I remember the last time I read Cosmopolitan. I had been sitting in the bathtub, thumbing through pages of women who were much skinnier than I was. It kept giving me hints on how to attract “him” — tricks that never considered acting with authenticity. The magazine reinforced how important it was to adopt a persona to “catch” him, certain practices that the writer, or perhaps a few dating “experts,” offered to ensure my success.
As I turned a few pages, I saw “new trends” in fashion, admiring some boots and a sweater. I looked at the price tag — $200 for the boots and $160 for the sweater. My salary was $24,000 a year. Who could afford such things? Certainly not I.
What I realized that this was teaching me was that I had to act a certain way and dress in clothes outside of my price range to attract a man in my life. Of course, after you attract a man, there were also several articles about how to keep him and how to get him to propose.
There was nothing deeper in this magazine. I had this deep restlessness that I thought would be cured by having the right clothes and boyfriend. Yet, the articles seemed to prey on the dissatisfaction of the White American woman, giving her temporary fixes for a deeper hunger within.
So I let it go. Not only did I stop reading Cosmo, but also I canceled my subscriptions to other women’s magazines. They only served to perpetuate social norms that I would later abandon. So many of these magazines were more interested in selling me something than inspiring me to find self-acceptance and inner peace.
Although that was 25 years ago, now people are selling quick fixes for success and fulfillment. If I purchase something, I’m placed on an email list that sends me a weekly email telling me how much I “need” this or that. It’s all about finding temporary satisfaction or fulfillment on the outside.
It’s about creating a facade of “I’m normal” so we can continue conforming to society’s norms.
But who came up with these norms? The ones with the power to control the means to attain social acceptance — the ones who benefit from our adherence to these norms. Because they are in control of the means, they don’t want you to question them. That would shrink their power and their bank accounts.
Advertisers cultivate feelings of lack or scarcity to help sell you their products. Social media influencers adopt a persona to sell your attention to the highest bidder. They seize your desire to fit in and persuade you to believe what they do. Even though social media platforms have the potential to be a marketplace of ideas, our fear of isolation combined with algorithms suggesting what is “trending” actually reinforce social norms.
However, you have the power to transcend social norms. You can create your own norms based on honesty and integrity. If you know that you can’t afford to buy those $200 pair of boots, you can choose not to base your self-worth on an article of clothing that will be outdated in a few years.
You can create your own norms based on honesty and integrity.
If you feel comfortable in your own skin, you realize that playing by “rules” created by someone who wants to make a profit on them makes zero sense. Instead, you play by your own rules and eschew pre-defined roles.
You can make a choice at each moment to find something satisfying. You make choices that bring more enduring, internal gratification that isn’t based on your financial or relationship situation. Eventually, you find that when you leave behind the norms that confine you to a certain identity that you didn’t choose, you uncover a deep sense of peace you never knew could exist.