Gone are the days when beauty lay in the eye of the beholder, and a well-proportioned body was a thing of beauty and object of admiration.
But, then, we live in a consumer, if not a consumerist, society where consumption means “the purchase and use of goods, leisure activities and services”. (Jagger. 2000). Though some writers (Schama. 1987) trace consumerism to the 17th century Netherlands, others (Ewen. 1976; Susman. 1982) emphasise that it was not until the years between the First and the Second World Wars in the USA and Britain that consumer culture became fully established.
The elusive “ideal”
Even today one hears it said the world over that “consumer is king”, or the “queen” as the case may be, but the insidious brainwashing of the “king” or the “queen” by the media at the instance of advertisers has left the “queen” with no volition. She dances to the tunes of the media, the tunes called by advertisers who pay the piper. Consumer society develops an increasing need to shop, meaning that individual consumers are increasingly finding the definition of themselves within commodities which can develop a feeling of high or low esteem if they do not have the new car, handbag, or pair of shoes presented as the new “ideal”. (Marcuse: 1964).
Shakespeare may have had his own reasons for saying in one of his plays that “good wine needs no bush”(“As You Like It”), but in today’s world advertising rules the roost and helps what amounts really to commodification of the consumer. After all, they have come to see themselves in terms of the commodities and goods that they purchase and possess. Advertisers sell the "ideal" image that most people long for but not all of whom can achieve. That "ideal", of its very nature, is unattainable, a mirage that one keeps chasing all one's life, is not allowed to be realised in the palaver of the media.
Those who buy the advertised products are made to image that they are buying the resultant image. Thus, advertising claims to sell a lifestyle through the wares it hawks. Commodities are consumed not only for their "use value" but also for their "sign value" (Jagger: 2000). That means commodities are bought also for "what they signify" (p.47) because "symbolic consumption is fundamental to the process by which modern individuals create and display their identities".
Similarly, one's appearance "does express personhood" (Judith Andre. 1994. p. 21). "It expresses one's choice, one's values, and one's taste" and thus, possibly, one's identity.
Thus, what was once considered immutable and the work of Nature is being reworked. For consumer culture to flourish, not only do new images have to keep being created, but consumers need to have reasons for keeping on buying. The reason, Jagger argues, is "the desire for the sign, not the commodity itself". In other words, it is not the intrinsic worth or utility of a commodity that influences that judgment of consumers but its appearance.
Above all, the tendency to keep up with the Joneses, the need to be seen having what everyone wants, forgetting that the ideal is unattainable, combine to help advertisers put consumers into a straitjacket. An obvious example is the television programme "MTV Cribs" where the rich and the famous show viewers around their homes, and, in the process, show what is most likely something they will never have. However, it is something viewers will continue to