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Under the influence

| Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Every year, I can never help but notice the stark contrast between the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving break: On Thursday, we gather around the table laughing with loved ones and passing along steaming dishes of homemade foods, going to sleep with our stomachs full and our hearts grateful, only to wake up the next morning and swarm the stores as though we don’t have enough. It’s almost as if Thanksgiving Day is a preparatory purge for the greed we’ll let overtake us in the month that follows.

The average adult is surely quite familiar with the Black Friday frenzy and has already come to terms with the materialism that marks the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s always existed in our lifetimes and is ingrained in our culture. Everybody knows that Christmas has become a highly commercialized holiday and it’s preceded by a season of sales and shopping. If you want to stay out of it, just stay home — don’t hit the stores! 

I wish it were really this simple to stay on the sidelines of the materialistic madness. But it’s no longer a matter of just going to stores; stores come to us. The realm of retail has expanded its reign, and we’re stuck in the middle of it whether we like it or not. We find products and advertisements continuously thrust upon us, and shopping knows no boundaries of time or place. I could max out my credit card from the comfort of my couch at 4 a.m. if I wanted to, long after the doors to the mall close for the night. Not to mention, I can’t even read a research article for a history paper I’m working on without a PacSun ad popping up on my screen. 

The start of the holiday season has felt especially suffocating this year, thanks to the rise of social media influencers. In the palm of our hands, we find an endless marketplace of products and an endless stream of people encouraging us to purchase them. “Take a look at my new haul from Zara!” “RUN to H&M and get this jacket!” “You NEED these sunglasses from Amazon,” we hear the second we open an app on our phones. We’re constantly bombarded with showings of shopping sprees and made aware of new things we lack, and before we know it, we have a different coat for every day of the week even though that one from two years ago works just fine (or maybe that’s just me). 

Now, I’d be disingenuous if I tried to portray myself as some sort of minimalist who shuns shopping and is perfectly content with what she has. Shopping is one of my favorite pastimes — I love to look around stores with my friends, my mom and even by myself and admittedly find pleasure in building a wardrobe that expresses myself and makes me feel confident. And to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a popular item, finding it appealing and wanting one for yourself. But lately, I’ve been feeling consumed by consumerism. 

The worst part is that all of this consumption breeds unfulfillment. You’d think that after you buy several sweaters and a new pair of jeans from the mall, you’d feel satisfied — excited to wear your new clothes. But in reality, you go home with visions of merchandise swirling in your mind and begin making a mental list for your next shopping trip. And you open up Instagram only to find influencers posting discount codes to the new loungewear set everyone is wearing, and TikTok to a video of someone telling you to run to Target immediately to get your hands on their freshly stocked products. Under the influence of influencers, you can never have enough; your purchases will pile up until they absorb you. 

The culture of consumption not only makes us feel as though our wardrobes are inadequate, but that our very selves are, too. Rather than dressing in the clothes we think suit us best, we feel the need to get the trendy items flooding our For You Pages. And when they don’t look as stunning on us as they did on the influencer with ten million followers and a team of professionals editing her photos, we feel crushed inside. Looks like we’ll just have to buy another pair of jeans in hopes they’ll fit us better. 

I’m not sure of the best way to navigate our new world of influencers and extreme commercialism, but it is clear that consumerism has crept into every corner of our lives and that the more we accumulate, the more we feel we lack. Of course it’s okay to shop online and to wander around the mall every once in a while — I certainly do. But we must not let ourselves fall down the rabbit hole of the holiday season or TikTok fashion finds. For myself, I know this will mean limiting my own use of social media and practicing mindful restraint when I encounter the inevitable slew of advertisements and influencers. Sure, I could delete my social media accounts altogether to evade the commands to consume. But why must I choose between inundation and isolation? I originally joined TikTok to share funny videos and cooking recipes with friends, and Instagram to post photos and stay in touch with high school classmates. No one asked for these two platforms to become shopping centers that show more advertisements from influencers than content from friends. 

We could all use a cleanse from consumerism, especially as we enter the time of year when it runs most rampant. In a period when so many things are easier than ever, it can actually be more difficult to engage in healthy behaviors. The new conveniences that exist when it comes to shopping have left us with the new challenge of curbing our consumption. While it’s great to have people on social media whose content we enjoy and whose style tips or product recommendations we value, we must be conscious of how much we let them affect our lives. It falls on us to escape the influence of influencers. 

A former resident of Lyons Hall, Eva Analitis is a senior majoring in political science and pre-health. Even though she often can’t make up her own mind, that won’t stop her from trying to change yours. She can be reached at [email protected] or @evaanalitis on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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