I think that consumer capitalism made me hate my body.
We hear a lot of talk about how The Media presents an unrealistic Beauty Ideal, and that this hurts everyone by destroying self-esteem and creating pressure to conform to an impossible standard. I think this is true, but the problem does not begin and end with The Media or Society. I think that at core, our economic system deserves a lot of the blame.
Consumer capitalism makes you feel bad about yourself. That’s how it works. An insecure consumer is a more willing consumer, more desperate.
DFW pinpointed the exact mechanism of advertising here:
These ads shook viewers to their existential cores, apparently. . . It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relieveable by purchase. It just did it way more wisely, given the vulnerable psyche of an increasingly hygiene-conscious U.S.A. in those times. -David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (414)
Ads are engineered to make you feel bad about yourself and believe that you will only feel better if you buy their product. We are told that we are forever inadequate, unfulfilled without the external validation of a material purchase. It is a nefarious and emotionally exploitative system, and one that will probably stick around for quite a while.
I don’t mean to say this is part of some vast conspiracy to denigrate people, because it’s not. The advertisers responsible for such campaigns probably do not mean to create any real harm, it’s just the best way to sell magazines/beauty products/gym memberships/foods/clothes/cars/home furnishings/everything/etc.
But just because advertisers don’t mean harm doesn’t mean that these systems and ideas don’t cause real and lasting damage. To see what I mean, just think for a second about how you talk to yourself when you look in the mirror. Do you jump to the flaws and inadequacies (physical and otherwise)? If so, then they’ve got you.
Thanks to the bullshit culture I’ve grown up with, it’s still difficult for me to remember that thin does not mean best, prettiest does not mean happiest, and richest does not mean most valuable as a person.
You are beautiful and worthy and immeasurably wonderful just as you are. Fuck the Beauty Ideal and how they have told you to be, we are all great right now. Just because self-hatred is a major facet of our culture doesn’t mean you have to engage with it. The revolution may be quiet, but I think it is growing.
Readers: What are your thoughts on advertising and body image? Do you think I’m hopelessly misguided? (Or totally correct?)