Tomorrow I am seeing a personal trainer, something I can’t say I ever thought I would write.
I don’t drive so walk everywhere and am physically fit. But I am vain and want to wear a pair of purple skinny jeans that are hanging in my wardrobe accusing me. I bought them from Peacocks (which today I learnt is going bust) in a moment of optimism. I want to prance about in them but at the moment they look wrong. Hence the trainer.
The idea is to do a one-off session where she will give me a load of exercises to help restore my abdominal muscles – pregnancies are cruel and I have had 3 of them in a relatively short space of time. Basically I want to turn back the clock and restore a past version of myself that probably never existed in the first place.
I have been thinking a lot about this impulse today and trying to put it into a social context. What is it about the world I live in that makes me feel that I have to do this? I have always sneered at celebrity exercise videos and articles in magazines like Closer where z-listers drone on and on about how to deal with a “post baby body”. Yet despite my beliefs that I am too clever for this sort of drivel, I obviously am not. I too am a sucker for the mantra that drives all advertising – look like this and you will be popular, sexy and successful.
We live in a society that needs us to consume and fear is always a good motivator. The obvious place to start is the body – our terror of not looking right means we can be bullied into buying the services of personal trainers, copies of Closer Magazine and pairs of skinny jeans. The machine must be fed and our insecurities about our body image are a fantastic fuel. The message is so all pervasive that we are our own constant bullies.
Many years ago, I read Naomi Wolf’s book “The Beauty Myth” (late 80s/early 90s).
It made an interesting point. The more successful women became in the world of work – and in the world in general – the more criticism they received for their physical appearance; the more it mattered that they looked good. I sort of agree but I think it misses the point.
We live in a culture that has been so captured by the interests of business that it goes without saying that the pressure is on ALL of us to consume and fear wins every time.
If we don’t buy product x, no one will like us, if we don’t buy product y, we won’t get the promotion and if we don’t buy product z then we’re bad parents. And so it goes.
But I think the scary thing is that most of the time we do this totally without thinking; the values of consumer society have shaped our desires to such an extent that unpicking them is very, very difficult. Wants that have been created by an economic system have become – to our minds – vital needs. Which is why so many of us are confused about our priorities and why people on low incomes rack up enormous debts with credit card companies and repulsive organizations like wonga.com (which would definitely be banned if Reese was in charge).
I’m not sure what the answer is other than making sure we think twice and examine our motives before we buy products or services. I also think there’s a role for government to be more active and nail companies who make fake or confusing claims for their products. I would also like to see a media that deflates as well as inflates the consumption bubble and shows how images of crap products are photoshopped to look good and reminds us that 14 year olds’ thighs are used to sell cellulite creams to women in their 30s.
I could go on for ever, but instead I’ll leave you with this:
Wish me luck tomorrow!