The Power of a Perceived Lifestyle

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Either I have just not noticed it happening, or advertising and marketing has taken a new approach in the past few years. I, for one, am the advertiser’s dream target. I cry at commercials, I feel the euphoric surge of pride for the underdog in sports movies, and when I get those sale on the sale emails in my inbox, it requires quick deleting or I will give in. But recently it seems that what I have become so sucked into isn’t so much a product or a brand anymore, but a lifestyle.

With the popularity of blogs and Pinterest, it is so much easier to get a wide variety of view points and opinions, and the longer one spends on these types of websites, the clearer it becomes that a theme is being drawn. But I- the reader, the participant- I am the one drawing this theme. I see a blogger I like, so I follow her on Pinterest. Then, I search for the people she pins from, and who that person pins from, etc. A theme emerges. Inspirations abound. I am repinning everything that fits into this new theme, creating mood boards, an ideal wardrobe, or my future home. I was not even aware I wanted, or liked these things until I saw them unfolding everywhere I turned. I am intensely involved in the perceived lifestyle these people have, and I want it for myself. Everything they do or write about or pin becomes a representation of their “brand”- their lifestyle. They take a well-lit photo of something simple, like their Aesop hand lotion, romantically rumpled, and suddenly it is art. It is a representation of a product that I can afford, can hold in my own hands to achieve their lifestyle. A piece of their life is now a part of mine. I never even knew how much I missed that hand lotion in my life until I noticed I didn’t have it.

I first realized this inclination toward lifestyle marketing in J.Crew catalogs. Every month when that catalog came in my mailbox, I would turn each page, soaking up the images of their casual, yet chic weekend outfits. The women had hardly any makeup on, their hair was always messy but cute, and they were able to wear New Balance shoes with sweatpants and a silk shirt while in Italy and make it seem like the coolest thing ever. (But think- have you ever seen anyone actually dress like that? Anywhere? That should have been my first hint.) It wasn’t until this year, after going into the actual store and leaving completely uninspired for the tenth time, that I realized their clothes were actually not even my style. I don’t like wearing pastels, and I will probably never wear silk jaquard pants with a jeweled-collared sweatshirt. But the catalogs make it seem so easy, so inspired, so me! I thought that I loved their clothes because  I could imagine myself wearing one of their super-cool outfits. But what I really loved was the lifestyle I saw being portrayed in the glossy pages of their magazine.

This same thing happens with things that I really do love. Kinfolk is one of my favorite publications; the thoughtful essays, delicious recipes, and beautiful photography of a simple, yet fulfilling life, is something that really makes me feel good inside. I connect with it on a deeper level, as a representation of the things I love being reflected back at me through the thick, weighted paper. But at the same time, they are still advocating a lifestyle. It may not look like advertisements or products placement, but nonetheless, the photos of a simple breakfast, a wood-paneled station wagon on a road trip, or the thoughtful reflections on the beauty of living alone all serve to pull together images of a kind of life that one could easily imagine oneself a part of.

Take all of this, and my number one strength of adaptability (so says my Strengths Finder test), and I have a hard time figuring out who I am, and what I like. I hate how easily persuaded I am to like something, be interested in something, to wear something, etc. I tend to just fall in step with the people around me, and I lose myself amidst the opinions and photos of others. My personality type deems me the “dreamy idealist” sort, and that is true; I have a strong pull towards aesthetics, and the ways I imagine I- or life- could be. It all seems very clear to me.

It’s taken me until my late twenties to even begin to come into my own. The ways in which I spend my money, the activities to which I give my time, the people to whom I give my love and attention, have all begun emerging from the woodwork. I am slowly beginning to take inspiration from places as solely that- inspiration. I am slowly beginning to take pause and reflect on who I am, and how what I do is a better reflection of myself than what I buy or the lifestyle I live. It is a very slow process. Most days I am still falling over myself to achieve that never-attainable lifestyle that is laid out in photos and imagination. But what I want for myself is to know myself. And that probably requires stepping back a bit from the influx of impressions I give myself to on a daily basis. I know where I need to go, but doing it is a much harder step forward. I think in order to know myself, I will need to sit with myself and see what brings me joy, and where my own creativity brings me. I need to take stock of my own life instead of dreaming of a lifestyle that belongs to someone else.

Do you feel any of these things? Have you fallen victim to a certain lifestyle?

 

(photo, and product, via Anthropologie)

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