Emily Articulated: Buck teeth and a consumerist society

By Emily Erickson
Reader Columnist

There is something that happens to almost all humans in their lifetime, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender,or religion. It’s an experience that unites us in collective humility, elicits self-reflective shudders and instills a trauma that demands a destruction of all available evidence.

Emily Erickson.

The few demigods that didn’t experience this phenomena are either lying, or among an elite group of chosen few (robots), winning a proverbial lottery, and consequently, genetically luckier than the general population.

This collective human experience is, obviously, the preteen years, during which we endure the ugliest, most awkward versions of ourselves and our physical bodies. This shared traumatic phenomena is our “tweens.” *uhhh, shudder*

Our cute, rosy cheeks are replaced by pimples, body odor and way too much Axe deodorant, and the sunkissed highlights in our soft, flowy hair grow dull and stringy, cocooned in layers of near-teenage grease.

For me, my preteen phase featured large, crooked front teeth covered in enough metal to set off airport security, spidery legs with comically disproportionate knobby knees, a perpetually irritated “t-zone,” and an absolutely unnecessary training bra which I was never quite brave enough to stuff with kleenex, bubble wrap, or god-forbid, tube socks.

To make matters worse, regardless of how hard I begged and pleaded, or how many hours of chores I offered up as bargaining collateral, I couldn’t convince my mom to buy me the expensive name-brand clothing that may have won some purchase on the social ladder my poorly-executed bangs were prohibiting me from ascending.

“You have a job,” she’d say. 

I was 12 and babysitting four kids under 6 years old for $6 an hour. In addition to being responsible for the recurring nightmares of wailing, crying, poop-stained toddlers from which I’m convinced I may never recover, this job was not fruitful enough to afford me the hoodie sweatshirt with the $75 bird on the left shoulder that indicated “Hollister,” and more importantly, undeniable coolness.

My mom decided, inconceivable to my hormone-stricken brain, that having a home-cooked meal every night was more important than purchasing jeans with the specifically looped stitching that made them “worth” $100 more. 

“Your clothes don’t define you,” she’d rebut. “You’re lucky to have jeans at all.”

And guess what? As mortifying as it would be to admit to my 12-year-old self, my mom was absolutely right. I was lucky to have clothes, to have a roof over my head, and to have hot, nutritious food available to me each and every day.

More importantly, I was lucky to have a mom who taught me I am not defined by the brands I consume or the goods that I own, but rather how I behave as a human and the gratitude I carry with me, always.

During the holiday season, we are bombarded with “gotta-have-it” deals, with, “How big is your tree?” and, “What did you buy for your kids?” It distracts us from what’s actually important: being thankful for everything we already have.

We are surrounded by expensive marketing campaigns and targeted advertisements, strategically geared toward making us feel as though we are in need, promoting a consumerist society in which we are all active participants whether or not we’re aware or willing.

Living in a consumerist society, like being an awkward tween, is a phenomena all humans experience. Beyond the products pouring out of our spare bedrooms and closets, we are sold the idea that to be happy, we need to continue to purchase things and stuff necessary for a “good life.” Because only a happy person would have that many throw pillows on their living room sofa.

Sociologist Norton August describes the repercussions of this consumer-driven society: “People go deeply into debt in order to buy things beyond basic necessities: a larger house, a giant television, a fancy car. These are all the hallmarks of a society within which consumption is at the center of life.”

Consequently, we work longer hours, pick up extra shifts, and sacrifice stability and experiences to afford more “stuff,” strategically sold to us as a necessary part of a fulfilled life. The trouble is, we are so often feeling unfilled and susceptible to these sales ploys in the first place, because we don’t have enough time to engage in the things we love, we can’t afford the trips we want to take, and don’t have the stability achieved from a balanced checkbook. 

We’re often living in a hamster wheel of consumption, and it can be hard to recognize.

So this holiday season, let’s try and spend a little less time in checkout lines and a little more time with making memories with the people we love, being thankful for everything we already have. 

As for me, you can find me in my name brand-less hoodie, with, what I hope are much more proportionate front teeth.

Happy, happy Holidays.

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