Written by Sally Cohen
Several months ago, I was hurrying down the streets of Manhattan together with a friend of mine. We were headed back to our dorm to settle down for the evening. It was getting late and we were tired (10 P.M. is way past everyone’s bedtime). On our way back to the dorm, we couldn’t help but notice a small but brightly-lit beauty shop. In spite of the late hour, the boutique was packed with people milling about in every aisle, desperately filling up baskets with eye creams and sparkly lipsticks, almost as if by midnight the products would turn into pumpkins. The conversation between my friend and I faltered for a moment as we slowed our pace to observe the feverish scene in front of us. After walking past several stores and taking some time to regain my equilibrium, my brain found the words to start me on a rant about how ridiculous it is to sell makeup for such exorbitant prices when you can purchase the same quality products for the cost of a cheap lunch meal. I went on about how deceitful it is to take advantage of the poor public who just don’t understand that buying foundation near a plastered blowup of Jennifer Lawrence won’t make them any richer or more famous. My friend, a fellow makeup lover herself, listened to my tirade of makeup injustice, nodding her head at all the right moments and conveying a sense of true understanding of the issues I brought to light. As a marketing student who’s taken full credit courses on marketing ploys, she knows it all. After being validated, my heart rate started to settle down and I felt myself breathing more calmly again. All is right again with the world… But suddenly, my friend hesitantly began to admit that there’s a lipstick she currently has her sights on even though she doesn’t like the color much or even the company that produces it. Stunned, I asked her the obvious: “Why do you want it?” and her response shocked me more than anything else that occurred that night. Color rose to her cheeks as she guiltily confessed, “Because Taylor Swift uses it! I know I only want it because of her. It’s not a wise consumer choice but hey, the marketing experts got me. I want that lipstick because of my favorite celebrity.”
I was floored—I totally didn’t see that one coming! But I wasn’t floored enough to withhold the bigger question growing in my mind… “How could this happen to you?! You know this is a trick. You know they hire a special team of people to catch consumers like us. How can you fall victim to their trap?”
My friend replied honestly, “You’re right. I do know. And I will know it from the second I pull out of my driveway all the way until I walk out of that makeup store, cute little shopping bag in tow.”
Before we start pulling out our gavels and judging my friend’s decision-making skills, let’s take a step back and put things into context here. Is this really such a shocking conversation?! Granted, I tried to be dramatic in recapping the events but might this story ring a vague little bell in the back of our minds? Perhaps one we would much rather ignore?
Let’s be honest; we do this too! And quite often. I’ll prove it: I’m a hardcore psychology major. I live it, I breathe it. I love everything about psychology– I am familiar with many of the techniques therapists use to train their clients how to reduce stress, manage anxiety, and regulate emotions, and I often apply them to my own personal life. But when I have three reports due in two days, I myself am too distracted to process the announcement in my favor that the due date was extended a week. And when I walk up to the front of the classroom to give over my how-to speech, the adrenaline pumps through my veins at speeds that not even my brainy math friends are about to calculate. And when I’m stuck in traffic with the slowest man in town occupying the car right in front of me, I find it extremely challenging to regulate my frustration. And like almost everyone else on earth, sometimes stress, anxiety, and negative emotions get the better of me. It happens! And people watch from the sidelines and comment, “But Sally, you know how to handle this. You’re a psychology student- one who’s teaching me! Don’t you remember: deep breathing, cognitive reframing, acceptance, exposure?”. And the truth is, yes. I do remember, but when I’m in that moment, when my stress is high, my heart’s on edge and I feel like I’m going to break from the pressure, it’s often easy to forget what I know. In fact, I sometimes even forget that I know at all. That I contain the answer within me along with the strength to face adversity in the heat of the moment.
So what did overpriced makeup teach me on that fateful night? Well, don’t allow yourself to be scammed for one, especially when you know the marketing tricks!!! But it also highlights a fundamental idea about the discrepancy between what we know and how we sometimes choose to behave. When we act in maladaptive ways that we know are wrong and conflict with how we know we should, we create a disconnect. That disconnect in of itself causes us to feel anxiety, because we are not functioning in conjunction with our belief system. The imbalance hurts and serves as a wake-up call for us to ask ourselves, “Hey, see what you did there? You knew that was wrong. You know what you need to do. You have the answers. Now trust yourself, and try again.”