I had a lovely vacation in the Florida Keys, with some of my oldest and dearest friends. As Laurie mentioned, I stayed pretty much completely off the Internet, which is where I usually get most of my information, much of my entertainment, and the vast bulk of my daily dose of advertising.
Last week was different. We got a newspaper every day, and read it. We had broadcast TV on every morning to check the weather, and for a couple of hours most evenings, after it got too dark to birdwatch. We watched movies, sports, The Daily Show, the things my friends watch while I’m reading or hanging out on the Internet. And the remote in our rental house, for some unknown reason, did not have a “mute” button.
It was like being thrown into the way deep end of the pool. Intellectually, I know how much Americans are bombarded with the “you’re ugly” message. Knowing it intellectually is vastly different from spending a week with it. Watching the ads shift from exercise machine to diet pill to diet-pill-that-is-also-a-sleep-aid to hair-thinning cure, was simultaneously horrifying and enlightening.
At one point, I started counting advertisements to see how many of them were about anything “real,” i.e., anything a person could do with their time or buy and then still have. There were some furniture ads. There were a very few around-the-house project ads. There were exercise machines, which are apparently all about getting to watch more TV instead of *gasp* taking a walk. There was one travel ad, which repeatedly stressed how women traveling to Italy are more interested in the high-heeled shoes than the historical or natural wonders. And lots of food and restaurant ads: pizza, fast food, occasionally a higher-end restaurant.
While I literally wasn’t watching, TV advertising appears to have shifted to focus almost entirely on what you can do to change your appearance for the “better,” while exhorting you to keep eating junk and never, ever, use your body for any kind of pleasurable movement except on an exercise bike in front of the TV. Or maybe it was always that bad, and I just don’t remember. (I think I remember more ads for clothes, or housewares, or activities.)
Aside from being alternately frustrated, enraged, and fascinated by what I saw, I came away a little chastened: I think one of the reasons that it’s easy (well, easier) for me to maintain my basic satisfaction with my own body is that I’ve cut dozens if not hundreds, of negative messages a day out of my life.
The effort to push that crap out of our heads is significant, and endless. And that takes us to the title of the post: those of you who are watching TV and still staying positive about your bodies? You’re heroes. I say, keep up the good work, give yourselves breaks when you can, and use that “mute” button!