Ironically, it was the media that alerted me to the fact that it was trying to make me feel bad about myself. "Make up ads are trying to tell you you're not pretty enough," it screamed at me. "Models are photoshopped to make you feel inferior," it shouted. Again and again I was told that no one looks like the people on the pages of the magazines I didn't read.
But then I went to a party, to work, to a meeting at my child's school and I saw beautiful people all around me, women with long, lithe limbs who weren't being stretched by photoshop, people with flawless skin who radiated health, stunning people inside and out.
It made me think and I became comfortable with the fact that genetics, a healthy diet and sometimes sheer bloody luck can make people look like they actually do belong on the pages of a magazine.
I could look at the ads surrounding me and realise they were marketing tactics designed to make me want to buy a product. It didn't anger me that the media was trying to make me feel bad about myself because I understood the mechanisms at work. I could choose to ignore it or I could choose to use my money to chase an unrealistic dream that I could become runway ready by drinking a green smoothie and coating my eyelashes with Maybelline.
But now I'm finding something more sinister in the media I consume. Something harder to unpack because it is coated in a slimy veneer of concern and inflated self-ego.
While we are able to spot the ads, the sponsored posts, and the product placement, and we can choose to ignore or embrace them, it is becoming increasingly difficult to disregard the consistent message being served to us by bloggers, celebrities and Facebook friends. Framed in a way that is meant to be empathetic and supportive, there runs a constant thread through the messages we are receiving: "You need to change your life and I am here to tell you how".
It's in the beautifully filtered inspirational messages on Instagram and the masterfully composed Facebook status updates. It's in the blog posts and on the very same websites which keep telling you not to fall for the messages espoused by make-up companies and diet products.
And this is what we are being bombarded with... You are not doing life right.
You need to relax more or you need to be more active. You think too much or you don't think about others enough. You are too sensitive or you are not sensitive enough. You don't sleep enough or you are greedy with your sleep. Don't use the word busy, don't use the phrase work/life balance. Speak like this. Think like that.
Everywhere there is someone who not only knows in what ways you are deficient, but also knows how you need to change. You need to read my message of hope, you need to conform to my way of thinking. I have the answers and if I do my job on social media right, I'll have the influence I need to make myself heard.
We have reached a point where people are arguing against the professionals. Apparently we should be listening to the community instead of the people who have actual training and insight. Education means nothing, investigation is unnecessary and research is done on Google.
Hairdressers are telling people how to cure stress, make-up artists are writing out diet plans and bloggers are telling us how to be better versions of ourselves. Celebrities are telling us how to look after ourselves and the man in the street is becoming a celebrity because he's managed to amass thousands of fans through filtered images and the correct use of hashtags.
Professional speaker Jason Connell recently wrote: "The biggest problem in personal development is that most people who work in the space, really shouldn't. Instead of giving life advice to the masses, they should be talking to a therapist in private."
The problem is worse for people who don't actually work in the space but think they do.
While self-help books and articles may help us come to solutions when we seek out an answer to an existing problem, the online snake oil salesman seems to be trying to tempt us into believing the way we are living is wrong. They have a solution for us before we even know we have a problem.
There are a lot of opinions out there and we shouldn't devalue the experience and learning of others, but we should be very careful of falling into the trap of thinking someone with a big following knows what is good for us. Maybe there isn't really anything wrong in the first place.
I'd happily buy a mascara that doesn't live up to its promise than listen to the thousands of people urgently clicking on their keyboards trying to tell me they can make me a better person if I just listen to them.Suggest a correction