This month, my local Borders closed. No longer will I be able to go and buy my Starbucks Chai Latte and sit musing over a book whilst the children nap comfortably in the Phil and Teds buggy- let along pick up a copy of Interweave Knits or Mothering magazine. Ironically enough, in their inspiringly excellent closing down sale, I picked up a copy of Bonfire of the Brands, by Neil Boorman- and also Consumer Kids, which looks very promising.
As yet, I'm only on -109 days to the bonfire, but something he wrote struck a chord with me. On day -110, he visited Jim, one of those clever people who uses psychographic research (whatever the fuck that might be) to make us do things that we don't know we want to do. (The oversimplistic explanation is mine, all mine. Please, just read the book.) Neil asks why he has such a strong loyalty to Adidas
"over any number of lifestyle-defining sports brands.
'If you're so loyal to Adidas, you've probably been anchored when you were in a highly suggestible state. Brands are an external stimulus that trigger internal reactions. When you hear a certain piece of music, you will instantly remember a time or an event in the past associated with a strong emotion. Brands anchor themselves to a particular moment in your life and act as a trigger in the same way as music. Every time you see the brand, it triggers an emotion. Tell me about your earliest memories connected to Adidas.'
I recount memories from pop videos, watching Olympic athletes on TV, secretly falling in love with an older girl at school who had an Adidas tracksuit: none of these experiences seem to make sense. Then I remember the first day at school, being ostracised from the playground gang for not having the right gear; they were all wearing Adidas.
'That's it! Adidas is anchored to the feelings you felt that day. You were highly suggestive, you had a need for external connection and you saw the brand as a means to personal growth. When you see Adidas, you remember how it feels to be rejected, and it offers the possibility of acceptance. To you, Adidas is acceptance and love'" (p74)- my bolding.
I've been posting on internet parenting forums and communities for almost a decade now, from the UK homebirth yahoo group and Radical Mothers, to Hipmama (the brand extension for a magazine that I STILL haven't read, which I bitterly regret), mamatron and currently MDC. I'm a regular on one of the most exciting new brands to hit the internet, Ravelry- and yet, right now I have misgivings about my commitment. In particular, I'm having reservations about the time I have spent, over the years, supporting publications and doing their marketing for them, strengthening their brand image.
New mothers are often very suggestive. Often, we spend hours reading everything that we can access about birth, breastfeeding, the care and feeding of the magickal creature, the human newborn. So much of this is only normal, surely? One of the things that hits me again and again, though, is how frequently I see my compatriots in the trenches using brands to describe their daily life. The baby is carried in the Moby, naps in the Amby (or the Pack and Play), wears a FB or a BG on their bottom- unless of course, they're EC'ed, in which case mum probably has not only a potty, but a Baby Bjorn Little Potty. Let's not go into the jealousy I feel over Hanna Anderson, a brand that isn't available here. It feels, truly, as if the messages about baby stuff have been internalised- that the modern mother accepts that stuff is necessary, but selects her brands carefully for the statement that they make. A mother who uses Fuzzi Bunz on her infant- or my personal object of desire, the Blueberry- is making a very different statement than the mother who buys 60cm terry squares and folds them differently according to whether the child is a newborn or a toddler. In reading a single forum on MDC earlier today, I came across 100 brand references in 17 minutes- and by accepting the other brands, it strengthens the acceptance of the parent brand, the magazine hosting the discussion.
Current statistics are suggesting that new mothers spend a minimum of 3 hours a day on the internet- some suggest as much as 6 hours spent surfing parenting forums. That's a large amount of brand loyalty up for grabs. This comes back to the bolded up above- the brand, the Mothering brand in particular, offers external connection. It offers a means to personal growth- to a group of individuals who are at a highly suggestive time of their lives. Motherhood is hard. It is undervalued, and underrespected, there is no positive appraisal system and a lot of self-doubt. And into this, we have the brand.
MDC, in some ways, is an inspiring thing. The Holiday Helper community is awesome, and the FYT board has taken many a mother from geographic isolation to part of a RL community. It comes at a cost, though. The cost is loyalty, and perhaps the loss of our autonomy. There are posters who are savage in their condemnation of anyone who is not sufficiently loyal to the twin brands of Mothering and Attachment Parenting- because of course, judgement is not always wrong.
Recently, I've seen too many instances that make me worry that we are becoming loyal to the brand, rather than to our children. The mother who omits to mention her c-section, or the parent who accepts reassurance that a poor weight gain IS normal and chooses not to investigate further. Stories of midwives (unlicensed, sometimes) making outrageous suggestions completely unrelated to evidence based care. There's others. People talk laughingly of "drinking the koolaid"- but the fact is that brand loyalty in other areas of our life can interfere with our instincts and our ability to think for ourself. In fact, this is what it's designed to do. Why, then, should our loyalty to the Mothering brand be any different?
I'm interested in other people's opinions on this one. Am I being ridiculous, and reading too much into this? Or not enough?