Surviving a Consumer Culture

In the US we live in a consumer culture. If one brand doesn't work, you can always choose another. If a restaurant gives slow service, you can take your business to the the next one down the street. And while this competition creates a great deal of quality goods and services, it also creates a culture of unreal expectations.

Several years ago, I attended a trade show in New Orleans. I was absolutely captivated by the city. The music. The smell of the spicy food. The architecture. The chicory coffee. Beignets. (Mmmmm....) It was unlike any place I'd ever been.

While walking down Bourbon Street one evening, I passed a storefront with girls dancing in the window. They weren't wearing very much and I remember thinking how very young they all were. I continued walking with the group and we landed at a club where the jazz was incredible. As I watched the women serving drinks, it occurred to me that these were the same women I saw in the window, only older. Their faces were lined from working in smoke-filled rooms and they wore a ton of makeup and push-up bras trying hard to package themselves as if they were still 18.

They were products. Not people.

I'm currently reading Dr. Mary Pipher's book, Reviving Ophelia. "The book takes on the difficult subject of understanding two sides of adolescent girls: first, the side that is their true identity, that wonder and amazement at life that so many younger girls embody. And second, the hardened, nervous, insecure side that is consumed with pleasing others and conforming utterly..."

Though Pipher's book deals with young women, I don't think the pressure to trade the true self for a consumer-friendly model is gender specific. All of us fight with the pressure to be something other than who we really are. Our media rich culture blasts thousands of messages at us everyday that lie to us about what is possible.

Commercials show unreasonably thin people eating fast food. Women who are 50 look 30. People sleep around without getting their hearts broken (or pregnant, or STD's). High-powered executives never do anything boring (and have time for exotic vacations, sitting about drinking cognac and having the romances of their lives). Law enforcement officials always look fabulous and crimes rarely go unsolved. Ditto for doctors, substitute "illness" and "undiagnosed."

We are told in a thousand different ways to be better, smarter, prettier, thinner, to own more (but spend less), and of course, while we are doing all of this to be environmentally conscious.

Is it any wonder that most of us carry this sense of not being quite enough?

Maybe the most important survival skill in the consumer culture is the ability to see through the hype and packaging. And then to have the courage not to trade our bright, deep and beautiful Imago Dei, for something easier to mass merchandize.
© Random Cathy
Maira Gall