Monday, November 8, 2010

Love Yourself in Two Weeks

I was surprised when my clever friend Jamboshoeshine told me he had learned to avoid advertising in London. It seemed an impossible feat, after all advertising was an incredibly potent presence. Everything from the posters which punctuated the walls of the tube, following the gradient of the escalators, to the glorious corporate lightshow of Piccadilly Circus. I noted the tourist posters, invitations to Kensington Palace and Hampton Court. I recognised the seemingly endless run of West End musicals I would never attend. I also noted the lack of a hypodermic needle effect. I didn't suddenly feel compelled to spend money without due consideration. All I noticed is that I noticed them.

There was one particular piece of advertising that did remain with me. It was a poster in a bus shelter, across the road from Paddington Station. We passed it each day. At night, the message basked in a neon hue, orbited by moths and other insects. It was an advertisement for Special K. It featured an athletic girl, posing to emphasise her hips in the trademark red, one piece bathing suit. Her long brown hair had vague waves and her smile was broad, her mood ecstatic. The tagline proclaimed: "Love your shape in just 2 weeks."

I felt uncomfortable with that familiar promise. It was familiar, as I had seen similar consumer incentives in the past. Just try it! Even for a short time! We'll guarantee you'll love it! The Special K ad was different somehow. It carried a sinister inference of self loathing, an implication that physical pride can only come from weeks of starvation. I could never quite articulate it at the time, but I remember expressing my discomfort about it to Andrew: "Should it really take two weeks?"

It was only when I came upon the advertisement again at the Old Street tube that I realised what it was. This time, the Special K poster had been defaced. "In just two weeks" had been aggressively crossed out, over and over again. A speech bubble had been drawn and from the smiling girl's mouth, she said "you r beautiful as you are". I couldn't help but be moved by the defacement. Not only was it succinct, but it was a rare message to behold. We have grown accustomed to such notions of personal dissatisfaction, but it is never expressed so as to acknowledge the true nature of that core belief. It is an a universal mantra that millions of girls share: "I need to lose weight to be beautiful."

But how much weight do I need to lose exactly? When does that point of satisfaction come? After two weeks? Then will I stop hating my body?

"You r beautiful as you are" defies the traditional tenets of consumer desire. If our own idea of beauty is contingent upon buying a product, losing weight, getting that job, writing that article, making them love us, then we may never have our fill. The original piece of advertising seeks to reinforce the idea that self-love is possible. In two weeks time, no less. It would be remarkable to think that we are enough, that we are beautiful, in this moment, free of art and artifice. That is why I am determined to believe that defacement. After all, I don't want to wait two weeks to love myself. Two weeks is a long time and Special K just isn't that tasty.

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