Today 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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