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Consumerism Culture: Beneficial or Debilitating To Human Health?
Modern-day society is wholly captivated by an obsession with consumerism. Humans attribute greater life satisfaction to an increase in materialistic goods, causing us to feed into the economic system of capitalism that advantages a few at the expense of the many. While individuals enjoy the fast shipping and inexpensive prices of their favorite pairs of Shein, H&M, or ZARA jeans, few are thinking of the underage child workers exploited in Bangladesh fast fashion factories. And while individuals enjoy the sparkly packaging and creamy lather of their favorite Sephora body scrub, few are thinking of the extensive animal testing that is required to clear those products for sale.
The point is, despite the many consequences that are associated with this addiction to consumerism culture, humans nevertheless fail to change their buying practices because of their attachment to materialistic goods.
In the digital age that we’re in, it’s all too easy to buy into consumerism. One minute we’re scrolling through the digital aisles of fresh fruit at Fresh Direct, and the next minute the new “Echo Dot With Clock” draws us onto the homepage of Amazon. The ease at which humans have access to the global market only fuels our addiction to consumer products, which in turn continues to fill the pockets of our nation’s top 1%. Whether it be technological products that must be “upgraded” every two years, clothing pieces that must fit the year’s latest fashion trends, or self-care products that must be “high quality” to be effective, consumerism culture deludes us into believing that these products are essential for our survival and that we need to be continuously investing our money for greater life satisfaction.
Herein lies the greatest problem of all: the adverse effect that this culture has on human health and well-being. We all know it’s consequential; we all know it’s addictive; but in what ways is it directly harming our own lives?
Consumerism Culture Shaping Physical Health
We live in a world overridden by diet culture and detox fads. Women are told that in order to achieve the beauty standards broadcasted by the media, they must take certain steps to ensure they have the best possible chance at success. These steps, however, all play into the toxicity that defines consumerism culture. Whether it is detox juices, “antibloat” pills, or waist shapers– marketed as products needed to achieve physical satisfaction– diet culture could not be sustained without the equally deceitful consumerism culture.
Rather than finding the healthiest, most sustainable, methods to prioritize physical health and potentially lose weight in the process, many individuals fall prey to the idea that they can buy their way to health. Whole foods, frequent exercise, and positive self talk is too often replaced by gimmicky diet products, many of which are often ineffective and ultimately harmful.
“Supplements can be sold and advertised as improving health without any evidence that they actually work in humans,” says physician Dr. Pieter Cohen of Harvard Medical School. “You’d think the law would create rules stating that health claims must be based on scientific evidence. But it’s the exact opposite — the law protects manufacturers by allowing them to say things like ‘may support heart health’ even if there’s not a single human trial to back up that claim.”
And not only are these supplements misleading– giving customers the impression that they are regulated by the FDA– but they can also have severe consequences to physical health. In fact, in a survey of 3000 Americans, over 50% of respondents reported that after having tried at least one weight-loss supplement, they experienced at least one negative side effect such as rapid heart rate, jitteriness, constipation/diarrhea, or dry mouth (News24).
“Off all dietary supplements, the ones for weight loss seem to cause the most harm–sometimes liver failure and even death,” Cohen remarked.
Evidently, our consumerism culture is not just an unruly waste of money; it is directly harming our own wellbeing. As consumers continue to make purchases, falsely believing the myths they are being fed by the corporate market, it is important for us all to take a step back and reevaluate just how detrimental our spending choices might be. Even to our very own bodies.
The Psychological Toll of Consumerism Culture
In a society that prioritizes materialistic wealth as a sign of social stature, it is no surprise that consumerism culture manifests itself in our present-day mental health crisis. For individuals whose salaries don’t fit into the nation’s top 1%, consumerism culture is not only unattainable; it is harmful to human psychology.
In fact, research continues to prove that people who place more emphasis on material wealth and status tend to be more depressed, anxious, and less sociable than those who do not. “We found that irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mindset, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in wellbeing, including negative affect and social disengagement,” confirms Galen V. Bodenhausen, leading psychologist at Northwestern University (Psychological Science).
The more that we advocate materialism as the cure for mental health, the more we’re buying into the culture of consumerism. This mindset, however, does not guarantee a more positive wellbeing; it inherently harms mental health in the process.
Now, why does this correlation exist?
It is attributed to the fact that these individuals tend to have goal-oriented mindsets, in which they believe a certain outcome (or product) can guarantee life satisfaction, rather than the growth it took to get there. Therefore, consumerism culture deceives consumers into believing they’ll find happiness AFTER the acquisition of material goods. In the meantime, this quest shadows other aspects of an individual’s life that guarantee greater happiness: relationships with family and friends.
“It’s not absolutely necessary that chasing after material wealth will interfere with your social life,” notes Edward Diener, a psychology researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But it can, and if it does, it probably has a net negative payoff in terms of life satisfaction and well-being” (APA).
The Overarching Issue
Consumerism culture is engrained in America’s history, with roots dating back to the rise of the first car, the Model T, in the early 1900s. As corporations have rapidly grown larger, consumers have continued to be exploited– feeding the economically beneficial spending culture. Therefore, while consumerism is inevitably harming our own human health, consumers are not where the blame should be directed towards.
“Corporate-driven consumerism is having massive psychological effects, not just on people, but on our planet as well,” says psychotherapist Leo Kanner, co-editor of Psychology and Consumer Culture. “Too often, psychology over-individualizes social problems. In so doing, we end up blaming the victim, in this instance by locating materialism primarily in the person while ignoring the huge corporate culture that’s invading so much of our lives” (APA).
We cannot necessarily dismantle this corporate culture, but we can seek to grow awareness around its ill effects on human society. Materialism is an innate human desire, but it can be combatted with recognition of the genuine life satisfaction that comes from human relationships and intangible objects.
As consumerism culture continues to harm human physical and psychological health, it is in our power to reduce its importance in our lives.