Friday, June 14, 2013

People are trying to sell you things: notes from a potato-sack communist

I know, such a strange assertion, but bear with me. If you are a woman, people are really trying to sell you things. Apologies to Sarah Haskins, Naomi Wolf, and the many others who've pointed this out, but somehow the message remains controversial. Oh, not in the abstract, but when you break it down to the individual things being sold. There, otherwise sensible women (and I include myself in this criticism) will insist this one item is universal necessity.

There's one approach to the selling-of-things that trumps the rest, which is a quasi-sanctimonious necessity argument often centered on pseudo-health. As in:

-Are you taking care of your skin? Not sunscreen, or something prescribed by a dermatologist for an actual condition. Serums, lotions, and individual creams for the left eye and right. It's unacceptable to come to the conclusion that the best paraben-free serum in a BPA-free container is no serum at all, because that doesn't cost anything. It simply isn't done to determine that while your skin does not look airbrushed, while you look the age you are, you have no particular issue that needs addressing, and leave it be. You need products. But expensive ones - you need to take care of yourself!

-Is your hair healthy? Not as in, does the condition of your hair reflect overall well-being and a healthy lifestyle. As in, do you have split ends? Dry, over-processed hair? And what if you do? What if this in no way detracts from your life? Unacceptable. Hair needs to be healthy, because healthy is not negotiable. You do not simply look best if you get regular trims. (Sigh, true.) You need these (says a hairdresser, says a women's mag). The world will end if you go more than six weeks between.

(Hair - this is the one where I'm guilty. Ever since discovering The Expensive Japanese Hair Products, I find it impossible to imagine why anyone hasn't put $20 towards a bottle of 100% tsubaki oil. And the Shiseido Japan hair mask. I have already led one friend and one relative down this path - perhaps some blog-readers as well. That and eyeliner. You don't wear eyeliner? What are you thinking?)

-Would you look better-in-a-conventional-sense if you lost a few pounds? Unless you're the ballerina/pole-dancer (ex-?) girlfriend of the exiled guy who, as has been established, looks just like a certain political-science professor (it's uncanny!), chances are the answer is yes. And even if it's not - even if you'd look sunken and heroin-chic-in-a-bad-way if you lost an ounce (and how nice for you!), we so equate weight-loss with beautification in our society that aesthetic reality is beside the point. It is thus inconceivable that you wouldn't at least consider a cleanse. What, you're OK being a healthy (which is its own conversation) but not stunning weight? You've clearly failed to take into account all the toxins in your system, 'toxins' of course not being a euphemism for 'extra 5-10 pounds from pasta non-avoidance.'

-And finally.... yes, there are women who are wearing the wrong size bra (and does the bra kerfuffle ever continue - re: the Observer piece, nice to see that skepticism and gullibility/vanity coexist in others as well) who are physically uncomfortable because of it. This is real! I take your word for it! There are also, however, women not in pain from their current, self-sized bras, or who are most comfortable in no bra at all. This is a problem from a marketing perspective. So it needs to be that ill-fitting bras are causing back injury even in women whose backs feel just fine. It needs to be that properly-fitting bras are improperly-fitting if they haven't been properly fitted. There needs to be some quasi-medical reason why, if you're not hoisting 'em up to what coincidentally happens to be the aesthetically optimal level, on a daily basis, and doing so with a device that's $50 or more, you will in fact die in a gutter of ill-fitting-bra-induced infection.

Anyway. I do not - as you might be thinking - approach this all from the perspective of a potato-sack-advocating communist. Just because someone is trying to sell you something doesn't mean that the thing in question won't work wonders. Flattering bras are flattering! Dewy skin is dewy! (OK, I do oppose weight-think.) What I'm asking is that we be alert to - and skeptical of - these necessity arguments. Just because some women simply must have/do X doesn't mean you are in the same situation with respect to that particular step in the primping process. And people who are telling you that you simply must are, quite often, trying to sell you something. So just... keep that in mind.


caryatis said...

I think you got it quite right here. We live in a rich society and can afford to think of bras and lotions as necessities, and if you can afford it and it makes you feel better, it's a good thing. But we should be questioning these phrases "take care of yourself" and "healthy."

My pet issue is getting enough sleep. It's incredibly important for our physical and mental health, happiness and productivity. But it's free, so we hear very little about it. This would be a good place for a CDC/AHRQ/Medicaid awareness campaign, but even the priorities of government agencies are driven by what they call "stakeholder feedback." No one's pushing for a marketing campaign for sleep.

caryatis said...

As you may have guessed, Phoebe, I have literally nothing to do today except comment on your blog and rant about public health on the internet. Everyone at the office is drinking Scotch. No work will be done.

Phoebe said...


Comments always welcome! More people should have Scotch days at the office. And sleep - yes, I'm a fan. Still catching up on what I missed when commuting, and storing up for whenever - as is all but inevitable - some endeavor will require me to commute once more.