“Here is the thing,” I tell my students as we ponder marketing and body image.
The only thing we probably really need for our bodies is soap and, who knows, maybe some moisturizer (and a fair number of people would argue not even that, but I am illustrating a point here so we’ll go with soap and lotion as the basics). And, yet, if all we bought was a bar of soap and a bottle of lotion every few months, where would our money go? Not to beauty companies. And how much money can a company make just selling a sufficient bar of soap and bottle of lotion? How many companies could make a go of it in the soap and moisturizer wars? Not too many.
And so a competition began. And it started with taking a basic bar of soap and making it do even more for us- it moisturizes while it cleans us- or taking a basic bar of soap and making it not a bar but a liquid. Don’t you like this delivery system better? And then the lotion became not just a moisturizer but a firmer and a tanner and a, well, I am hoping soon they’ll have a lotion that cleans my house but you get the picture. Because if all we need is just one lotion, if we become convinced that just one lotion does the job, well, then there is only so much money to be earned in the industry because we don’t give up on the bottle of lotion half-way through and turn to another one with better promises.
The market needs for us to always be searching, it needs for us to believe in the search, it needs for us to not quite ever be fully satisfied so that we are always willing to consume. If a company believes that it has really invented the perfect mascara, it would only offer one mascara. What it believes is that by giving you options, you will never rest in your quest. And your quest is what they need because your quest sends you back to the store, before your tube is up, your quest gives them ten more dollars regularly. Your quest for perfection keeps them in the black.
“But here is the thing,” I finish.
“The thing is that as long as we are kept obsessed, we are kept oppressed. As long as we are searching, they have “found” us. And if they have our numbers, then we are their’s, we are beholden to them. The fundamental question needs to become what are we NOT doing as we search for the best mascara? Because as long as we are answering their siren call, we are not answering our own.”
* photo by Jill E. Williams