Hail Individuality

Let’s say you are trying to buy a sweater, a dress, a suit, bags, shoes or even get yourself a haircut; before trying it for yourself, would you want to see it on some else first? I know I would.

Though sometimes we may think to ourselves that the product matters more than the way it is presented, is there not an expression in Amharic that says quite the contrary? Do you think the logic of this age old saying – “Kefitfitu Fitu” (loosely meaning: rather be greeted with a welcoming face than a well-made meal) – could be applied to our thought patterns in regards to the products we look to purchase?

The premise of this saying is that if a smiling face offers us food, we will have an appetite; rather than a frowning face offering us food, which could instantly make us lose our appetite even with a Michelin Star standard meal. This is probably not so far from the truth; in reality, we are naturally more inclined to accept, without hesitation, gifts, food, drinks and compliments from a smiling face, rather than an unhappy one. Is this not the exact reason why we should be adamant about the customer services we offer and are offered, both publicly and privately?

A smile biologically not only releases endorphins that make us feel good, but also puts the other person at ease. Smiles have always been one of the main sellers in the marketing arena. When advertising campaigns are undertaken, all faces representing products – from car oils to butter – have an almost exaggerated smile.

Studies have shown that the first thing new born babies focus on when they look at someone is the eyes and always look for that contact with the eyes. With that habit at the core of our being, we tend to first notice faces when we look at images – or at least faces come into our focus first when we gaze – making that smile a very important feature. Can we say that we even start to develop certain feelings for the product unknowingly – maybe?

If we can agree that it is important for anyone to feel a certain way towards the presentation of the product first before coming into contact with the product itself, then how should we feel about the representatives of the products that we are exposed to in Ethiopia? Though a handful of products have now made it their business to localise advertisements, for the longest time and to this day most products and/or representatives are non-Ethiopian and, most importantly, non-Black. In terms of relativity and truthfulness of the brand, is it not important that any product be featured on or by someone that looks closest to ourselves, simply because it is more relatable and closer to the reality that we live in?

Maybe in Ethiopia and in most non-Western countries, we have not reached the economic stability to allow our focus to diverge into the social impacts that our slow and steady move towards capitalism might have. However, because of the simple fact that we know what impacts come about by the grace of various studies conducted in Western countries, could we not prevent them from occurring instead of dealing with bigger problems after the fact?

It all starts with what we entertain our children with, right? Barbie Dolls of a certain colour appear in animated movies, with very few heroes of colour. While skinny heroines feed children’s minds with what their bodies and hair texture should be like. As they grow older, it gets worse. The requirements to be an acceptable, or rather accepted, individual get piled up – certain brands of shoes, bags and clothing; a specific type of hairstyle, frequented spots and choice of entertainment.

Bouncing off the idea that it is important for children to have relatable dolls, idols and role models, should we, as adults, also not have relatable figures at the forefront of products in industries such as music, movies and corporate industries, to name a few?

Think about it, you see a hairstyle you like, but it requires a different kind of texture and hair type to flaunt it just right; are you going to go through damaging procedures in order to have it? Do you think that it is fair that you have to go through such procedures to begin with? Why not have hairstyles appropriate to the hair types that are predominant in our part of the world?

There is a dress or a suit that you like and the model you see on the advert has Brad Pitt’s or Scarlett Johansson’s body, is it fair that you should go to extreme physical strain or heavy dieting to look like them? Can we be more awake, more susceptible to these hidden, subliminal images that are shoved down our throats?

By Christine Yohannes
Christine Yohannes writes about social change, performs at public events and conducts poetry workshops in schools. She has established a monthly event entitled “poetic saturdays” - a platform created to allow everyone the freedom of self-expression through art. She can be contacted at poeticsaturdays@gmail.Com

Published on Oct 11,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 858]



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