Saturday, September 30, 2023

Swimming Upstream: Consumerism

4. Consumerism

It’s not only smartphones that make empty promises to improve the user experience of our lives. There’s always something new we can buy that will make everything better. 

Unlike a “normal mom,” I don’t buy much, partially because I hate spending money, partially because I care about the environment, and partially because we have a small house that can only hold so much.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, I know better. I don’t want my kids to become frenetic materialists who measure their self-worth through the quantity and quality of their things.

I distinctly remember thumbing through friends’ copies of Seventeen back in middle school, then setting aside the magazine and feeling overcome by an acute desire to go out and buy stuff. This was particularly unusual for me because I was a particularly unusual kid in that I didn’t care much for stuff. While writing my list for Santa, I used to sit and stare at the blank piece of paper, wracking my brain to think of a single thing I really wanted.

But marketing is powerful stuff, particularly for a 12-year-old who is suddenly feeling insecure and questioning everything she thought she knew. It didn’t take more than 10 minutes for those glossy pages to convince me that all my problems would be solved with just the right exfoliating face wash or hydrating shampoo.

My own adolescent daughter never struggled to make a list for Santa; in fact, at age seven she asked him for $90,000 and 100 pieces of jewelry. (Incidentally, seven was also the age at which she stopped believing in Santa.) 

Even though she rarely watches commercials, gets most of her clothes second-hand, and sleeps in the same bed I slept in growing up, our culture’s rampant consumerism has managed to seep through the cracks. My daughter’s dresser is somehow lined end to end with all the latest and greatest products that some YouTube video she at a friend’s house has convinced her will lead to lifelong fulfillment. She is intent on buying her way to self-worth, obsessed with the so-called problems that money + Target can supposedly solve.

And no matter how many “life-changing” things she manages to collect, she will always be hungry for more.

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