Here’s what happened…while standing in a long checkout line at the drug store, I started reading the fronts of the magazines that were positioned on the way to the till. Without exception they were all touting ways to lose weight…diet tips, recent celebrity fitness regimes, the next ‘slimming’ food choice…everything necessary to create the “New You”. When I was in a similar lineup in December, these were the same publications that were pushing all the yummy, high calorie holiday treats! A group of other women were also waiting in line and I asked them if they were feeling manipulated…they smiled.
The Art of Manipulation
I don’t like marketing; not all marketing, just the type that is trying to push me to purchase a product that I don’t need in order to make my life become as ‘perfect’ as the lives of the people in the advertisement. Encouraging items that solve a problem, created by advertising departments, that I didn’t even know I had–until I came across their commercials (written, electronic or verbal). These types of marketing are easy to spot and are the obvious forms of manipulation.
However, there are subtler forms that are harder to fight against because we don’t always know that we are being affected. I suggest that one of these forms is the topics covered in mainstream magazines and how they are presented to potential readers.
The headings on the front covers of many magazines are designed to get us to buy the publication. They do this by making us consciously (or unconsciously) question if we need the information contained in the magazine. Unfortunately, the questions are not asked in a strength-based, straight-forward way. For example, instead of advertising ways to reach a healthy body weight, they promise ways to ‘drop 25 lbs by eating soup’–the title illustrated by a model who may or may not be of healthy body weight.
We’re Not OK
The message we often get from media is that we’re not wonderful in our current form.
For fun, try this experiment. The next time you pass a magazine rack, look at the headings on the cover (both large and smaller print). Chances are that the contents are providing ways to change yourself. Maybe it’s tips to adapt your personality, dating style, sexual ability, update your wardrobe, get ‘swimsuit ready’…the list is endless, depending on the time of year. When we dig under the headlines, the bottom line is that we are being told that we’re not ok the way we are. There is something we need to buy or change in order to become ‘acceptable’.
Granted, there are times when we need to make changes in order to take care of ourselves. If we have reached an unhealthy weight or need to improve our interpersonal skills, then there is work to do. However, at the same time, we also can accept that we are ok where we are (in this moment).
Acceptance and Mental Health
In graduate school, when I first heard about acceptance as a component of mental health, my alarm bells started to ring. How can we be asked to accept the ‘unacceptable’? How could I tell a future client living in an abusive relationship that acceptance was necessary? Later, I learned that acceptance doesn’t mean that we condone negative behaviour, or situations where we are in emotional or physical danger. It also doesn’t mean that we accept every bad thing that happens to us. Instead, acceptance comes from taking an honest and compassionate inventory of where we are at this time, and how we arrived here–knowing that we want to make some changes. Acceptance means that we stop fighting or judging ourselves, for where we are, and putting that energy into moving forward in a new way (if we choose to).
I think that our ability to practice acceptance takes work. Like a muscle, it gets stronger the more we use it. I wonder what would happen if, on a daily basis, we took one thing about ourselves that we viewed with judgement and instead looked at it with compassion. Chances are, our mental health would improve, and we’d buy a lot less magazines!
And now a wonderful teacher of self-acceptance…Enjoy!