I remember the moment when I first understood that there is a whole sector of the economy based on making perfectly wonderful people hate themselves, and more specifically, their bodies. It was my sophomore year in college in Intro to Women’s Studies. Up to that point I had not been convinced that feminism had anything important to say to me. Then I saw Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly: Advertising’s Image of Women.
For sheer change of mental direction, this was one of the films that influenced me most in my life. It’s not like it told me everything I would ever want to know or anything, but just the way it strung together SO MANY examples of conscious campaigns to instill self-hatred for the purpose of monetary gain — well — I just felt personally upset and angry on a deep level about this. I mean, it is not ok to make people hate themselves and want to destroy themselves so that a corporation and its owners can make a profit!!! What is WRONG with our culture that we not only allow these practices but defend them above the lives of the people they hurt???
The practice of willfully convincing young people that there is a hierarchy of acceptable physical appearances, and that not having one of the top body types both leads to unhappiness in life and is a reflection of personal failure — I guess it bothers me just as much now as it did then.
It’s become practically a cliché to point out that the models don’t even look like that, that the standard held up is not actually possible. Most people I know probably wouldn’t admit to being appearance or size prejudiced. But educational and economic discrimination based on weight or size is quite prevalent — and that’s to say nothing of what I think is much sadder, which is the persistent messages teaching young people, who don’t yet have the capacity for sorting propaganda from helpful survival information, that their bodies are bad and that they are bad people for having bodies like that.
How can we seriously live with the consequences of those conditions?
I guess for me, when I thought of this as a corporate project, and thought of how much pain and isolation I’d experienced up to that point in life in connection with my body, and how much those experiences had shaped me as a person, my thoughts and feelings toward myself, and my beliefs about my possibilities for success or happiness, I just got so enraged — and I guess that anger still hasn’t left me yet. People are harming themselves over this. It is not ok that we as a society let it stand.
When I started realizing how very much of our economic system is built on people’s suffering, purposely caused, sustained, or exacerbated in order to get people to give away their resources, or be stripped of them — Of course this goes far beyond the beauty industry. It’s so deeply interwoven into the American economy.
I sometimes think that what we need in America is a revolution in morals. We need to reach a place, as a culture, where we value caring for people and the planet over profit. I dream of seeing a time come when we can no longer in good conscience allow huge corporations to promote incarceration over freedom, chronic diseases over wellness, poison over true nourishment, and destruction over innovation, all in the name of extracting all possible resources from a targeted group. I wonder if we all just have to want it more — and I wonder what it would take to get us there. Please let me know, because whatever it is, I want to do it.
So that’s what I meant when you said that if I could free my mind from this particular set of beliefs — if I can ever actually get there — it will be free indeed.
May that day come.