Self-Esteem: Not For Sale

I was talking to a friend about the fact that I’m not going to wear any make-up or have my hair professionally done when I tape my dance classes, and my friend freaked out that I would look unprofessional, that people would be able to see the fact that my face gets splotchy when I work out, that my face might be shiny.

It reminded me of the brilliant CJ Legare, who said something to me when we first met that has stuck with me ever since:   The beauty and diet industries work hard to take our self-esteem from us, cheapen it, and sell it back at a profit.  I’m want to break this down a little bit today.

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?”

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 our bodies only have value in as much as men want to have sex with us.  (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 the redness in my cheeks, until I remember that there is nothing wrong with the redness in my 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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I do HAES and SA activism, speaking and writing full time, and I don’t believe in putting corporate ads on my blog and making my readers a commodity. So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, you can  become a member (you get extra stuff, discounts, and you’re always the first to know about things) or a you can support my work with a  one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free. If you’re curious about this policy, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on May 28, 2012 at 8:55 am  Comments (24)  

24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Check out this video: 58 seconds long – every beauty ad you’ve ever seen – you’ll ROFL

    • OMG, that’s perfect. :D

    • LOOOOL, that’s hilarious. I, uh, may need to pass this around the Interwebs.

      And I revel in my ladystache. It was good enough for Frida Kahlo, and it’s good enough for me.

    • That was the most hilarious thing I’ve seen in weeks. And you know in internet time, weeks=millenia.

  2. Yes! You hit the nail on the head with this one! For me, not listening means not owning a TV- it’s been freeing.

    • I have done much the same thing. I don’t have a television. My friends think I’m some variety of neo Luddite. I hope they are right. :)

    • I do have a TV and watch it a lot, but I’m ready to marry my DVR that allows me to zap straight past the commercials.

      Also I find it useful to sit down with reality programming and dissect the logic behind the story lines. It’s a fairly regular feature over at the wedding planning blog I write. It’s kind of amazing how much toxicity is lurking in the corners of even the most seemingly innocuous wedding reality programming. In particular, those shows about buying a wedding gown where the fat brides are sold on ‘slimming’ lines of gowns they can’t get a single leg into because the salons only carry sample gowns in size 6 or eight… which means it’s a size 2 or 4 in street sizes.

      Every single one of those women is reminded that it’s her fault she can’t have the gown she really wants, or even try on the ones that ‘can’ be made in her size.

      GAH! Drives me up a frickin’ tree.

  3. When I first heard that there was a drug – A DRUG!! – that you could take to make your eyelashes longer, I thought it was a parody ad. Surely, nobody could be so vain to think that “short eyelashes” was on par with real maladies like “sinus infection,” “high blood pressure” or “cancer,” right? At least, not enough to take some chemical concoction to “cure” this horrible malady?

    Bravo to you, Regan for allowing regular people to see that dancing is a physical activity, and that your face gets red. That you’d probably melt off any makeup. Me too – and I think more people need to see what is real, and know that it’s OK and normal. What isn’t normal are the images I’ve seen of people “working out” who look like they never got up off the couch – perfect makeup, not a hair out of place. Riiiiight!

    Thank you for making it OK to be human!

  4. great, till I choose not to shave. Then out comes the judges :(

  5. I share an apartment with my mom, who watches a LOT of TV. This, of course means a LOT of ads for weight loss, makeup, etc.

    Since it’s TV, it’s a little hard to just not look – they’re still talking at you. So… I talk back. Apparently this annoys my mom to no end, but it takes the power away from these ads and puts it back in my hands – and, hopefully, shows my daughter that she doesn’t have to listen to them, either.

  6. I was made especially susceptible to the self-esteem money machine due to my illnesses as a kid, but ironically, I grew a skin thick enough to stand them due to the illnesses that worsened as an adult. I finally got mad enough to realize that the things they were trying to sell me weren’t remotely as important as the things I need to do to not break down (or break down less often than every few days, anyway). When you’re facing Fibromyalgia, or lupus, or possible MS, or even just a nice, healthy dose of crazy, sooner or later you have to look at what’s really important in life. In my case, it’s retaining as much independence and joie de vivre as possible.

    I also talk back to the TV. Commercials tend to get a hearty, “STFU.” Dr. Oz gets a lot of, “BIte me, Doc,” at least when he’s parroting stuff he doesn’t really understand. You don’t even want to know what I say to Fox News. ;)

    • I tend to say ‘I’m changing the channel on you, Fox News’ and then I do so.

    • I thought I was alone here, LOL. Lately I have started to ‘flip the bird’ to the Special K commercials or tell them to ‘suck it’ out loud.

  7. Not long ago Hilary Clinton, the US’s Secretary of State, was photographed wearing no makeup besides a bit of red lipstick. The Drudge Report posted the image with an article titled “Au Natural.” The article came off like it was an expose of Mrs. Clinton’s lack of professionalism. Odd, I hadn’t been aware that slathing colored goo on her face was an indicator of a woman’s competency.

    You see it all the time about women politicians: what they wear, how they look. You hear about their choice of fashion almost as often as about what they have done politicaly. Male political figures don’t go through that nearly as much

  8. I love this post, thank you. Just don’t look!

  9. I am one of those women who never wears makeup. I never liked how it felt on my face. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh, you just need to find the right brand!” Whatever, no. I just need to spend my money on stuff I like.

    I feel this way about deodorant, too. I love being clean; I don’t want to stink. I bathe every day, sometimes more than once if I sweat. But I refuse to put chemicals on my skin to make me smell “acceptable”, and I much prefer the smell of clean person to the smell of perfume or deodorant. Is that strange?

  10. I find it empowering when I see women rocking no makeup. I am seeing more and more celebs roaming around everyday with little to none and I think it’s cool. We have normalized women looking so made up that when we see a woman’s natural face and hair, we associate it with sloppiness. But I see it as total confidence. I have actually been trying to cut down on the amount of makeup I wear daily.

  11. The last time I wore make up was my wedding day, so I wouldn’t be completely washed out in the photos.

    I figure I wore enough make up back in my acting days that I never need to wear any again. Also, Mr. Twistie doesn’t like to kiss me if I’m wearing lipstick, because he thinks it tastes gross.

    If I wanted to wear it, he would never tell me not to… but him preferring me natural is a nice extra reason to follow my own preferences.

    Wrinkles, grey hairs, they happen to all of us. I don’t see any reason to cover it up when it happens to me. Those lines I’ve got now that I didn’t twenty years ago? I freaking earned them with experience and laughter and tears. I intend to show them off the way I would my Oscar, if I’d ever won one. Same thing if I ever go grey (I seem in this regard to be taking after my grandmother who didn’t go completely grey until her mid-eighties), then I’ll have grey hair and everyone around me will just have to cope with it.

  12. I’m not quite the au naturel type. When Mother Nature took most of the color out of my hair, I started putting some back in, a little different from the one I was born with.
    As for makeup, I used to consider it a sort of repair job. When my face was afflicted with red blotches of seborrhea, I would carefully sponge the flakes off, then apply foundation with good coverage. I often wear lipstick to keep my lips moist; I prefer it to Chapstick.
    I enjoy perfume and an occasional glob of moisturizing cream with a nice scent. Forget artificial long lashes. My natural lashes are long enough to reach my glasses lenses and occasionally dirty them up a bit, and I surely don’t need more length than that.
    I very seldom wear makeup these days, but I’ll put a little on if I’m getting dressed up otherwise. I didn’t like wearing makeup much when I was in my teens/early twenties, reasoning that I was the age everyone wanted to be, so what was the point? Of course, I got scolded a lot for this attitude. You’d think a mother would be happy to have a teenage daughter who didn’t overdo it with makeup, but nooooo.

  13. Thank you for this post! I’ve never worn makeup (I’m 52) and never wanted to. If we saw more actual faces of women on TV maybe we’d realized how beautiful they, we, are!

  14. To stop those monsters
    here’s a fresh new way that’s trouble free
    It’s got Paul Anka’s guarantee!!
    (Guarantee void in Tennessee)

    Just don’t look!
    Just don’t look!

  15. Thanks for being so gung ho about realistic exercise.

    I remember when I realized I really didn’t want to wear makeup– I found myself thinking “This is a human face. Get used to it.”.

  16. “it’s going through all the foundations desperate to find one that will hide the redness in my cheeks, until I remember that there is nothing wrong with the redness in my cheeks”

    YES, this. This is perfect. I was walking outside last weekend on an especially hot day, and then walked into a store. I am very, very pale and my skin gets red when I exercise or get hot. The woman in the store asked me, “what’s wrong with your face?” to which I replied, “nothing.” Ten years ago that would have devestated me. Now I am so happy I am free of these kind of thoughts about how my body is “wrong.”

  17. I love that you used the short eyelashes example, because I think that commercial is hysterical. One of the side effects could be temporary blindness. Awesome, will guys still dig my long beautiful lashes when they have to lead me around? But it struck me that I find that kind of thing so ridiculous, but can still get sucked into the media fat shaming. Which is just as ridiculous! I will remember this next time I start wondering if weight watchers will work for me too! :)

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