Seasons of Life

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

There four different sets of seasons in my life.

 

nathan-wolfe-58777-unsplash
Photo by Nathan Wolfe on Unsplash

The first set is the one I see outside. Winter, when the trees go dormant, lasting from December to January. Spring, a time of tree blossoms and new growth, from February to April. Summer with its intense growth, heat and decline during harvest, from May to October. Fall gets a little sliver in November.

 

The second set is the one with markings on the calendar.

Spring Equinox commencing spring March 20, Summer solstice on June 21, Autumn Equinox on September 22, and Winter Solstice December 21. These neatly scheduled three month seasons have little function in mine life beyond the debates with my husband over whether or not it is spring (…or fall or winter).

 

Marketing takes a different approach but its influence in most of the United States is undeniable.

jomjakkapat-parrueng-460441-unsplash
Photo by Jomjakkapat Parrueng on Unsplash

In this, celebrations are flip-flopped, focusing on celebrating before the day occurs. The spring cleaning season starts in January with New Year’s Resolutions and storage containers. Valentine’s day has a celebration from mid-January to mid-February. Easter’s time is variable but comes quickly on the heels of Valentine’s day, to disappear the moment Easter Sunday has passed. Two seasons of patriotic flavor and outdoor parties last from Memorial Day to Labor Day when the pumpkin-spice season begins. Christmas overlaps with the lattes by beginning the day after Halloween. After-Christmas sales might have their own season, but it is a minor one. Holidays without a lot of marketing value are diminished while profitable ones grow in duration, to the point where some grow tired of Christmas before the time it comes. We can only handle so much stimulation.

 

The fourth set of seasons is the most meaningful to me. It is the religious calendar.

jametlene-reskp-365764-unsplash.jpg

Advent, a time of hope and anticipation, lasting the four Sundays before Christmas; Christmas celebrated throughout the 12 Days of Christmas from December 25 to January 6. The time between Christmas filled with “Ordinary” time, with readings and rituals focused on the public ministry of Christ. Lent begins 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter with Ash Wednesday.

It is Lent now, but my catalogs tell me it is Easter. It was spring, and then a cold front began, but it still looks like spring.

Easter is on the first Sunday, following the first full moon, after the Spring Equinox and lasts 50 days. After that, we return to the simplicity of Ordinary Time until Advent.

They all overlap and sometimes contradict each other. I find in my life, exposure to advertisements and Starbucks cups emotionally inclines me to celebrate the season before I am quite ready. Frequent Target stops put certain holidays in the forefront of my children’s brains. I try to let the marketers do their thing, and I do mine and learn ways to operate in separate spheres.

My home is one area where this works through the use of seasonal décor. But, it is not all willpower. As much as I want it to be spring and as much as stores tell me to prepare for Easter, I cannot make those fruit stands open any sooner.

Some of the intentionality is needed to not be swayed by those using psychological techniques to move me to buy things I do not need for a celebration two months away. And some of the intentionality is letting go a little bit, to be willing to wait for it even though I am ready to roll. There is a unique pleasure in waiting for apple season or blueberry picking before enjoying those fruits.

The seasons, however, we observe them, offer variability to our lives through their colors, tastes and activities. With modern technology at our fingertips, it is easy to let go of the richness of keeping everything in its own time. It takes commitment to hold onto traditions, to go out and pick pumpkins even when no Jack-o-Lanterns will be carved, to buy fresh flowers for no reason except “just because.” It is one way to savor life. I hope you will join me in the practice.

Happy Spring.

 

krystina-rogers-85945-unsplash
Photo by krystina rogers on Unsplash

Target Marketing

Target is intriguing.

In my childhood, it was the exciting version of Walmart. As an adult, it was a one-stop shop with diapers and personal beauty products. I occasionally browsed, but usually bought what I needed, lamented that our society has to offer 50 different kinds of toothpaste and went on my way. I enjoyed going for the colors, but did little else.

Target has developed a new store layout it will gradually implement in tester stores throughout the country. Target’s website improved and offers free shipping with a lower minimum purchase. The retailer collaborated with big names so we all feel we are getting a piece of Lily Pulitzer, improved in-store pick up options, and in some places will bring your items to your car. Overall, Target is working to adapt to the trends and preferences of people shopping the market.

One such trend is the movement of purchasing items closer to the maker. Rather than a product made in Bangledesh, purchased by the supplier who negotiated with Target corporate, who then ships to their warehouse, then to their stores, people are buying direct from the maker at Farmer’s Markets or local craft fairs like the First Friday Street Faire in Modesto. In these environments, you talk to the maker, can learn their techniques, you can special order. You pay more, because this is the person’s livelihood and it takes a lot more money to live in Modesto than Bangladesh.

Now Target, doing their good work of staying relevant, is offering global goods. The press release:

“As part of Target’s celebration of global style, we’ve also partnered with online marketplace Accompany to bring our guests Accompany Us to Target—a limited-edition assortment of products from six different countries. Among them? Ecuadorian beaded bangles, block printed cosmetic bags made in India, and wooden Kuni bowls from Kenya. It’ll be available at 12 of our stores and Target.com, while supplies last.”

Its products are sourced from Accompany, a fair trade company. The fair trade label matters. It assures the purchaser that those who make are receiving a just compensation. Looking online, the items are much pricier than the usual Target faire. Too much? Threshold is still out there, labeling items like a hand carved bird for $15.

This is brilliant marketing. You see the news release or Apartment Therapy’s glowing review of what you “have to buy right this minute.” You are at Target buying wash clothes because IKEA is too far away and you see a gold elephant and a hand carved bird and they certainly look global. “$15, hmm, well, it’s more than I would normally pay for something like this, but it’s hand carved. It’s probably supporting someone across the world. I like it. I’ll get it.”

But you didn’t buy the fair trade product made in Kenya sourced by Accompany. You bought Target’s brand, Threshold, an item whose history we do not know because there are no photographs of its maker on the website like there are for the $18 key ring and $98 tote.

You did not buy the key ring or the tote but bought the bird. Now, to support the local community you go to the First Friday Street Faire. The hand carved bird is now $30 there. You speak with the artist, admire his work, but it is too much and you just bought something similar for less. More likely you will return to Target to shop and just enjoy browsing at the street faire.

Target is doing what a business should do. It is trying to make a profit, staying relevant, giving the people what they want. But it comes at a cost. India’s throw maker may receive a just wage, but I wonder about those other items. If this bird went through at least four hands before reaching yours, what did the maker receive? And just because $1 a day will get them by in that remote-from-us country, is it right that $1 a day is all we pay?

It’s just stuff I think about, on my way to buying more cotton balls.

Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign

Dove has a new video out called “Choose Beautiful.”

Girl at Mirror by Norman Rockwell

Although this video is already widely circulated as the other videos, it has not been without critcism. Awra Mahdawi, writing for The Guardian, highlights some of the common criticisms of Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, begun in 2004. Common criticism includes the convenience of statistics in a study commissioned by Dove, in authenticity of the films, or distrust over a for-profit company claiming to want to help women.

Against Dove’s funding of the Study

All statistics cited in the media should be taken with a grain of salt. The reliability and validity of a study should be examined. A study may be  misrepresented, oversimplified, or presented with cause-and-effect relationship where only correlation exist. StrategyOne (an applied research firm based in New York) managed the international study commissioned by Dove, in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Etcoff of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University, with consultation of Dr.Susie Orbach of the London School of Economics. It is called The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report, and is available online.

External validity addresses how generalizable the study’s inferences are to the general population. Interviews were conducted of 3,200 women, aged 18 to 64, across ten countries: the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Italy, France, Portugal, Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina and Japan. At face value, the report is up front in their methodology, has a large sample of a diverse group. If one wanted to question the study itself, they would have to dig deeper rather than making a broad claim as Mahdawi does.

Against a for-profit company doing good

This leads us to the distrust of the campaign because it is run by a for-profit company. Critics accuse the company of simply trying to sell more products. Sendhil Mullainathan, writing for the New York Times, describes the choice of a person or company seeking greater personal or greater social returns in their profession. Various professions provide different ratios of these returns. Professions typically views as providing greater personal returns than social returns, may be used for greater social benefit. He references George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life who takes a professional typically used for personal gain (finance) and turning it to something that contributes to the greater good.

So it is not impossible that Dove might seek greater social returns in their work, even though they are a for-profit company. A company may seek to enhance their image by associating themselves with positive images: all-natural, child-friendly, eco-friendly, American-made. Dove goes beyond mere association, though it likely does help profits increase. The company is actively investing in these projects whose popularity speak to their social benefit

Against the self-esteem movement

There are other arguments like those put forward in The Guardian that feel-good pieces like the latest Dove video do not an empowered woman make. Mahdawi takes issue with the focus on perception. The question “what is beauty?” is a philosophical question that can be and should be discussed and debated. Dove believes the definition can be expanded to include more women, but women make a choice to apply or not to apply these powerful adjectives to themselves.

What is the power here of positive thinking? People often perceive women who are more confident, have better posture, speak more assertively, as more attractive. Feeling confident does make a woman more beautiful. Feeling confident can allow her to make choices or take opportunities she might not have otherwise taken. It feeds into optimism. All of these things are recipes for a good life. They are ingredients and not panaceas. As ingredients, they are an important contribution to the whole.

That is why the self-esteem movement in these Dove videos, seeking to awaken women’s senses to a habitual tendency to judge, to downplay, to disregard their own appearance, matters.

Are these videos real or staged?

Lastly we come to something I have considered after viewing Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches and its subsequent criticisms. Are the women, who appear to be reacting spontaneously, actresses? Each video would need to be addressed separately. But I wonder, would the message be less powerful if the films were constructed in such a way to represent the data in the global report? Does it really diminish the insight?

Whether staged or not, if they did not have insight they would not be passed around as they are. They would not go viral. Some women see these videos and think, “oh my, that is what I think of myself.” They are not for every woman. They will not speak to every woman’s needs. But for what they are, for who they are meant for, I think they are a valuable resource and tool for accepting ourselves just a little bit more.