Contributor Brian Reindel shows how capitalism, via mass media advertising, conspires to keep you feeling ugly.
by Brian Reindel / @brianreindel
We’ve been talking about standards of beauty, specifically addressing the spornosexual body, an apparent trend in male “fitness” where we try to get so jacked it hurts. There seems to be consensus here that getting super jacked is simply impractical for most of the population, if for no other reason than: O hai jobs, families, lives. Getting super jacked just takes a lot of work—more time and effort than most of us can afford to give it. But hey, some people can put in those hours and build those bodies, and that’s just wonderful! There’s nothing wrong with having an absurdly hard six pack, if that’s what you want to do with your time. The problem comes when the rest of us are told we’re supposed to hate ourselves for not sharing your enthusiasm.
We know that self-acceptance is the answer to self-loathing. We all know that. We’ve talked about it. So why are we still having this conversation? Because you can’t just pull self-acceptance out of your ass. It’s got to come from somewhere.
Let’s go back to getting jacked for a moment. It takes two fundamental things to get jacked: a strict diet and a rigorous exercise routine. And possibly growth hormones. Okay three. But let’s ignore that third one for now. Basically, it’s training, and it’s discipline. It’s breaking old habits and building new ones. It’s a lifestyle. And guess what: Your thoughts and feelings work exactly the same way.
Gaining self-acceptance or learning to love, in essence, takes exactly the same amount of work as gaining muscle. It’s a lifestyle. And sometimes it even takes a trainer to keep you on track, push you further, and check your form. This “trainer” could be a therapist, a minister, a mentor, a family member or just a good friend. But if you need help, ask for it, because if you aren’t practicing love, you won’t be good at it.
Buddhist monks have known this for centuries. Some monks spend countless hours meditating on the subject of compassion. Just compassion. For hours. Daily. And neurological studies have shown that this practice does, in fact, change the structure of the brain. Now, if you want that kind of change, you have to meditate a lot. Like, a lot a lot. The monk’s practice is the mental equivalent of that dude getting jacked at the gym. In either case, they work harder than most of us have time to work, but even if we don’t have the time to get totally blissed or totally ripped, any amount of practice can change us.
And what about diet? You can spend hours at the gym and barely change your BMI if you’re not eating the right foods. And, you guessed it, the same holds true for acceptance and love. The difference is that a “love diet” is less about calories and more about culture.
I’m not talking about yoghurt here, though I certainly love me some live, active cultures. I’m talking about the kind of culture we consume through our eyes and ears. If you want to get jacked, and you’re eating nothing but lard and corn syrup every day, then you’re probably not going to get the results you’re hoping to get. If you walk through your day seeing and hearing nothing but messages that say you suck, then it’s going to be pretty hard to love yourself.
So now we come to the root of the problem, as I see it. Here’s where shit gets real: American culture is consumer culture. Even if we don’t consciously define ourselves by the brands we wear, our most meaningful choices are often economic transactions.
We live within a capitalist economic system. The only way this system works is through its own continuous expansion. It’s a system that must grow to survive. Stagnation (non-growth) is also known as recession, and if you take this economic system for granted—which all capitalist economists do—then recession is a terrible thing. But the only way this system can grow is through increasing production, which requires increasing demand for new stuff. So what if we don’t want any new stuff? What if we already have everything we need? Producers won’t produce if there’s no demand, right? Sure. But what if they could manufacture demand itself? An absurdly high number of us are in the very lucrative business of doing exactly that. It’s called advertising.
Manufacturing demand for your product requires two basic steps: (1) The consumer must be made to feel inadequate; (2) Your product must offer a remedy to those feelings. If I already feel happy, satisfied, or content, why would I go out and acquire more things? I need to feel inadequate to go shopping, and advertisers know that. Everyone gets hungry, so we always need food, and everyone needs shelter, water, basic clothing, health care, etc. But the vast majority of the things we buy are seriously total bullshit. And we sort of know that, right? So why do we keep buying these things? Because advertisers are so, so very good at making us feel like shit.
Advertising is such a huge part of our lives, we don’t even notice it anymore. Nothing on the Internet would be free without advertising. And when you think about it, that whole “free” thing depends on your definition of “free.” Every moment you spend on the Internet is a moment your personal information is being bought and sold. Neither Google nor Facebook would be the Goliath it is without your participation in this game. And every ad man buying your information is using it for the same thing. They’re all employing the same tactic. They’re using your history and preferences to figure out the best way to make you feel like shit. But no matter who you are, it’s the same basic message in a million forms: “You are not good enough as you are. You can be someone better, and my product can help you become that person.”
We now spend almost every moment of your waking hours ingesting this message: You are not good enough... You are not good enough... You are not good enough... How can we possibly find enough love or compassion to offset that diet?
Well, I believe we can refuse to partake. In fact, I believe that if we’re going to have any peace of mind, we have to do just that. We don’t have to stop using Facebook and Google to do it, but we should certainly know what we’re getting into when we use their services. Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Sound familiar? Well, this particular exercise has only three steps, so bear with me. Every time you see an ad, anywhere, do these three things: (1) Acknowledge the hidden message (“You are not good enough”); (2) Reject it for the manipulative lie that it is; (3) Commit yourself to love (as a healthy alternative). Acknowledge, Reject, Commit. Acknowledge, Reject, Commit.
Doing it once doesn’t change very much, but if we do it every time, every ad can become a meditation. And eventually, with enough practice, we can change our emotional diets for the better. Acknowledge, Reject, Commit. Acknowledge, Reject, Commit. How many reps can you do in a day? I’m confident you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find out.
Brian Reindel is a the creater of Bureaucrabs.