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Commercials are bad for my mental health

Lately, I have found myself watching commercials more consciously. And it seems that pretty much everything about me is simply not good enough — not my skin, my body shape, the way my house smells, or even my own role in my family.

This constant barrage of criticism can’t be good for my mental health, can it? Even though I can intellectually reject it, messages can still creep into my subconscious.

And if it’s not good for my mental health, then I certainly don’t want to expose my daughter (and son!) to it either. But wait … is it actually possible for her to avoid this kind of exposure? I can limit it but I cannot stop these commercials from reaching her at some point.

This is something that my husband and I have, regretably, had to accept. We’ve decided that it is more effective to teach our children how to think critically and challenge what it presented to them, than to  spend all of our efforts ensuring that they are not exposed to this kind of mass-manipulation.

So if the television is on in our house and the woman on the television is telling me how to lose weight before bathing suit season, I will talk back to her: “Oh, shut up! I am fine the way I am and diets are unhealthy. You just want my money!” Or alternatively, “What’s wrong with the wrinkles around my eyes? They’re natural. It’s just something that happens when you age. Stop trying to sell me your stupid creams! And how come you don’t try and sell these creams to men, huh?” 

I just thought you should know in case you drop by one day and find me talking to myself. Or yelling.

And also because I just found a gem of a woman named Sarah Haskins (thanks to Margot Magowan and About Face) and she does a tremendous job and breaking down the marketing techniques that specifically target women. Here is one of my favourites, titled “Target Women: Feeding your Family”:

Other great topics that she covers include: Disney Princesses, Cleaning Products, Yogurt, and Skin Care Science and even Vampires. I think her videos could be a great tool for parents who want to challenge media messages with their tweens and teenagers since she manages to combine a critical eye with wit and some well-chosen snark.

What do you think … did they give you a chuckle? did they make you think twice about how a commercial is manipulating you? And how does a woman manage to maintain any self-esteem these days when we’re faced with critical messaging all around us?

I’ve gotta go now. It’s bathing suit season around the corner and I need to go feed myself a liquid meal.   😛


  1. Thanks for the warning re: talking/yelling to yourself :)

    Come to think of it though, I think I would have caught on right away because the same thing is going on in our home. Like you, our family decided to face mass-manipulation head on and we all talk back. Somehow it just developed naturally when my daughter was young and now she’s one of the more vocal individuals in the family. I think it’s a much better life lesson than attempted avoidance is.

    Loved the Sarah Haskins’ clip, I’ll be checking out the others.

  2. Hi Julie – This is a really interesting topic. We have a DVR and so fast forward through most commercials, but, for the ones we do watch, I think we’ll borrow a page from your playbook. It seems that teaching kids how to be critical viewers of commercials will help them cope in a world that is increasingly asking them to judge things through multi-media.

    Thanks for the link to Sarah Haskins. Good food for thought!

  3. I have an amazing ability to tune out commercials when they come on TV. I can be staring at the screen but if Hubby makes a comment on the commercial that has just aired, I have absolutley NO idea what he is talking about. None. I have mentally transported myself into another world.

    But magazines make me feel hideous and like I need to jump off a cliff…

  4. Fortunately at the moment my children only watch Treehouse and Playhouse Disney, which is largely commercial free. And, for some reason, my oldest doesn’t seem to be at all interested in the commercialization of the characters he sees on these stations. I wonder why? It’s kind of odd, but I’m happy for it. What worries me right now are these messages, but even more, the messages he will start to receive when he starts school in the fall. Suddenly mommy will no longer have the bulk of control over his primary influences. That will start to come from his peers. And it scares the crap out of me. Really.

  5. I LURVE Sarah Haskins, she is brilliant. She makes me laugh and makes me more aware at the same time. Don’t you think she should have her own Daily-Show-esque show?

  6. It is scary to see your children start to be critical of themselves at such a young age, like some of the people posted before, the social pressures of school and how “mean” or influential their peers are is a big issue, even I am surprised for my son who the other day after being weighed said… mommy is that an ok number! I worry for my daughter, big for her age, and who like many has been kept away from comercials with PVR’s and comercial free tv and how she will cope! Now I still smile when she proudly rubs her belly and says “YUP” when other kids say its big! So guess I better get on yelling too! lol Great posting!

  7. I never even thought of commercials that way, but what a good point! I tend to think I’m mostly immune to the power of the marketing and I don’t know why, but I very rarely respond to a commercial the way advertisers would like me to.

    What I love about your post is the idea of empowering our children to resist early on – to take what a commercial says and refute it immediately. I think this is more important now than ever before, because they are bombarded almost non-stop with things they “need” and the “right” image to be successful.

  8. We don’t have cable and that really helps (also when it comes to I want that toy!) But I know I can’t avoid my kids hearing marketing messages and I truly believe that being a role model and a good example is the strongest tool I have. If I’m living a healthy, respectful and caring life my kids will see that. And yes, we will have to have conversations about certain things that are of value to us.
    And yes I agree that women are most often targeted in these weight losing, wrinkle smoothing sitting at home cleaning commercials – but the stereo types are also set on men being strong and building things, being outdoorsy, repairing cars or wearing a certain cologne to attract all those lovely teenage girls.

    • coffeewithjulie says:

       @GiuliaDoyle Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post from my archives! I agree … men’s stereotypes are just as pervasive! In fact, I’ve read that it’s having a strong effect on young boys’ body self-image with all the “6-pack” abs and whatnot. What irks us the most in our house is how stupid and incompetent men are made out to be when it comes to anything considered domestic. 

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