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Promises, promises

By Heather Oman

I just saw a commercial for Old Navy where everything shimmers. I guess they are introducing a metallic sort of line, or something, but it’s a sort of new age commercial that leaves those of us who are inherently style channeled just a bit confused. But the one thing I was VERY clear on was the sexy lifeguard who showed up at the end of the commercial, bringing the shimmering maiden some ice tea. Or something like that.

I thought, “Hunh. That never happens to me”

And it’s not as if I’m in need of a hunky, tatooed lifeguard at this point in my life. But somebody, anybody, bringing me a free drink—well, let’s just say I wouldn’t say no. Well, I would to the iced tea, of course, but put some Crystal Lite in that tumbler, baby, and we are good to go.

Now, we all know the maiden and her would-be rescuer are straight from central casting, and if and when scenarios like the one in the commercial ever really do play out, there is a seriously high creep factor. But the commercial uses a promise to entice you to buy their shiny stuff, and Old Navy cannot be held liable for any emotional trauma suffered if you do actually buy the gold bikini, but, instead of acting out the part of Princess Leah in your own Luke Skywalker’s Return of the Jedi fantasy, you end up filling the role of Jabba the Hut.

Old Navy is not alone in this deception. Oh no. According to what I’ve seen just this past week written on various household items:
My hair should be lustrous, healthy, manageable, with all splits ends repaired.
Eating Cheerios with my family should make everybody smile a lot.
I should have received a personal message from Spring, informing me of her happiness about me choosing the Oreos laden with yellow #5 and decorated with happy bunnies hopping, because apparently, the yellow ones are Spring AND milk’s favorite cookie.

In reality, my unmanageable, stringy locks lack luster while I obsessively comb through them to see how many times one hair can split (my highest count in nine times. Sorry, is that TMI?), Cheerios only makes my dog super happy when my baby hucks them on the floor, and Spring hasn’t called, y’all.

She may have misplaced my cell phone number, though, so we’ll just cut her some slack on that one.

When I stop and think about the sheer BULK of messages we get DAILY about what and how our lives should look like, it’s not hard to realize why women are obsessed with perfection. And I’m not just talking about body image issues, which we’ve discussed before. I’m talking about the pefect family eating breakfast with mom and dad in a cutesy kitchen on the back of the cereal box, the woman in the Clorox commercial putting bleach in her washer next to a perfectly folded pile of clothes in a well organized laundry room that, might I add, also appears to be bigger than my first apartment, and the prints of the mom giving out hand sanitizer to her boys in the car that is totally clean. Seriously, nobody with 3 boys who play soccer has a clean minivan! Nobody! (And if you are holding up your hand saying, “Oooh, me, I do, I do!”, please just acknowledge your freakishness and let the rest of the slobs live in peace.)

This isn’t a new topic at all. Sorry. It’s just hit me harder than normal recently what we women wade through on a daily basis, promises that are made to us not just about our bodies but about our homes, our families, our children, and our jobs that are completely empty. I imagine most of us are savvy enough to realize that advertising is just that, and that you don’t expect to come out of the shower after using Pert Plus’ new and improved formula looking like Mia Hamm. But even though we know how and why these promises are being made, I can’t help but think that they must affect us in subtle and ultimately negative ways that make us feel bad about what our own lives look like. And the messages about Celestial Glory and Eternal life? Powerful messages too, but Satan definitely hired a flashier PR firm.

How do you wade through the muck? Are there some things that are harder for you to ignore than others, like the mini-van thing doesn’t bother you but MAN you HATE that commercial where they wipe up paw prints from a perfectly clean floor because really, who has a clean floor when you have a DOG THE SIZE OF SMALL HORSE??!!

Ok then, that might just be me.

Let me know where you get the good messages, the real ones, and what keeps you grounded. And if you have some suggestions for split ends, I’d love those, too.

And Dalene, by my watch, it’s 11:31 pm, so I really did post this on the day I said I would. Um, better late than never?

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

15 thoughts on “Promises, promises”

  1. "but Satan definitely hired a flashier PR firm."
    Classic! And so very, sadly, true.

    I hate any and all commercials that show moms with little kids in perfectly clean and tidy homes. Just doesn't happen folks, but some days I get so frustrated that my house is not like that!

    Also since we are on the subject, does anyone else hate that paper towel commercial where the kid sprays his mom (and the entire kitchen) with sticky orange soda and she just says "Timmy–this is better!" and sprays him back with the sink hose? Yeah, that's what I want my kids to see. Because it's just fine to shake a whole 2 liter till it sprays all over the place–it's actually funny and cute as long as you have a paper towel handy!

    Oh, and I really hate the color wonder commercials with the kids on white couches and carpeting. (I do however love those markers. It's just the commercials I don't like.)

    Wow, who knew I had such opinions about commercials? Thanks for unleashing the pent-up emotions, Heather!

    So good messages…hmm…I can't really think of any at the moment, which is why I have really been trying to just keep tv off as much as possible. I'd rather live reality than pine after some fictitious Hollywood version of life. Call me jaded, but that's my take on it.

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  2. For me, it's not the commercials, but actually the real-life stories that get all jumbled up in my brain and come out packaged as though I am supposed to live the combination of ALL of the stories. I have had to literally talk myself out of the fact that good mothering does not equate to a certain number of experiences, or fancy vacations, or extracurriculars, cool outings, house projects, or whatever else is going on in other people's lives. There is so much even just from the REAL lives of other people that is hard for me to sift through. My filter wants to say DO IT ALL OR YOU STINK.

    I have appreciated so much the recent repeated counsel about simplifying our lives, and that that is not only GOOD, but BEST…cuz then we can focus on more of what really counts in the eternal scheme of things.

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  3. GREAT post, Heather. Wading through the muck . . . I do very little tv over here these days, and if I'm in the room when it's on, we mute the commercials and talk. I rarely buy women's magazines. Actually, though not HUGELY overweight, I fit in Lane Bryant clothing, and they gave out a free magazine last year with big & beautiful women in it that I found very validating and helpful to see sizes 16 and 18 looking lovely (I know that was a weird run-on sentence–I'm usually not up at this hour).

    I trip myself up more with the churchy messages of how perfectly functional our families ought to be. Some of that also comes from my childhood fantasies of having a perfect family "when I grow up." Leaders talking about marriage and family being a lot of work help me remember, but like m&m, I sometimes get all the glowy images of several families bundled into one ideal, and can get really bothered by our less-than-perfect personalities and lifestyle.

    Having close girlfriends to talk to about the real stuff helps me stay grounded. Reading real life things on blogs does also. Conference talks, doing the basics, remembering the atonement and that life is a process are essential.

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  4. This past winter, I was struggling with wading. During a discussion with a colleague, we talked about wading and she informed me she just doesn't do it. She told me everything she avoided and how happy she was for it. So. I started to cut back. First it was any news, including online stuff… then it was actual tv programs. Now, I am down to watching one or two tv programs- and thanks to tivo, I don't do commercials either.

    Outside of this, I use my sisters to stay grounded. and blogging….

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  5. I'm with m&m and Wendy… I think the real-life stories I see and know, like reading other women's blogs, or going to friend's houses that seem to be always immaculate, or hearing from women in RS who seem to have it all together, really bog me down more than commercials and ads (of course we TIVO most TV, so I don't see too many commercials, but I do subscribe to BHG Magazine.)

    The problem as I see it is that in RS we get this ideal that we are supposed to be, but no one tells us how to get there. I am having issues with my two sons, but I didn't know others have dealt with one of these issues until I was quietly talking to a friend (whose children are now mostly grown) about her son, who seems to be worse than one of mine. The great thing is, her son turned out fine in the end. He is a great kid!

    I just want to know that things are going to be okay, and that my patience can endure, and that if I mess up, it won't permanently scar my kids. That and lose my belly, and I am sure my life would be perfect. hahahaha

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  6. This is why I won't pay for cable TV. I feel like there are already enough messages coming in from all sorts of sources about how to look, act, feel, speak, dress, and live, so I refuse to PAY to hear these messages! I mainly do this for my children's sakes though – they're young, beautiful, and naturally impressionable girls and I just don't want these messages being pumped into their heads. I at least feel conflicted teaching them to be modest and then saying, "OK, go ahead and watch Nick." (owned by MTV), a lot of the YOUNG girls are NOT dressed modestly! (Disclaimer: Please know that I am not trying to sound "holier than thou", only giving my two cents for what it's worth :).
    As far as split ends go 🙂 I honestly don't really have another solution other than keeping my hair trimmed. I realized that me trying to maintain long hair after pregnancy was a joke so I finally broke down and cut my "locks". I am a much happier woman now! Of course, I have to heat style the heck out of my hair just to look somewhat civilized, but hey, it's worth it! So yeah, I just trim it about once every month and a half and that keeps most of the split ends away. I am sure though in a couple of years I will either have straw for hair or just be plain bald, so, I'm enjoying it while it lasts! 😛

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  7. Good post, H. Your observations are spot-on. Like you, I know, intellectually, what is happening with that flashy Lou Cypher PR Firm. It doesn't, as you pointed out, help with the visceral messages I internalize.

    Most of the time, I think I cut myself enough slack that I manage to feel ok about myself despite my lack of whiter-than-white laundry or my unwillingness to have a water fight in the kitchen with Jeffrey when he spills some juice. Occastionally, it does get to me, though.

    Sometimes I do beat myself up. Usually it doesn't last long, and I catch myself- but yeah, it happens.

    Blogging has been a huge help in keeping things in perspective. In the online LDS communities, I've met so many women who are struggling with the same issues- and I've learned from the women who have different struggles too. It's an antidote for the venom that advertisers toss at us- all I have to do is recall a post or log-on and see what my friends are talking about to push the nasty messages from the flashy PR firm firmly out of my head.

    Split-ends? Yeeeeeah, well, I have no idea. Curly hair just fuzzes- split ends, mercifully, are not really an issue. But can you image if they were? Egad- two hair ends for every curl? I wouldn't fit through the doorway!~

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  8. I usually do something else, something I can do more or less on auto pilot, while the TV is on. When the comercials come on my attention is directed toward whatever that thing happens to be. As a result Comercials just go right in one ear and out the other. I. If the sound gets really annoying I just mute it. The problem is with the sound muted it is harder to stay awake.

    Reading is the way I keep all the unwanted stuff out. I don't see adds in magazines. I don't buy books with pictures. Although I have been accused of being a perfectionist my goal is to be good enough and not let perfection distract me.

    I keep my hair short and don't have split ends anymore.

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  9. I'm with m&m… it's real life that gets to me. The clean house thing I gave up on ages ago, so though I hate messes, it doesn't attack me at a personal level. But what does get me down is the idea that there are so many glamorous, wonderful things out there to be done (not only portrayed by the media, but evidenced by the conglomeration of the lives of all the people I know)… and I'm… NOT doing any of them.

    It's a stage of life thing for me right now. 3 active little boys and 1 on the way (which is sapping the life out of me right now), and for me personally, I just don't have the energy or time to pursue too many personal goals or dreams beyond keeping everyone fed, clothed, and mostly clean. Kudos to the many incredible women who achieve so much more than I do. But this is my personal best for this window in time. And while I know happiness isn't a destination, yada yada, I also think it's be unrealistic for me to expect complete fulfillment from my Sisyphean round of housework. On the other hand, I chose to be a SAHM because I didn't want to miss out on the kids' growing up… and I wouldn't trade this time with the boys for all my friends' scuba-diving-mountain-climbing-docs-without-borders experiences… at least for the next 20 years :). I'm planning to have a rollicking good time when I'm 55. So for me, the challenge is keeping it all in perspective: that the child-raising, homemaking years are really a rather short time, and that while I focus on finding my greatest fulfillment in motherhood right now, there's a greater personhood underlying it all that will develop in different directions at later stages of my life.

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  10. heather, i have so many issues with this that i just have to hurry and comment with a big AMEN before i read all the other comments.

    i find that i love people more when they let their freak flag fly– when they're just real and flawed instead of pretending their perfection.

    (and i'm in charge of the blog this month. and i had faith in you. thanks much.)

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  11. Have you seen that minivan commercial where the family is having a hard time getting along so the Mom piles them all in the van and they get along fabulously after that. As if being in the car – right next to each other – is going to MAKE them communicate well and love each other. It makes me want to vomit.
    And that Old Navy commercial is basically pornography. It makes me truly vomit.
    I guess the best way to wade through the muck is to turn off the TV for a while. Or turn to BYUTV. My kids and I love to turn on music and dance. It seems like even if it's Disney Princess music or something else totally non-spiritual, that helps us feel a little closer to each other and therefore the spirit.

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