From tea-bags to wall-paper, if the advertising’s true, then none of our choices are neutral. Whether it’s a nubile twenty-something parachuting to the strain of ‘Woooah Bodyfoorm’ or a hunky exec practically vomiting with excitement over his 714-blade razor, even the wrong choice of toothpaste can brand us ‘Losers’ in the lifestyle stakes.
It’s essentially a grown-up version of the playground cliques. And as someone who’s naturally four steps behind the pack, this taps into a strong current of insecurity. I want to fit in and belong – but also to be an individual and stand out. And this is an interior crisis of sorts. But as John Lewis reminds me, it’s not existential. The problem is not with me, but my kitchen units. Nothing a strip of (Farrow and Ball) wallpaper can’t fix.
Surely we don’t take this sort of thing seriously. Well, unless you’re like Judy Rumbold, author of ‘Reasons Not to Move to the Country’. As the title suggests, she bought the lure of the glossy mags and sold up to live the dream – and repent at leisure. Now, says Rumbold,
“At least I know that, just out of shot, a dog is being sick and there are cupboards full of crap. People look at these pictures and imagine themselves living there, just as they look at Nigella on telly and imagine cooking something. Then what happens is, they stay where they are, in the same way as they get up after the programme and slam something in the microwave.”
But even if we don’t leap out of bed and buy a new conservatory, at the heart level these pressures have an impact. Not only are we being sold a lie, we’re encouraged to view each other through warped comparisons. I rarely compare myself to my peers in third-world countries, or even the women of my grandparent’s generation, but I do wonder why I don’t look like Elle MacPherson or have the impact of Michelle Obama.
Those sun-drenched images of perfect people in perfect homes seem to offer freedom and acceptance, but instead fuel envy and discontent. As a consumer, all too often, I’m the one being consumed.