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.
Pre-order my book (for you and/or that food policing family member) and get an autographed copy and free shipping!
Become a Member, Support The Work!
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