Friday, March 22, 2013

Dummies for Dummies

Many years ago when my sons were young, we would watch TV together.  I remember one particular ad featuring young boys playing with a plastic car.  In the ad the car was doing amazing things.  Any kid would want a car like that.  So I casually asked my sons, then around 5 and 8 years old, “Do you really think the car would fly though the air like that if we had it at home?”  They had no question that it wouldn’t and that the effects on TV were added to make it seem more exciting.  They probably grew up believing that everyone had this figured out by the age of 10.

I must have led them astray, because a few days ago I came across this article (with references to others on the same subject) about an overwhelming response to a Facebook posting of a picture of mannequins in a Swedish clothing store.  “The mannequins displayed softer stomachs, fuller thighs and generally more realistic proportions than the traditional department store models.”  After some discussion of the controversy over mannequin shapes and sizes, the article concludes: “women’s self esteem takes a nosedive when exposed to models of any size, so maybe there is no easy answer. But as long as mannequins are influencing people to buy fashion, reflecting real-life bodies is a step in the right direction.”  Where were the parents of these women when the toys were being unrealistically promoted on the Saturday-morning cartoons?  Do dummies deserve this level of attention?

Just as the little plastic cars will not look as impressive as they did on TV, you will not look as good in the clothing as an unrealistically proportioned dummy.   The job of these mannequins is not to present a realistic picture.  Their job is to separate you from your hard-earned money before you take time to consider wiser alternatives.  The same can be said of most other advertising.  They are competing for your attention.  To react so strongly to the proportions of the dummies is to play into the hands of the people using them.  The entire episode demonstrates pretty much the opposite of critical thinking.  Will we now patronize stores based on their use of more lifelike mannequins, motivated by another emotional response instead of a thoughtful consideration of the substance of what we are buying?

And men, there is no reason to sit around feeling smugly superior about this issue, especially if you buy basketball shoes, golf equipment or underwear expecting to look or play more like the pros who endorse them.  It’s the same trick in different packaging.  We are all vulnerable to the siren song of clever advertising luring us into an emotional response instead of a well-considered purchase.

Update:  Less than two months ago, I warned of the distinct possibility that overweight people could begin to be treated the same as smokers for tax and insurance purposes.  This week brought news of CVS Pharmacies' new insurance program requiring all employees to be tested for weight, body fat, glucose levels and other factors or face a $50 monthly penalty.  

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