Imagine for a moment that you have a friend, and that friend is very thin and very beautiful. Every item of clothing she tries on fits perfectly – she’s exactly model size, the size that all the clothing designers use as their base.
Imagine she has big, wide eyes, eyelashes that look like extensions, cheekbones that could cut drywall.
She has an amazing personal style – elegant, sexy, fun, and approachable.
(For the sake of her seeming really annoying, let’s give her a PhD and some really well-behaved kids while we’re at it.)
Got her in your mind?
Good. I have some things to say.
So your friend. Let’s call her Cindy Crawford. She is under the impression that she has a “tummy”, and it means she’s not as pretty as she used to be. And let’s say she hates her “spiky little non-existent” lower lashes. Sure, the upper ones look like they came off a mink, but the lower ones? “Sad and pathetic”. And those cheekbones? Thanks, but no thanks, says Cindy. Can’t you see those huge shadows they leave on the “whole rest” of her face? She looks like the walking dead!
Her clothes? Old and boring.
Her purse? Expensive but so passé.
Her Manolo Blahniks that she just happened to find for $9 in a thrift store? Hello?! CAN’T YOU SEE THE SCUFF ON THE BOTTOM?
Cindy is not being annoying here. She’s not humble bragging. She actually feels like total shit about herself. She doesn’t feel pretty, she doesn’t feel thin, and she doesn’t feel stylish. She actually feels like she’s never going to be good enough, like no matter how hard she tries, she always has flaws, and to her, they are very real and very scary.
Let us be empathetic to Cindy. I know, sometimes we want to take people like that and put their pretty face in the nearest pile of mud. But when we consider that Cindy is just like us, it’s easy for us to have empathy for her.
She has cool stuff, but she’s afraid of what she doesn’t have.
We have cool stuff, but we’re afraid of what we don’t have.
We’re pretty alike, Cindy and you and me.
If we are a good friend to Cindy, we will advise her to be kind to herself. We will advise her to look at herself the way she looks at others. We will advise her to speak to herself the way she speaks to others. We’re all 21st century friends, here. We know the rules. It’s not like we’re going to tell her to take her pretty face and shove it up her cute ass.
But there’s an elephant in the room here that nobody’s paying attention to.
There’s a question that nobody’s asking: Who profits?
I cannot imagine a time in human history when lower lashes were considered a critical (or even present) component of beauty. Boobs? Sure. I get it. Hip-to-waist ratio? I understand that. A healthy glow? Alright, I’ll give them that one. But lower lashes? You and I both know Cindy’s position in the social and sexual hierarchy is secure if she hauls out her Daisy razor and shaves them right off.
I present to you The 7 Best Bottom-Lash Mascaras Because You're All Set Up Top. (You know, in case the bottom half of your eye is so ugly it’s getting you down.)
When we read something like this, it’s easy to realize that Cindy’s predicament was carefully put in place by the Big, Bad Marketing Wolf. It’s easy to see that it’s Pixi, and Estée Lauder, and Clinique who are not very subtly telling Cindy that frankly, she’s got some work to do.
We get that it’s Jimmy Choo who wants her to feel crappy about her shoes, and Spanx that wants her to feel fat, and Tarte that wants her to feel like a zombie.
As long as Cindy feels like crap about herself, as long as she’s feeling like she’s going to be found out, as long as she feels like she’s not good enough…
…she’ll keep reading the websites,
…she’ll keep buying the magazines,
…she’ll keep ordering the products.
And we get that, right? Because we’re savvy?
Yes. We do and we are. We get our savviness gold star when it comes to Cindy and her lashes. We know that when she’s feeling like she’s just not quite good enough, you best believe somebody’s making money from it.
What about us?
Do we get our gold star when it comes to us?
Who profits from impostor syndrome?
In the movie Catch Me If You Can, our adorable con man Leonardo DiCaprio pretends to be a doctor for a short time in 1965. He finds himself in a situation where he's among a group of REAL doctors, one of whom gives his opinion on the young patient at hand (who has just broken his leg in a bicycle accident) and then looks to “Dr.” Leo for a response.
Leo, totally out of his element and nauseated at the sight of blood, can't figure out what's expected of him, as he is a true impostor. So he looks at another doctor with a serious look and says something he remembers from a television show that was set in a hospital: “Do you concur?”
The other doctor, not grasping that there's a need to give a second opinion to the first doctor's statement that the patient broke his leg and needs a cast, is a bit speechless. Leo asks again, and still gets a confused, “Concur with what?” from the second doctor.
Leo, grasping at straws, says that it looks like the situation is well in hand and steps out, unbeknownst to the other doctors, to go straight to the bathroom to throw up.
The second doctor looks at the first and says, “I blew it, didn't I? Why didn't I concur?”
It’s funny because it’s not real, because of the hilarious disparity of the real doctor freaking out that he’s not doctor-y enough and the fake doctor tossing his cookies in the supply closet.
In general, there wasn’t anybody making doctors feel like crap about themselves in 1965 Georgia. In 1965 Georgia, there was no money to be made telling our doctor that he needs to be better or else.
But these days?
Making us feel like “we’re not good enough” at work is very big business, very big business indeed.
So when we feel sucky, it might be a good idea for us to consider… who profits from us feeling this way? Use our deductive reasoning just like we wish our friend Cindy would.
If I sell you a book teaching you how to run your business, who profits?
Well, I get some money. So there’s me.
Amazon gets some money. So there’s them.
The Amazon affiliate who pushes the book in a glowing review? They get some cash out of the deal.
The person who delivers my book to your door? Their company made some bank.
The company that supplies that company with gas, with uniforms, with those little digital signature machines? They’re in on the deal, too.
Tons and tons and tons of people profit when we so much as buy a paperback. Now what about a snazzy info product? What about an in-person retreat? Good God, even the girl making your latte in the Starbucks at Dulles makes some cash if you decide to go.
The entire consumer economy is based in a culture that makes us feel like crap about ourselves.
The entire house of cards is predicated on us feeling like we don’t have enough, that we’re not good enough, that we aren’t enough.
If we feel like we’re enough, we’ll stop buying things, and then the jig is up.
Remember when Japan saved themselves into a recession? George W. Bush did:
“As we work with Congress in the coming year to [blah blah blah American politics], we must also work together to achieve important goals for the American people here at home. This work begins with keeping our economy growing. As we approach the end of 2006, the American economy continues to post strong gains. The most recent jobs report shows [blah blah blah old statistics]. A recent report on retail sales shows a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season across the country and I encourage you all to go shopping more.”
If we don’t shop, the whole thing collapses.
All those baddies with “big” at the front of their name? Big Pharma? Big Tobacco? Big Oil? They need you to feel like it’s not going to be okay the way it is, like it’s not okay to do it on your own.
They need you to think that you need help, and that you’re going to have to pay for it.
So, what do we do about all this?
The house of cards is what the house of cards is. The culture has made its choices, and it is up to us to make our own choices in response to that. The best defense is awareness, critical thinking, and sovereignty. Learn to ask better questions, to see the money chain for what it is.
When you’re feeling like you’re not good enough, ask yourself this:
Who profits from making me feel like I’m not good enough?
When you see the money chain, you might not feel so bad anymore.
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