CONSUMERISM: “The preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods”.
As the name suggests, consumerism has in fact consumed us as a society, with a product market existing for every subculture, belief, or ideology we can begin to think of. Madonna was right when she said “we are living in a material world”. It's at a certain point we must ask ourselves, what happens when consumerism has started to create ideologies of its own?
Consumerism Has Consumed Us
The truth is consumerism is an ideology in itself, an ideology that defines Western culture.
Consumerism as an ideology involves the belief that happiness can only be obtained with “stuff”, with a lot of our day-to-day habits involving chasing after the sweet dopamine hit provided when we click “add to basket”.
These very habits challenge our self-perceptions, with our personalities now defined by whatever we own rather than our complex experiences and emotions as individuals. With the help of celebrity-culture and rapidly growing internet-culture, we have resorted to having our personalities defined by those around us and how they perceive us, rather than our own judgement.
Being Sold Our Own Identities
Advertising lends itself largely to this concept of product produced identity, with the main goal of modern advertising encouraging us to buy items that we have no use for, as capitalism can not exist and grow without the constant production and marketing of completely pointless products.
Advertisements under consumerism aim to sell us the image of who we could be, not products we actually need.
As someone who has grappled constantly with the inability to express my own identity, it's not hard for me to feel persuaded, and even a sense of wholeness, when I see the targeted ads on my Facebook feed, showing me an image of a girl I wish I looked like wearing clothes I wish I owned, makeup I can’t afford, and using a product I have no real purpose for. “Yes,” I think to myself, “THIS is who I am! I must buy this so people know this is my identity! Problem solved!”. Not only is the usual inability to afford such a product at play here, but so is the larger issue of the fact that the piece of plastic I am looking at doesn’t actually bare any sort of representation of who I am at all.
Corporations essentially remove us from our sense of self, and repackage it and sell it back to us at a 250% mark-up.
The Nihilistic Consumer
Self-identity isn’t meant to be tangible, but scrolling through platforms such as TikTok or Instagram, I find myself trying to list out who I define myself as like I am an Amazon product title. Although, it's not as if I can introduce myself to people as “Obscure Alternative Indie Artist Y2K Emo Psychedelic Goth Punk,” can I?
Perhaps it would be most fitting to introduce myself as what I most clearly am: a nihilistic consumer. This can be represented in 2 different ways; “Nothing matters, so I might as well buy what I want” & “Nothing matters, so I have to desperately fill the void by buying what I want”.
Given the growing use of social media (particularly with the invention of influencers and sponsored posts throwing advertised content in our faces daily), it's no surprise that our current generation embodies such a contradictory concept as nihilistic-consumerism. The influence of consumerism leaves us constantly wanting more, leaving us in a material-hungry limbo of feverishly racing to buy whatever product can become our new personality, as well as having no realistic hope for fulfilling our sense of self. It has become far too easy to fall into consumerism’s mass-produced trap.
How Can We Reframe Ourselves?
The truth is, and always will be, that consumerism is in-fact not a realistic way to measure who we are. If like me you wish to rid yourself of the consumer mentality, consider the following thoughts/ behaviours:
When you feel as if a product will make you feel more complete within yourself, ask why?
What can you create that will express your values more accurately than this mass-produced product will?
Can a product be replicated/ obtained more ethically?
What is a consumer habit you have that can be adjusted to benefit your mental health?
What are the ethics of the company you are purchasing from? Can you adjust your consumer habits to reflect your ethical beliefs?
The Harsh Truth
As it currently stands, consumerism doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, not just when it comes to our self-identity, but also environmentally with 71% of the Earth’s Co2 emissions coming from just 100 companies. However, we as individuals can still help make consumerism more sustainable, directing our focus onto more ethical means of production, environmentally-friendly materials, and reducing our amount of waste products. In order to begin to work on these physical changes, it's important for our own well-being that we begin to shed the toxic ideology of current day consumerism.
The insecurities ingrained in us by a consumerist society are not reflective of any changes we need to make within ourselves, but rather of the changes we need to make within our society.