If you haven’t seen this particular post, you’ve probably seen a million like it. “To Hell with Perfection, This is Life!”, she writes, and then, as proof of her freedom from gendered social expectations, she posts a snapshot of her cluttered kitchen. On her polished stone counters you’ll see a set of antlers; a Louis Vuitton bag; a book by Cheryl Strayed; a smudging bowl with sage; and a box of organic, gluten-free, non-GMO, whole-grain, vegan, kosher cookies from Mary’s Gone Crackers.
It seems innocuous and petty to mention the photo and list the items displayed but it’s in fact significant.
This apparent rebelling-against-the status quo includes stone-slab counters ($3-6K), a designer handbag ($1,500), and a box of “conscious” cookies (yes, that’s really the company’s tagline) that cost $4.29 for 5.5 oz or $0.78 per ounce. That doesn’t seem like a lot…until you compare that to a 15.5 oz package of Oreos at Walmart for $2.00, which breaks down to thirteen cents an ounce or that’s six times less expensive than the cookies in this person’s cupboards.
And…this is all part of the platform of a “much-loved visionary leader” and “preeminent mentor and spiritual guide” who, not coincidentally, is also a very beautiful, very thin, heterosexual, able-bodied, married, wealthy white woman who used to be a model. In fact, she was the face of Special K cereal. In other words: diet culture, incarnate.
And so the seemingly feminist rally cry of her blog post accompanied by an apparently impromptu photo is in fact a way to telegraph to the wider world that she literally embodies every dominant social identity, including success and wealth, and that an important part of her wealth and success as a spiritual leader of women, former model, and a nutrition coach comes from the size and composition of her body.
Her brand and her authority comes from being beautiful and thin and teaching other people how to achieve the same results with their eating habits, bodies, and other sacred rituals, so the presence of expensive, on-trend “conscious” cookies is on-brand, relevant and revealing.
As they were intended to be.
This entire tableau signals her wealth and power because feminized status symbols are how a Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand establishes authority.
Politics and cultural oppression aren’t something that happen “out there”. They constitute us. We’re part of the culture and it doesn’t exist without us — so we can let it flow through us in a million little ways or we can start noticing, interrupting it, and creating something new and better.
And so when I’m writing about the oppressive outcomes created by a specific kind of marketing that I call The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, I’m trying to raise awareness about how privilege shows up in our everyday social media feeds — in pictures of our hair, our kids, our counter-tops, our vacations, our dinners.
But it’s not just a display of privilege. It’s leveraging privilege. This kind of signalling, using feminized power objects and status that depends on white beauty standards, creates authority for some women over other women.
And that manufactured, unearned authority gets monetized and turned into resources and wealth.
Privilege begets more privilege, and power. And ’round and ’round we go.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being beautiful or having nice things. I, too, have stone counter-tops and sometimes we have fancy cookies and I’m confident neither are cause to revoke my feminist card or cred.
What I’m saying is that this kind of signalling on social media is deliberate, and it has a consequence. It’s the socially acceptable way for women entrepreneurs to build power (but only over other women). Our Instagram and Facebook feeds are the lifestyle version of Jeff Walker’s launch formula — a process which is meant to manufacture authority out of nothing.
Authority-based brand-building relies on a subconscious process. They display signals that resonate with our human psychological make-up and our internalized oppression. That’s why this kind of marketing and culture-making works and is hard to interrupt — because it’s happening on a subconscious level inside of us. We see the signals of authority and an internal sequence inside of us gets triggered. We start accepting these postures as leadership.
This kind of lifestyle-based authority, for example, can be manufactured in a Facebook feed with luxury objects.
Online marketers share images like this with purpose and it’s not relationship, empowerment or collective liberation.
When brands, and brands-in-the-form-of-people, and Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brands are actually doing is this: they are displaying status symbols that signal their authority to us, and they do that because when we sense the presence of authority, it triggers automatic, unconscious obedience reactions in us. On an unconscious level, we become predisposed to being influenced by them. We’ll do what they suggest. We’ll buy.
It’s all curated and it’s meant to trigger your allegiance, aspiration and obedience in the form of sales.
So. To persuasion-proof yourself, you’ve got to parse your social media feeds with the same level of skepticism and critical thinking that you do the air-brushed photos in magazines.
None of it is real.
All of it is meant to make you stop thinking, start feeling, and buy.
The seemingly vulnerable blog posts and social media posts are how some brands and women entrepreneurs using a particular marketing model (The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand) that relies on signalling wealth, white privilege, thin privilege, heterosexual privilege (and so on…) to construct their authority over other women. They then call their financial success and their power that’s the exception to the rule, “empowerment”. (But no, that’s not what empowerment is, at all.)
And it’s not just “them” — the marketers, the big brands, celebrity influencers, Goop.
It’s most people with social media accounts: our friends, family, colleagues, peers…and often, us.
We are all in the water so we are all wet.
Again: I’m not saying we’re jerks if we have nice things.
I’m saying let’s get super-real with ourselves about how we create authority using social media.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to manufacture authority with imagery signalling wealth and privilege and beauty.
Our challenge, as culture-makers, is to create leadership and possibilities out of our WORK, our IDEAS, and our material contributions.
I’m striving, imperfectly, to rise to that.