Choice is power – question your motives

‘Empowerment not objectification’ relies on you having the ‘power’ to chose, but where does this ‘power’ actually lie?

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TW – Readers should be aware this article discusses eating disorders.

JACK BENDA, Week 5: Jack asks what choice means in the 21st century

When Nicki Minaj, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, or any of that famous group of women role models sexualise their bodies as a means of making money, are they being ‘objectified’ by those looking on them, or are they being ‘empowered’ by choosing to?

In my first column I was criticised for my assertion that some of these people, who both define and exploit social ‘ideals’ to get rich, are ‘objectifying’ themselves. A friend pointed me towards an article on ‘Everyday Feminism’ about exactly this which questions this assertion, and with which I totally agree. It explains how it all depends on ‘power’ and ‘consent’ – who has the power, who is consenting?

It’s pretty clear that the power is not in the hands of the people buying into the role-models and the ideals which they flaunt. While some people may see these celebs as purely sexual or an ‘object’ of desire, they aren’t earning the millions of dollars piling up in the Kardashians’ private vault.

These celebrities are effectively using a ‘structure’ where ideas about perfect beauty, bottomless wealth and desirable clothes are drilled into us. They use it to get rich. They invariably become objects of media obsession. The other day I had a look through the TV & Showbiz section of the Mail online, (they’re good at click-baiting) – ‘Leggy Beyonce…’, ‘Handsome couple Colin Firth and Livia Giuggioli’, ‘Melanie Griffith, 57, flaunts her perfectly sculpted legs…’

mail online

Cool story………..

Headlines, advertising and television operate in tandem to emphasise what aspirations people should have. While mainstream media and celebs set trends, advertising feeds off of and into it, creating a vicious cycle of profit and insecurity.

In essence, the ideals exist to manipulate us so that we buy the goods that bring us closer to perfection – to Cheryl Cole’s blissfully perfect ‘L’Oréal Paris‘ hair or Cara Delevigne’s ‘Baby Doll‘ (no joke) eyes. And sure they earn loads of money out of it (Cheryl apparently got 500k for her L’Oréal campaign)

But this ‘structure’ is actively detrimental to the lives of normal people. According to an article on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s website, the average American encounters 3,000 adverts a day. It argues that advertising culture contributes to the fact that 50% of girls aged 3-6 worry about their weight. “The bulimic is the ideal consumer” according to this expert. This ‘structure’ breeds insecurity by endlessly bombarding people with images of the ideal.

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6 ft manikin. The image of healthiness.

It quickly becomes clear that, while self-sexualising celebrities exploit this system of insecurity, they are still governed by the single force motivating the entire machine – money.

It is money that motivates the celebrities to do what they do, money that governs Murdoch’s 800 company strong empire, and money that is prided over the mental health of young girls by the advertising industry.

It's a pyramid scheme

‘Now that’s what I call meritocracy’

This pyramid structure with money on top inevitably raises the question: with whom does the ‘power’ lie; what is motivating the choice element so essential to ’empowerment’?

For the 99%, money holds this power; money dictates choice. Even if individuals aren’t motivated directly by capital gain (money doesn’t buy happiness), money still inevitably governs western psychology. From working to recreation, sex to death, competition to collaboration, capital has power over almost every aspect of life.

How does this apply to the famous? The Scientific American journal ran a brilliant article entitled “Why Do You Want to Be Famous”. It concludes that most people say that they want recognition; to be valued, while fewer aspire for the celebrity lifestyle. The fundamental motivation is “basic human need”.

In the case of the celebrities who are in it for the lifestyle, does material gain constitute empowerment? If it is money that is dictating your choices is it actually you who has the power?

Oprah's pied-à-terre

Oprah’s pied-à-terre

In any case celebrities are inevitably and often consciously used by a system preoccupied with producing profit. Kim Kardashian earns over $25 million a year, and Nicki Minaj has claimed to be worth $1 billion… It is laid bare that choosing to be a celebrity is handing yourself over to the system. Although the individual may be choosing for a whole range of factors, arguably the power still ultimately lies with capital.

Our preoccupation with choice as something sacred to the individual is unrealistic. It isn’t disconnected from external forces – it’s heavily influenced by everything from upbringing to advertising. Telling people what they are thinking is textbook manipulation – even objectification. On the other hand, dressing up exploitation as free will is equally as manipulative and significantly more common.

Understanding and scrutinising one’s own choices by questioning where motivation and power lie is a means of empowerment. Reclaiming choice is reclaiming power because exercising free-will is the first step towards genuine individuality.