Breaking Free Of Self-Made Prisons

Many years ago Marianne Williamson said something to me that resonated so deeply, it shifted my entire outlook on wellness. Of course she was speaking to the audience as a whole, but she looked directly at me as she said, “Just because your prison is self-made doesn’t make it any less of a prison.”

I think about that statement often in the context of my clients’ struggles with body image, self-esteem and weight-loss. I understand it so well because I have been there. I truly understand the pain and loneliness of that prison. And while the natural pop culture psychology response would be, “Well if you made your own prison, that means you have the key to get out,” I am more curious about how it came to be in the first place.

In my humble opinion, these prisons aren’t simply self-made – they are also culturally made. Our culture is driven by media and marketing. And that fact in and of itself is not necessarily a problem. The issue is that our culture – through its media and marketing – promotes very narrow standards of health and beauty. Furthermore, these narrow – and often unrealistic – standards of health and beauty are coupled with overly simplistic – and dare I say dangerous – ideas about how to achieve these results.

It is in understanding this point that we can break free.

Freedom from all the body drama, the mental and emotional pain, and its corresponding low sense of esteem and self-worth – freedom from our self-made prisons – is one of the primary goals of the Happy Calories Happy Exercise® Project. And this goal can be achieved, in part, by developing marketing and media literacy.

In contrast with other social movements – such as women’s suffrage and civil rights – which also sought liberty, there is no external authority that is truly limiting our peace and happiness and freedom.

The limits to our peace and happiness and freedom are in our own minds. And this is great news! That means that we don’t need to fight. We don’t need to use our precious time and energy fighting against media and marketing. We don’t need to fight against the beauty industry’s use of Photoshopped models. We can simply disengage. And in disengaging, we claim our power.

We don’t need to change the way the advertisers use the media to market to us. We can simply learn to recognize their tactics and then choose whether or not we want to accept the underlying ideas they are promoting.

For example, Yoplait yogurt’s entire “Swapportunity” campaign is based on the conventional cultural “diet and exercise” model for wellness and weight-management. The advertising campaign suggests that you only get so many calories to eat, so why not “swap out” a higher calorie food for this lower calorie food.

The advertisers are using the conventional “diet and exercise” model as the basis for selling their product. And without the ability to discern the tactics the advertising agency is using simply to sell a product, it is very easy to begin holding the belief that we need to manage our calories. (This belief is often the first brick in that self-made prison.)

However, once we understand the underlying message of the advertising campaign, – what emotional “hot buttons” the advertisers are pushing to try to compel us to purchase a product – we can choose whether or not we want to accept these underlying messages as truth.

We don’t need a “Swapportunity” to enjoy a container of Yoplait. It is perfectly reasonable to enjoy a container of yogurt simply because we like it. It doesn’t have to be a substitute for a higher calorie food. The danger isn’t in whether we eat a higher calorie food instead of a lower calorie food. The danger is that we might buy into the “diet and exercise” mindset and sentence ourselves for life.