We Are Enough: A Manifesto from Advertising

Oh, you know, just casually writing manifestos for class. #Ilovemymajor #learningtofightthesystem

 

Advertising is something that can no longer be avoided in this society. Images, slogans, and logos are branded onto practically every inch of the space around us. Television, radio, and the internet cannot be navigated without avoiding advertisements. For most people, advertising is simply part of daily life. It has become a routine part of the drive to work, the process of checking our e-mail, the pens that we write on. Almost everything in our lives is trying to sell us a product.
We Are Sold an Alternate Perception of Reality
Advertisements do not accurately portray the world around us. They predominantly feature young, white, able-bodied, slim, heterosexual, and attractive people. They emphasize stereotypes and make generalizations, including common concepts of masculinity and femininity, race, and wealth. This both reflects and reinforces the many standards that we still have in modern society. They manipulate images. They photoshop pictures of women down to disproportionate sizes, they erase all “blemishes” including freckles and pores, they lighten the skin tones of models. They tend to show us only the happy, joyful parts of life that we unrealistically want to experience at all times (and if they are showing us the distressing parts of life, chances are they’re also showing us that buying their product will cause us to be happy again). They are carefully constructed to play off of our emotions, to make us feel a certain way about their product, to convince us to buy something.
We Internalize These Messages
However, after being bombarded with these images thousands of times per day, people have begun to internalize them. We now expect ourselves to meet these flawless and unrealistic definitions of beauty. We now compare our belongings with the belongings of those around us, attempting to see if we “match up” to them. We continue playing the certain roles in life that have been given to us by many factors, but are heavily perpetuated by advertising. For example, the concept that women are in charge of the domestic sphere of life. This idea was not given to us by advertising, but advertising continues to perpetuate this stereotype by only showing women performing household tasks and only appealing to women regarding topics such as childcare (think “choosy moms choose Jiff”).

We buy into the advertisements that shame us or make us feel bad about ourselves. As a culture, when we see a commercial for a diet product, we don’t stop and think about the unrealistic beauty standards that have been placed upon us, or the fact that 95% of dieters regain at least all of the weight that they have lost within 5 years. We don’t think stop and think about the shaming tactics that this advertisement is using, the fact that these advertisements are essentially telling us that it is wrong to be fat, that you are not good enough if you are fat. Perhaps the advertisement is indicating that one cannot have happiness or confidence unless they lose those last ten pounds. We don’t stop and consider that maybe this isn’t true, that maybe the thousands of carefully constructed images and commercials that tell us this, are simply trying to get us to buy their product. Instead, we view these advertisements and agree with them, we think to ourselves “yes, I will be happy if I lose those last ten pounds” and we go out and buy the product.

Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that not only do we internalize the messages we are sent, but we have become immune to the existence of advertising at all. We have been bombarded with so many advertisements that these kinds of images have become normalized. We think nothing of being sold products thousands of times per day. As a result, we have lost the ability to critically look at these advertisements as something intended to sell us something. We view them as normal and routine.
Competition Feeds the Cycle
We weren’t born thinking that we aren’t good enough as we are. We weren’t born craving flawless skin, plasma screen televisions, and a way to prove to the neighbors that we make more money than they do. All of this was taught to us throughout our lifetimes, now at increasingly earlier and earlier ages. Advertising isn’t the only factor in this complicated and debilitating equation, but it is teaching us to crave and to be unsatisfied. It is carefully calculated to sell us a product, to make a profit off of us, regardless of whether we need or can afford that product. In order to make this profit, companies often manipulate us into craving their items. They use psychological pressure and play off of our often preexisting fears and insecurities; our fears of wanting to match up in comparison to those around us.

We now live in a world obsessed with competition, obsessed with proving ourselves to others. What better fear is there for a company to feed off of when trying to convince you to buy a product? Advertising quickly and easily fuels these fears by reassuring us that we will be good enough as long as we work for it, as long as we put money and effort into it, as long as we meet a set of ridiculous standards that these companies can (coincidentally) provide us with the materials to meet.
Making Change

  • We should be able to determine for ourselves what we do and don’t want, without the pressure from the companies selling us products. We are capable of realizing on our own the things that we need.
  • We should be able to determine for ourselves the standards that make us “good enough” and “worthy.” We should be able to realize for ourselves that we are worthy even if we don’t have a fancy car, a pore free face, or the latest style of jeans. Worth is independent of all of these outside factors.
  • We should be able to view an advertisement and critically deconstruct it. To look at the advertisement and acknowledge the messages that it is sending us, decide for ourselves whether or not those messages are true or whether we are just being told that they are true.
  • We should be shown actual representations of reality. Advertisements should not reflect some fantasy world where everyone has unlimited wealth, the “ideal” American family, and 7% body fat.
  • We should be considered capable of much more than simply being a mass of people that can be manipulated into providing a company with an income. We are capable of much more than that; we just have to take back the ability to do more.

Advertising isn’t the only part of this quest for perfection and competition that fuels us and makes the problem worse. Altering (or even erasing) advertising will not make our need to prove ourselves worthy go away. There are many more factors within this culture that continue to perpetuate that need. But taking a look at the advertising around us is a good start. Completely eradicating advertising in a capitalistic society is most likely not realistic, but if we, as consumers, work towards learning to critically view the media and advertisers work to present us with more appropriate views of reality and with less manipulation, this culture can begin to be free from the manipulation to buy things, the pressure to be perfect, and the overwhelming message that we aren’t enough.

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Let’s talk about the beauty industry

Interested in some basic statistics on how much money and business the beauty industry makes? Aw yea, you are.

Why exactly are we buying all this stuff?

  • The average US resident is exposed to almost 5,000 advertising messages each day.
  • A study in 1992 (so it’s outdated and very possibly much worse now, sorry I can’t find anything more recent) found that 1 out of every 3.8 television commercials sends some kind of “attractiveness message” commenting on what is/is not attractive
  • The purpose of beauty advertisements is only to convince you to buy a product. Because of this, advertisers will often play on your emotions. They’ll use phrases like this 

oh, that’s lovely

They’ll publish an ad that they know will only make you feel bad about your body. Something like this

another keeper

You might feel bad, but that will ensure that you buy their product. They’ll emphasize looks and beauty over everything else. They’ll photoshop  unrealistic images and tell you that anyone can look like that.

Oh don’t worry, it isn’t just advertisements. Companies are selling our kids crap like this, and this, and this, and this. What a terrible childhood. Also, messages about beauty are fucking everywhere. In advertisements, in movies, in television, in books. The beautiful princess marries the beautiful prince and they live happily ever after. The evil stepmother is ugly. The unpopular girl becomes popular when she gets a makeover. Even when they don’t outright say things like that, they subtly slip it in there. The successful, happy, popular people in media always seem to fit our standards of beauty. Next time you watch television or a movie, pay attention to how the villain/annoying character/outcast is portrayed. More often than not you’ll find that they’re the ones that don’t fit standards of beauty while the “popular people” always do. And we internalize all of this shit.

 

Some things that beauty product marketers often try to tell you that probs aren’t exactly 100% true.

  • Our product WILL fix this. Lots of companies that cite research backing up their product have either sponsored the researchers or they use their own researchers. Sound biased? It probably is. They also sometimes take the studies they have done on animals and extrapolate them to humans. Because that’s how science works. Human=sad bunny. Beauty companies spend only 2-3% of their sales on research and development of products, compared to the 20-25% that they spend on advertising. 
  • Anyone can do it. We see this ALL the time with weight loss advertisements. It’s also extremely common with things such as makeover shows. And this king of advertising is a problem. It results in shaming and blaming people that don’t fit societal standards of beauty. It creates this false idea that anyone can change anything about their body if they just have enough willpower. Advertisements tell us that everyone is perfectly capable of fitting into the mold of what is considered beautiful, why aren’t they doing it? Oh, obviously it’s because they’re lazy/are a slob/don’t care about themselves/don’t care about others/etc. We question why people aren’t taking the time to fit our idea of what beautiful is, because they should be. Anyone can do it.
  • It’s not about changing how you look; it’s about changing how you feel about yourself. It’s about gaining self confidence. This one is all the rage right now, especially since so many people are promoting self-confidence. Advertisers are just disguising their products under this veil of “it’s about confidence.” Sure, you can have confidence, as long as you still buy their product. I personally really think that our problems with body image are often just symptoms of bigger problems with ourselves. We aren’t confident and self-loving so we try to have the body/car/job/insert whatever you want here that we’re “supposed to have.” If you don’t have confidence in the body you have now, you aren’t going to have real confidence in a different, more socially acceptable body. Meeting their standards of beauty isn’t the same as having confidence. Sure, you’ll feel better because you’re fitting their narrow standards, but that isn’t the same as having confidence. That “confidence” is based entirely on outside sources, rather than coming from within. And when you’re letting other people determine how confident you can be, you’re letting them be in charge of when that confidence disappears. These ads create the idea that people “earn” confidence. That you can feel good about yourself because you’re doing what they want you to do, because you earned it. People that don’t meet the narrow standard of beauty are just as deserving of experiencing confidence and self-love. Those are not privileges that we have to “earn” by changing ourselves. You have the right to love yourself no matter what. Bottom line: you can’t trust the people selling you beauty products to tell you how to gain confidence. As a side note, this is kind of like the story about the girl that was bullied because of her ears and received free plastic surgery to “fix” her flaws. She didn’t need to “fix” herself. Someone needed to tell those bullies to stop being assholes.

I have news for you. Changing whatever part of your body that doesn’t meet society’s standards doesn’t fix the problem for several reasons (I love bulleted lists!)

  • Self-acceptance doesn’t sell anything. If you love yourself just the way that you are, and don’t try to change everything, these big companies aren’t making any money off of you. And they can’t have that, can they? Companies are just going to keep making up things that are wrong with our bodies in order to get us to spend money. You could change everything about your body to meet the expectations that are given to us, and someone would just come up with something new that was wrong. And the moment you think you’re getting close to finishing up that checklist of beauty standards, the tables will turn. Pale skin will be back in right after you get that tan, curves will be in just after you lose those last few pounds. It will never end. This is about money.
  • YOU’RE just going to keep making up things that are wrong with your body. As soon as you “fix” one thing, you’ll find something else that you don’t like. There is no possible way to be satisfied in this quest for perfection because it is not realistic and it will not happen. This isn’t about not liking one part of your body, this is about a bigger issue with self confidence and self-love. Also, 33% of potential nose job patients have moderate to severe symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. I mean obviously I can’t speak for them, but I’m fairly confident that a nose job did not make their mental illness go away overnight.
  • It perpetuates the idea that there is an ideal standard of beauty and it is ok to expect everyone to meet that standard. When we mold ourselves to fit what other people want us to be, we are giving them permission to mold others into what they want them to be. We are supporting the culture of telling people what to be and how to look and how to act. We are supporting ostracizing certain people. We are supporting telling people to change themselves. And if this culture keeps on going, they’re just going to throw more and more ideals for us to meet and we’re never going to be happy with ourselves.

The bottom line is that it is not your job to change your body so that people will respect you. People should be respecting you regardless of what you look like. They should be respecting you simply because you are a being and a soul and that is enough to make you completely deserving of love and respect, just like every other being out there.