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Commercialism: How Marketing Schemes Have Impacted Our Traditions 

WRITTEN BY Autumn Hall

From generation to generation, trends come and go, but there are several traditions that never seem to die. Without consideration, partners buy diamond wedding rings for one another, women shave their natural body hair and tens of millions of tons of clothing are purchased just to be thrown away each year. The list is by no means exhaustive — it’s just the surface.

In our ever-growing capital-driven world, it is important to ask ourselves “Where did these trends come from in the first place?” 

Unfortunately, the origins of traditions, such as the diamond ring, are not as Hallmark-esque as we might wish to believe. 

In his article in The Atlantic entitled “How an Ad Campaign Invented the Diamond Engagement Ring,” writer Uri Friedman explains the beginnings of diamond engagement rings and the reasons why they are so commonly found within marriage proposals. 

Friedman explains that the origins of the value attached to diamonds can be attributed to “the discovery of massive diamond mines in South Africa in the late 19th century, which for the first time flooded world markets with diamonds.”

The British businessmen in the area quickly acknowledged a growing potential for commercializing the diamond industry, and created a South-African based cartel named De Beers. They developed marketing schemes to trick consumers into believing that diamonds were extremely rare, valuable jewels, despite the mass surplus at the time. 

There were several years of peaks and valleys of diamond sales, and diamond prices began to plummet, only to rise again in 1938. 

The ad agency N.W. Ayer began to sell a story of diamonds as a symbol of a husband’s romance and undying love for his wife, coining the slogan “A diamond is forever.” 

Over just four decades, “the company’s ad budget soared from $200,000 to $10 million a year. 

Despite only occurring about 85 years ago, sales have risen immensely with nearly three fourths of married women wearing a diamond ring.” 

Another, much more controversial tradition is the negative stigma around women’s body hair. For generations, bright pink razors and flower-covered shaving cream bottles have been branded toward women, who are expected to shave their legs as smoothly as humanly possible. 

In response, especially in recent years, many women have begun to go against these unrealistic standards and have made the choice to quit shaving altogether. 

Similarly to diamond sales, razor companies began to see a possibility for commercialistic gain with women. Before 1915, most women did not shave any of their body hair because of the full-coverage attire of the time. 

When clothing trends began to change into freer, more revealing styles, King Camp Gillette saw an opportunity to capitalize and market his shaving products toward both women and men. 

 “I remember when I first decided that shaving my armpits was no longer for me. I decided I didn’t want to give my money to a company that was making me feel bad about my looks. I didn’t want to give my money to a company that was promoting such waste of disposable and single use plastics,” University of Tennessee researcher and PhD candidate Sarah Frankel said.

Frankel explained the difficulties following her decision to stop shaving.

“I chose not to shave, but I was too embarrassed to show that. One day, I was getting my hair cut, and the coolest, most punk rock girl was washing my hair — in a tank top — with her armpit hair wild and free. She didn’t even acknowledge it … After that day I realized I wanted to be like her … If I was proud of my body [hair] others could be too,” Frankel said.

Frankel’s powerful story shows the impact that the movement to ignore body hair stigma has made. It has inspired women to make their own choice on whether or not they want to shave, rather than being solely influenced by commercialized gender stereotypes. 

Our society’s habit of mindlessly following trends has also helped to create a decades-long cycle of people purchasing clothing that is “in style” for a short period of time, and quickly dumping tons of these items into landfills each year. 

“Media and large corporations that make their billions in profits off the back of slave labor promote this … and the mindless consumer eats it up … If you can create a style that is uniquely yours, you will never need to keep up with the fashion trends … You can easily locate timeless pieces to add to your collection through means of second hand shopping, thrifting or resale sites,” Frankel said.

Many people, including Frankel, have decided to switch to an individualistic “capsule wardrobe,” which consists of a more limited number of clothing items. This helps immensely with inspiring creativity in building one-of-a-kind, unique outfits as well as reducing mass clothing waste. 

As time passes, we continue to grow more and more aware of the harmful effects of our habits. We have the option to make our own educated decisions as to how to live our lives, rather than mindlessly feeding into baseless commercialism.