Consumer capitalism encourages the consumption of items that promote a socially valued model. This encourages narcissism in the individual as each seeks to tailor their appearance through the consumption of such items. The individual reflexively watches how they 'measure up' to the model of a socially valued self & modulates what they consume so that they can be seen as popular, attractive & possessing a good 'lifestyle'. Anthony Giddens notes,
"Consumption addresses the alienated qualities of modern social life and claims to be their solution: it promises the very things the narcissist desires - attractiveness, beauty and personal popularity - through the consumption of the 'right' kinds of goods and services. Hence all of us, in modern social conditions, live as though surrounded by mirrors; in these we search for the appearance of an unblemished, socially valued self."
I suggest that looking at the self in a mirror may not be the same as seeking the truth of the Self in reality. This (self)reflection, this reversed appearance, may dominate your social 'value' in contemporary society. Appearances are marketable, and the more unblemished a product you have the better. Across the many spectrums of life it is a buyers and sellers market, whether it is the body, the underwear or the aftershave. They have what you want; you might have what they want. What price a sale? Maybe it's all an illusion with mirrors. (See the Eye-Pressure chapter for more information on the gaze).
The surface of such an identity construction hides the cost of its production. Seemingly, no effort is required to possess such a socially valuable body and 'lifestyle'. Advertising promotes these socially valued bodies and lifestyles; this can be seen in the imagery and advertising message of the two milk advertisements. In the above advert the (phallic) glass of milk is linked to the smooth muscular body of the man holding it, who is the only person dressed in white. The milk and the man who is about to drink it are both, by association, fresh, pure, cool. The surrounding crowd is not staring at the milk, they are staring at, and desiring, him. On the left well-heeled matrons eye him with open desire and behind a group of (gay) men, all of a similar smooth, muscular body-type stare with open mouths and obviously lust after his sculptured torso. This tableaux reinforces the message that such a body is fresh, pure and cool, and is seen as a 'valuable' status symbol by society. It's possible that by drinking milk you too can acquire such a possession!
In the second advert a women and two men are again surrounded by 'others', people that could be regarded as freaks, with most of them having strange hair, over the top make-up and wearing dark clothes. They are not 'normal' they are diffferent, and difference can be threatening. When the advertising agency was casting for this campaign in Melbourne I went along - they wanted the weirdest looking people they could find. In contrast the male model at right reveals his smooth sculptured torso to the desiring gaze of an admiring viewer, much as in the first advertisement above. The image of the front three models is pure, clean and desirable, wholesome, much like milk itself. There is nothing threatening here. It's safe for all of us to enjoy.
This is the desirable body and the desirable 'lifestyle' to which we should all aspire!