Social Constructs: Relying on visuals to identify and understand ourselves

Essay by NYC4UNMEUniversity, Bachelor's March 2006

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It seems to me, we live in an image obsessed society where one is judged based on his or her appearance. Drawing on the works of Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Thomas Hine, Jean Kilbourne, Maria Mies, Roger Rosenblatt, and Kath Weston, I will reveal how our society has come to depend on visuals to identify and understand ourselves, making us rely on visual images to represent ourselves and to label and categorize others. We place such a high value in the physical manifestation of appearances and how they represent us. We have become engrossed in a project of comparing ourselves with others. We are entrapped in the thrall of capitalism which sends us spiraling into habitual shopping as we buy in our efforts to be unique and yet to conform, to excel, and to be accepted. We race to keep up with the established "norms" of the images that capitalism projects and in doing so we in turn reproduce these contradictory images and expectations born from these social constructs through our participation in consuming these images and interpreting them as real.

Although we may deny this power, capitalism and consumerism allow for a systematic hierarchical ordering of people, unconsciously allowing the things we buy and wear to label and rank us. Capitalist marketing relies on the labels that we produce and perform through our clothes and the products that we wear and use. In short, people - and especially women - inadvertently dress themselves into a layered hierarchy according to the things that we can or cannot buy. These labels reinforce the established "norms" and allows for the exploitation of women, poor and wealthy alike, as well as society as a whole. I hope to expose the secrets embedded in shopping and consumerism and specifically what is...