Farming Your Insecurity To Sell You Products

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Sun Sep 24, 2023 · 2538 words · 13 min
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I recently made a short post about how our insecurities are exploited by companies to sell products to us. It was centered around the individual and the need for their self acceptance. (You can read it here)

This time, I take up the same topic again with a slight twist - I write it from an external perspective, with some name and shame here and there. Jumping right in!

Fashion Industry

Nobody is a stranger to clothing industry. New trends popping up faster than my semester exams ensure that people always have something or the other to buy.

Foundation garment (or shapewear) presents a new tier of absurdness. Whats the basis of shapewear? "Your body shape is bad and not likaeble, so instead of eating healthy / exercising, here's a super tight undergarment that will give the desired shape to your body"

Victoria's Secret, a popular American lingerie, clothing and beauty retailer has a lot going against it. In "Victoria's Dirty Secret: How Sociocultural Norms Influence Adolescent Girls and Women" (2008), the authors have noted that dissatisfaction in women about their bodies is influenced by sociocultural norms for ideal apprearance that are pervasive in society. The company's marketing practices are long criticized for delivering the message that their models are a realistic standard of beauty. Their Perfect Body Campaign also drew a lot of flak for advertising unrealistic standards and perpetuating negative body images.

Apart from advertisements, Victoria's Secret has also been repeatedly criticized for cultural appropriation.

While lot of us see fashion from the lens of clothing and accessories, fashion doesn't always need to mean just clothing.

Welcome to...

Body Parts as Fashion!

Yes, its not just your clothes.

I was first introduced to this idea from a video by Karolina Żebrowska.1

That was when I noticed physical homogenity among those who kept up with the trends. Plump lips became trendy. Freckles became fashion.

Beauty standards became much more precise because that funds the cosmetic surgery industry. Botox was what I used to read about during school. These days, a lot more procedures have become common.

The first brush - Buccal Fat Removal

The first proceduce to have made me think about the drama going on was buccal fat removal. This surgery is for people who don't want fat in their lower cheek / jawline which making their face look round. I have a naturally round face and was never insecure about it. When I got to know that there's a surgery which removes fat near the jawline I was astonished. Not because of the existence of this surgery but upon seeing perfecty normal looking people opt for this.

For a brief summary, what happens is that the surgeon makes small incision on the inside of mouth to expose buccal fat pads, remove the fat and then close the incision with stutures.

I didn't see the utility of all this for an average person.

And then I got to know more

It slowly become clear that the new beauty standards being invented were the ones which can be easily solved with cosmetic surgeries.

Keeping Up With The Kardashians popularized many fashion trends.2 One of them being a popular liking for a specific type of hips. American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported a 90% increase in Brazillian Butt Lift surgeries (BBL) between 2015 - 2019. What caught attention was the fact that people were opting for this surgery despite it having a high failure rate - leading to above normal death statistics. A Medpage article reported on the deadly procedure.

Funnily enough, it has been reported that Kim and Khloe Kardashian have had their BBL procedures reversed. So, will people who successfully underwent the deadly BBL surgery now go for a reversal?

Nobody seems to understand that fact that celebs have access to big pockets and highly trained doctors which makes their surgeries lot less dangerous. The common public doesn't have access to them and face complications in many such surgeries.

The obsession with hips have never faded. There's a naturally occuring depression on outside of the upper leg, just below the hip bone - now commonly called the "hip dip". A natural part of the body now needs to conform to set standards. There are surgeries which redistribute fat (i.e. liposculpting) to fill in the dip with fat and get a smoother curvature.

Earlobe reduction. Anyone? Another legitimate surgery which some people genuinely needed is now fashion. Tiny earlobes are desired. Get operated!

Gen Z blessed popularized another phrase - "Negative Canthal Tilt". This was popularized by TikTok. What they basically say is that if a person has down turned eyes, its "over for them" (whatever that's supposed to mean).

Its not even about attractiveness anymore. New terms are manufactured to negatively refer to otherwise normal aspects of the body. Whats up with "bat wings", huh? What people now negatively refer to as "saddlebags" is something I find pretty. Why should everyone be a perfectionist with every corner of their bodies conforming to the beauty standards? So that people get worried about their "bat wings" or "saddlebags" and rush for (expensive) surgeries?

To end this (sub)section, here's an article about "leg lengthening" surgeries becoming popular among men - Article on NBC News. Somehow, men really have the need to increase their heights because society told them that taller men are desired.

Classical Make-up and Looks Game

This one's a no brainer. Women were made to hate the natural aspects of their own bodies. Hair removal industry can't stop growing. Lash extensions, catastrophic levels of makeup, extensive cosmetic skin care etc were probably never needed in the first place, but have now become commonplace.

Those who weren't into cosmetics were engulfed by the diet industry scams. People were brainwashed by media into believing that a specific body type is perfect and that mushroomed a huge industry which came with its own scams. The US Federal Trade Commission has an article about weight loss scams.

It wouldn't be far fetched to think that the only reason why men aren't too much into cosmetic makeup is because nobody has yet told them they need it. One day, a big cosmetic company will wonder why they can't tap into 50% of the population and might move on to popularizing makeup for men. If this sounds unbelievable, then know that something similar happened a century back when women didn't smoke and a company did extensive targed advertising to market cigarettes to women.

Trends can't stay stagnant. This business thrives on constantly making consumers run after new trends. Fuller breasts become trends. So people run for breast implant surgeries. Few years later, the same fuller breasts are out of fashion, so people run again, to get their implants removed!

Thin eyebrows were fashionable a decade back. Around 2016, thicker eyebrows became fashionable and now they're again going out of trend. Thin lips were pretty a decade back. Now its fuller lips which people find pretty. Slim bodies were the norm in late 2000s. Recent years saw curves becoming more accepted, only for slim bodies to start becoming popular once again.

Fashion trends keep disappearing and then reappearing. TikTok has brought older trends back in public attention and I wonder if Heroin Chic might actually make a mainstream comeback. With the focus on fuller bodies since past few years, the trend will very well shift back to slim bodies being hailed as perfect.

Love (Industry!) [TODO; content missing]

Love and marriages have been a part of human history since the beginning. Building an industry around it isn't that old of a phenomenon though.

love equals price of gifts

People are dating more and breaking up more often (because its easier to find new partner). This is fuelling the online dating industry.

Parenting Isn't Cheap [TODO; doesn't discuss how the spending is because parents have been trapped]

I can go on a continual discussion about how economy and work distances the parent from children. Thats not the main agenda here though.

New parents are preyed upon to extract out their money. Every parent wants the best for their child. Companies know that very well and will happily exploit parents.

Hospital bills are over the moon. No point discussing that.

A nanny in the USA costs an average of $20/hour. Assuming 40 hour service a week, the expenditure adds to $800/week or $3200/month. In a HCOL area, this estimate shoots much higher.

Baby formula is not cheap and is presented as the better alternative to (much healthier) natural breast milk. Some toungue in cheek remarks often say that baby formula advertisements frighten women, leading to release of cortisol, causing them to stop lactating.

With growing children now being hooked to internet from a very early age, advertisements targeting them are super common.

The sad part is that the rise in infant care expenditure is also a result of parents not giving enough time and effort to the children and instead substituting themselves with whatever money can buy.

Funeral Homes

One doesn't usually think of this since it never crosses our minds how one can make money off the deceased.

Predatory directors at funeral homes are known to upsell services.

"Upselling is also common with funeral directors basically hinting that if you loved the departed, you should consider a more expensive coffin which might be marked up by a thousand per cent,” says Professor van der Laan.

"Upselling also goes on in relation to flowers and a range of other things that you actually don't need."

(taken from an article on Business Insider)

Services are upsold taking support of emotional triggers. "These expensive flowers from a remote village in France is exactly what your loved one would have wanted." Very well.

Alcohol [TODO; describe more about advertisements]

(I really did have to come here too)

While alcohol advertising is banned in India, it is legal in many other countries. There's not much good to say about alcohol, so the advertisements are nearly always solely based around fears and insecurities. "Drinking this alcoholic beverage makes you fun at parties!

Ever heard of having fun without alcohol?

Peach Should Smell Like Peach!

Deodorant industry has made everyone think that they smell like dirt and can't step out of their bedroom without a spray. Its not just the armpits or back now though.

Lume Deodorants homepage has video of their founder & CEO Dr. Shannon Klingman in front of a lady with her legs spread apart. Dr. Klingman proceeds to advertise their deodorants, which (in their words) can be used for "lady bits", "chesticles" and "buttcracks" among other areas.

The pubes are supposed to smell like pubes. Derriere will smell like derriere. It doesn't need to smell like a rose garden. Companies like Lume convey that every crevice of our body smells foul and it must be fixed by their revolutionary products. This self hatred towards one's own body is these days called "body positivity" (the irony!).

If someone is really close enough to the butts to be able to smell them, the person either consented for that (in that case the better be ready for it) or they're crossing boundaries (in that case, better call the cops).

Next Level Of Personal Hygiene

Sanfe, a company started by two men from IIT Delhi, claims to make 'personal hygiene' products for women.

As if the insecurity inflicted by companies surrounding skin complexion and body shape was not enough, this company proceeds to introduce products for nipple lightening, and whitening products for intimate areas.

They failed to report any scientific backing for their products and haven't disclosed ingredients. They haven't acknowledged the fact that nipple color is naturally dark and cannot be lightened in a safe manner. Neither have they put forth convincing evidence for safety of their products for intimate areas.

Their sole selling proposition happens to be the artificial fear and FOMO induced due to their pitching and changing public perceptions.

The Dental World

Healthy teeth are supposed to be white. But not a perfect white for everyone. They can go in a variety of shades and all of them will be healthy.

A lot of people are unaware of this fact and are reliant on whitening strips marketed to us. Tooth bleaching procedures are common and are offered at most dental clinics, even though most people don't need it.

They're just insecure about not having perfectly white teeth.3

What about bad breath? For a lot of people, bad breath is a result of coated tongue4, plaque buildup or food bit stuck between the teeth. Beyond that, mouth is supposed to smell like mouth, not like a mint plantation. Listerine disagreed.

Listerine, which we commonly recognize as a mouthwash, was invented in 19th century as a powerful surgical antiseptic. To sell it to a broader base, the company marketed diluted versions of their formula as a floor cleaner and even as a cure or gonorrhea.

In 1920s, Listerine piggy backed on a then-obscure medical term for bad breath - "chronic halitosis", for which Listerine presented itself as a solution. There they started their aggressive advertising campaigns. Quoting from Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner:

Listerine's new ads featured forlorn young women and men, eager for marriage but turned off by their mate's rotten breath. "Can I be happy with him in spite of that?" one maiden asked herself. Until that time, bad breath was not conventionally considered such a catastrophe. But Listerine changed that.

As the advertising scholar James B. Twitchell writes, "Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." In just seven years, the company's revenues rose from $115,000 to more than $8 million.

The alcohol in Listerine can kill good bacteria and makes mouth dry, further promoting bacterial growth, thus making you reliant on the product.


I'm not a regular watcher of Karolina Żebrowska. Though, her rants about fashion can get interesting.


In case you believe your teeth are being discolored due to a medical issue, visit a dentist.


Thicker white patches on tongue can be a sign of infection.

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