I had a thought recently: the world wants you to hate yourself. What do I mean by this? I mean the entire society and subsequent economy are built on self-loathing. Take advertising. All of us are constantly inundated with ads whether on Facebook, Instagram, television, surfing the web, or just driving your suburban town where billboards dart the highways.
Advertising’s entire goal is to get you, the consumer, to buy or use their product. It accomplishes that by indoctrinating you into the world of that product. I often joke about deodorant advertising for men such as Axe. Those ads not so subtly tell men, “If you use our product, more women will want to have sex with you.” All advertising in a way communicates to us, “you might be ok now, but you will be much better if you buy or use this thing we sell.”
Inevitably this leads to comparisons, the haves and have-nots or the old cliche “keeping up with the jones.” I’ve observed that most of us are status-obsessed, no matter what class we’re in, including myself. How can we not be considering the world we live in? We feel the need to keep up very subtly. In that way, advertising has a hold on our mental health, always making us feel not good enough or just a little more insecure.
Social media works in similar ways. The social media algorithm may be morally neutral but reinforces our desires and comparisons. It inevitably leads us to compare ourselves to our peers and judge them or ourselves, but unlike in the past, we don’t just compare ourselves to our peers, but to the entire internet. As I’ve said many times, that comparison is completely unrealistic, as you’re comparing yourself to a digital projection, not a real-life person.
But if we’re not careful, social media starts to make us feel small and not good enough. It makes us compare ourselves constantly. I know people who’ve hacked social media to be about wellness and therapy but even that has its consequences. Oftentimes that can lead to another ideal one can’t live up to. I heard one client say about a spiritual YouTuber they follow, that it made them feel worse to watch the videos because the YouTuber seemed so grounded and happy, while their life was so messy.
And let’s take society at large. If you are anything but a straight white man, the world tells you in one way or another, that you’re not good enough or attractive enough. (In truth, even straight white men get told they aren’t good enough too, but just less so than the rest of us.) If you’re an Asian male, like I am, the world tells me that I’m emasculated. If you’re a black male, woman, part of the LGBTQ population, the society at large places a host of unexamined assumptions about you too. Because of these stereotypes and biases, so many minority groups have tried to reclaim their pride, including LGBTQ pride month going on right now. Pride is an attempt to reclaim our self-love.
Is it any wonder that so many Asians have gotten eye-widening surgery to have whiter features? Is it any wonder that so many get plastic surgery to look more desirable in some way? Women are told that they lose their value when they become less attractive, and as a result so many of them, terrified of aging, get botox or other forms of cosmetic surgery.
Where does all this self-hatred lead us? It creates desires in all of us, the desire to be different from what we are. Sure we’re ok, but we could be better. Our desires often just manifest from our insecurities, all the ways we don’t truly accept ourselves. If we don’t feel attractive enough, we can take the right diet pill, join the right app to lose weight, or get enough plastic surgery to look like an Instagram model. If we don’t like our skin color, we can try to conceal it or bleach it to look lighter. The world tells us you’re never good enough. It wants you to live in constant insecurity.
But in truth, more desire doesn’t lead to happiness. More desires just create a never-ending string of desires like the multimillionaire who feels unsettled because he doesn’t have billion dollars to rely on. There will always be something to chase.
The way to find happiness has nothing to do with getting everything you want. The Buddha understood this. The way to happiness means letting go of desire. It means accepting one’s self and life as it is.
This may sound simple, but I assure you it is not. We cannot escape the world we live in. And if we aren’t vigilant, it will constantly work to make you feel like you’re not enough. But we can do things to mitigate the effects of our society.
So what do we do? I suggest you find honest teachers of life, not just those who are trying to sell you a quick fix or sell you something. And never worship the teacher. Take the message and try to understand it and incorporate it. Some of my favorite teachers include Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, and Pete Walker.
I suggest putting ad blockers on all your internet browsers. I suggest using social media as little as possible, keeping it to about 30 minutes a day at most.
I suggest meditation if you’re interested. It has helped me immensely. I meditate for 20-30 minutes a day. Its effects are much less exciting than you think. It helps me to let go of my thoughts and feelings and stay present. That’s all. It may not sound like much, but desire and advertising are built on the future, about some future feeling where you will feel ok. Meditation is revolutionary in that way.
I suggest therapy too if it’s available to you. A great therapist can really help one learn how to love one’s self. I am hardly a perfect therapist, but so much of my work is about self-love and acceptance. I suggest journaling and exercising too if you have time. Running is one of my favorite ways to reset. I also suggest reading. I’ve read hundreds of great books about life and living.
I could go on and on. There are many ways to skin a cat as they say. My overarching point is this: to reclaim any sense of self-worth not based on the society around you takes internal work. Otherwise, we all succumb to the world and all its internalized self-hatred. It is a long, lifelong journey to reverse this. But I’ve found it made all the difference.