How brands like Glossier, Estrid, & We’re Not Really Strangers are giving a new meaning to ‘Retail Therapy’ Natalie Wright January 5, 2022 Beauty, History, Lifestyle, MESSFashion, MESSHealth, Society, Style, Women I am writing this as someone who has been navigating life with mental illness for many years. A woman whose insecurities, many times, stemmed from social comparison. Nowadays we live in a hyper-competitive and oversaturated social media sphere. It has become a breeding ground for self-esteem issues, trolls, false reality etc. However, it has also allowed a new conversation to begin; one surrounding the truths of living with poor mental health. This aim to destigmatise mental illness has delivered much good; new government policy, workplace recognition, the ability to reach out for help without feeling ashamed. But, it has also brought with it a new market for exploitation. So how do you disguise exploitation as ‘therapy’? Corporations aim and have succeeded to do this with the establishment of self-empowering notions, that feedback into the capitalist machine. It echoes neoliberal practices which hone in on the self as the centre of all change; a self that will be successful and empowered if they consume. Much of the time, this is done under the guise of ‘self-love’. Estrid is a cruelty-free, vegan razor brand made and marketed specifically for women. Credit: estrid.com Shaving is being marketed here as ‘self-love’ – a term widely used across social media sites and closely linked to body positivity. But what the commercialised concept of ‘self-love’ presents, is commoditised forms of grooming and beauty, which have existed for centuries, and disguises them in discourses that equate acceptance of the self with consuming. In this example, shaving is meant to be perhaps an expression of female empowerment? A way women can feel good about themselves? It’s possible, but that would most likely be because of pre-existing patriarchal ideology which exists all along the historical trajectory of female beauty, which says women should be hairless to appear attractive and desirable to men. I’m sure we all remember Glossier’s ‘You Look Good’ campaign. You probably saw the mirror carrying that slogan plastered all over social media. Credit: @glossier / Instagram Credit: @glossier / Instagram Rooted more so in ‘body positive’ rhetoric – it served as a gentle reminder to many that we are all beautiful in our own way, and don’t need this to be recognised by others for it to be true. Saying that, Glossier is a beauty brand. I, myself, am a beauty lover, but this doesn’t withdraw from the aims of the beauty industry itself. As an industry, beauty is cemented in traditional gender ideology and plays heavily on women’s insecurities to make a profit. Body positivity is also a performance that embeds patriarchal discourse, inspiring women to take part in visual displays of femininity, often categorised as vanity. The body-positive movement breeds social comparison. Although social comparison is natural to some extent, it is thought that “women who engage in appearance-related social comparisons on SNSs are at higher risk of experiencing body dissatisfaction”. And since these images are edited, bodies are contorted, or the photographs uploaded are just generally more flattering, the idea of achieving a ‘body positive’ mindset becomes practically unreachable. The power contemporary ‘influencers’ hold also gives them a stage to advertise their lifestyle. If they appear to be body confident, brands can use this, once again, to sell their product in alignment with messages of ‘body positivity’. Notions along the lines of ‘you can be body positive if you have shaved, tried to lose weight, or tried to look good etc., with the help of these products’ are communicated in ways that disguise the true underlying corporate agenda of ‘body positive influencing’. Under the illusion that posting these images and advertisements is in the interest of feminism and positive body image, thousands of women and girls subscribe to a patriarchal unconscious surrounding feminine appearances which have existed for centuries. We’re Not Really Strangers is a card game with the intention of starting meaningful conversations. They have an especially popular Instagram account, with 4.7 million followers currently. I follow this page, and I have also bought the game, so it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I’m a fan of the company! As well as their card game, they also sell clothing on their store. One item is a ‘Your Anxiety Is Lying to You!’ hoodie. Credit: werenotreallystrangers.com This is probably true. The characteristics of anxiety disorders often do mean that those of us with them feel nervous about things that either don’t exist, are not happing, or are never going to happen. But I’m curious what this card game has to do with anxiety. There is no problem speaking candidly about mental illness. I know the hoodie’s creator suffered from anxiety herself, she explains her thought process behind its production in a lengthy Instagram caption. But to glamorise, and market it, all to make a profit, in my eyes, is exploitation. I have suffered from anxiety most of my teenage, and all of my adult life. I love the design of the hoodie, it’s simple and can be worn with anything. I’d probably consider buying it. But that would overlook 1. all my other fellow GAD sufferers, and 2. the goal behind producing and selling this garment in the first place. Mental illness is not a fashion trend, it’s not something that should be capitalised on, and it most certainly cannot be equated with, or solved by, a simple slogan hoodie.