If you know me, you know I like Facebook. It’s my number-one time-waster.
My least favourite aspect of it, though, are the Facebook ads that appear in the margin of the page. I know advertising revenue is necessary and I don’t begrudge the makers of Facebook their chance to make a few pennies while I’m catching up with old friends and former students from around the world. Advertising is a necessary evil.
What amuses me, but also infuriates me, is the way Facebook takes what it knows about me, demographically, and then targets what ads I see to what my supposed interests are. There are usually two or three small ads in the margin of every page. On my FB page right now, one is for some university program and the other is for Classmates.com, neither of which I have a problem with. I mean, I wouldn’t click on them, which is what they presumably want, but their mere presence doesn’t drive me to rage. I get ads for writing-related sites, education-related sites, comedy-related sites, things like that — I have no problem with those.
What gets me are the vast preponderance of ads that assume that because I’m a 43-year-old female, I must be obsessed with a) dieting, and b) getting rid of wrinkles.
First there were the ubiquitous Facebook diet ads. These usually featured tiny little pictures of the torso of a faceless, healthy-looking normal woman, next to the torso of an anorexic teenager, with an encouraging little message like: “It’s Not Too Late! You Can Lose the Flab Today!!”
Now, I have the greatest respect for people who are losing weight because they genuinely need to do so, for health reasons or because their current weight doesn’t allow them to enjoy life at its fullest. No problems with that. I have a HUGE problem with a weight-loss industry that’s geared towards making middle-aged women feel bad about themselves because they don’t look like starved teenagers. I find this incredibly offensive, and the implication that because I’m in my 40s and female, I must be obsessed with my weight, is even more offensive.
Fortunately, “Offensive” is one of the categories you can choose when you “reject” an ad. Here’s a thing I really do like about advertising on Facebook: there’s a little “thumbs up/thumbs down” symbol underneath every single ad. If you choose thumbs-down, you are given a drop-down menu of reasons why you don’t like that ad (offensive/misleading/irrelevant etc). If you do this enough, that particular type of ad will stop appearing on your page. I guess it doesn’t stop them from appearing around Facebook generally, but at least I don’t have to look at them anymore.
After awhile, the diet ads disappeared. There was a whole rash of ads about something called Acai Berries, which apparently also had to do with weight loss, but since they didn’t show images designed to make me feel bad about my body, I mostly ignored them (though from the little I’ve heard about Acai, I guess I could have clicked “Misleading”).
Now the new trend is for ads featuring pictures of “middle aged” female actors — Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, and Madonna are the favourites, though I’ve also seen Catherine Zeta-Jones — with a little blurb asking me how this actress manages to stay so young-looking without the use of Botox or surgery, and wouldn’t I like to know her secret?
Well, no. Not at all. And these ads offend me because they’re based on a number of faulty assumptions:
1) that I really believe Angelina, Jennifer or Madonna hasn’t had Botox or plastic surgery.
2) that I believe every photo I’ve ever seen of her hasn’t been airbrushed and retouched within an inch of its life.
3) that I want to look like Jennifer, Madonna or Angelina instead of like myself.
4) (this is the big one) that I hate being and looking 43 and want to hang onto some illusion of eternal youth.
Also, it doesn’t help that:
a) they are often written in a kind of choppy Japanese-assembly-instruction language, so that the ad might feature a picture of Angelina Jolie and a headline asking: “Ever wonder how Angelina look so much young than she is?” Um, no.
b) they hit a pretty wide range in “targeting” me with celebs who are “about my age.” Madonna is 51 and, yeah, pretty amazing, but I’m quite confident there’s a lot of machinery that goes into maintaining that superstructure. Angelina Jolie is 33 and darn well should look young … because she IS.
But it really is the underlying assumption that bothers me most. I mean, it’s not like I’ve just woken up to the fact that the entire beauty industry is predicated upon making women unhappy with their bodies and faces — I do get that that’s been going on for many, many years. It’s the cyncial manipulation of these particular ads targeted at ME that really brings it home, though.
WHY should I want to lose weight if I’m not particularly overweight? Because I’m not as skinny as this model! WHY should I want to look younger than I am, if I’m 43 and have enjoyed every year of the journey? Why shouldn’t I let it show on my face? Because plastic-bot-woman from Hollywood is 43 and looks 30, and of course I want to be just like her!!
It just discourages me and makes me angry, frankly, and I truly don’t understand what’s at the bottom of it. Would I feel differently if I’d ever been a truly beautiful woman? Would I be desperate to hang onto that? I’ve always been a sort of average, unremarkable-looking girl, and while there were times during the hellish dating years that I would have liked to be a beauty, for the most part I’ve gotten through life without thinking a whole lot about how I look. It seems absurd to me that I would be 43 and not want to LOOK 43. I am who I am — why would I want to be anything different?
I guess I just don’t get it. If Angelina is happy with how she looks, good for her. Likewise Madonna, Jennifer, and Catherine. Know what? So am I.
Until I figure out how to dismantle the beauty myth, I’ll just keep clicking “offensive” and hoping the ads go away.