaker, sorry) By “making the best” he meant that thin people shouldn’t only be thin, but also do this or that training to have better defined muscels, less body fat and and and …
    Hmmm, I must come from another planet, I always thought making the best out of myself includes things like not being mean to other people, do things that help making the world a livable place, being nice to myself and help others when I am able to … where did I get that from, when really all I should be is thin and fit … 😉

    1. not to be misunderstood, I have no problem with people who like fitness and want defined muscels – only for me that is about doing fun things, having a hobby, like my hobby is patchwork. It’s not about becoming a better person

      1. Gepee you’re absolutely right. These advertising companies don’t want us to make “the best of ourselves”, they want us to obsess about our appearance until the day we die.

  7. I went for a few years without ever really seeing live television – when my life once again included TV commercials, there was a definite few months where all the ads just looked ridiculous right from the get go. We’d all do well to just “look away!” as often as we can.

    1. I haven’t had a television for 12 years, don’t know (and don’t want to know) how to access Hulu, etc., and thus don’t watch any television at all and don’t miss it at all. When I stay in a hotel, I turn it on and am always immediately appalled by the dreck that comes pouring out of the damn thing. I’m sure there are still some good things to watch but for me the cost of watching the ads or dealing with the technology is way too high , so I’m very happy to “just not look” at TV at all, in any form.

  8. I like ads – the humourous ones, that come in the Cannes-Lions-Archive. I do not like ads that tell the consumers they are lacking in beauty, fitness, health, willpower, love … or anything.

  9. “We buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like” – tyler durden

    one of my favorite movie quotes. the only person i need to make happy is myself. thanks for reminding me of that!

  10. “Do you suffer from the heartache of damaged self-esteem coupled with an excess of disposable income? Ask your doctor if prescription strength Costsalot is right for you.

    Prescription strength Costsalot – because there isn’t any problem that we can’t make a boatload of money promising to fix.

    (Side effects include crossed eyes, thickening of hair in nostrils, growth of prehensile tail, urge to fling poo, excessive flatulence, massive aneurysms, depleted savings, giddy pharmaceutical executives, and excessive naivete. If you experience any of these side effects, discontinue use of Costsalot immediately, and tell your local urgent care or emergency room to immediately administer massive doses of Evenmorbux.)”

    1. Love it!

      Also related:

      “A groundbreaking study has found that Costsalot does not kill people from the disease it is supposed to be preventing. Internationally famous opinion leader Don Dinero says this is a landmark study and strongly recommends that Costsalot should become the drug of choice for damaged self esteem“.

      A stock PR blurb that can be used universally:

      “A groundbreaking study has found that (insert name of drug here) does not kill people from the disease it is supposed to be preventing. Internationally famous opinion leader (insert name of opinion leader here) says this is a landmark study and strongly recommends that (insert name of drug here) should become the drug of choice for (insert name of disease here).”

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