The Power Of The Purse

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” This quote by Rumi – and the similar one by the Unknown Monk – have been on my mind lately. Three times in the last week I’ve had conversations with people who have been all riled up in their feelings of powerlessness over “corporations” and “industries” and “marketers.” And I wonder how come we all seem to forget that WE have the true power – if we use it.

The first conversation was with someone bemoaning – once again – the use of Photoshopped models. They argued that this practice creates unrealistic standards of beauty and fosters low self-esteem and body image. This may indeed be true. But the issue is that the person in question had a stack of women’s and beauty magazines on her coffee table. By engaging with the magazines, she was the one doing the body shaming and self-esteem bashing by comparing herself against the images she saw. Furthermore, she perpetuates the use of the marketing tactics she despises through her purchase of the magazines! The publishers are simply trying to sell magazines (and advertisers therein trying to sell products) and if the marketing strategies are working (people are buying the magazines and products), why would they change what they are doing?

The second conversation was similar. This person was horrified to learn that “Photoshop for video” was a real thing and was furious about it. Again, we need to step back and look at the role we as individuals play in any given situation. First off “Photoshop for video” has been used for a very long time in the entertainment industry. And when used for the purposed of creating art and telling a story, this tool is no different than using specific camera lenses, lighting design, set pieces, hairstyles, makeup and wardrobe. However, when this Photoshop type of video filter is used to enhance and demonstrate the results of skin care and beauty products – results that are in fact, impossible to achieve in the real world – outrage at the deceit is justified. However, the outrage will do nothing to change the situation. Again, companies are using marketing strategies to sell products – and if products are being sold, why would they change what they are doing?

The third conversation was with a friend of mine who has recently become vegan. He started changing his eating habits for health reasons. And the more he looked into the medical research behind a plant-based diet, the more astonished he was by the powerful lobbies behind the meat and dairy industries. Apparently they are great marketers themselves, heavily influencing our ideas about nutrition and health.

And this brings me back to the Rumi and Unknown Monk quotes. Whether we are dealing with an interpersonal relationship or society in general, the only thing we can change is our self. But changing our self holds tremendous power. When we choose to acknowledge the roles we play in dis-empowering situations, we can untangle ourselves with grace. We can reclaim our personal power. When we discover industry practices that we find distasteful, we can use the power of our purse. We can choose not to purchase products or services that employ such practices or other marketing tactics. And when enough of us demonstrate the power of our purses, it will eventually affect the sales the marketers are seeking. Suddenly what they are doing will stop working – and they will need to change their tactics to court our interest and our dollars.

We need to remember that we are the ones with the power. Industries and their companies need us to buy their products and services or else they cease to exist. And we can influence how they behave by choosing to purchase their products and services – or not. Sometimes it might take reaching a tipping point of the consumer base to create an industry or cultural change. But personal change and personal empowerment is available to us at any moment. In any instant we can choose to stop being clever and choose to become wise.