Hair Loss and the Commodity Self

The term "commodity self" implies an awareness that we are the sum of the products we employ. A commodity self begins to lose her own self in the jungle of product-identities available to her. Do you take the identity of your jeans, your cologne, or your shoes? Your shampoo, your underwear, or your watch? A true commodity self might consist of a combination of all these, while specific ads focus on one or another of the fetish markers that correspond to the regions of the commodity self. For example, this advertisement for the Fit series on how to shape your body is appropriately divided into specialized texts devoted to legs, face, skin, hair, tush and so on as each region of the body is turned into a separable arena that must be properly worked.

The "commodity self" aims to create a social environment which attacks all facets of the 'self,' and defined personal salvation as solely from within the world of commodities. Ewen writes, "ads constantly hammered away at everything that was his own -- his bodily functions, his self-esteem -- and offered something of theirs as a socially more effective substitute" (p. 46). Advertisements define almost every social relation as a commodified relation: you can better (even perfect) yourself through a careful selection of the right products.

The arrangement of this ad is amazing, full of direction and guidance. The section up at the top draws our eyes in first and boldly frames the social dilemma. "John's losing his hair. His mission: get it back." Right at the start, this ad robs the subject of a whole unified self. Everybody knows that all good-looking, healthy, normal young men have a full head of hair. John can't afford to become another victim of our negative cultural attitudes towards balding men, so it is now his only task is to counteract this genetic process through educated consumption of Rogaine. John won't dare try from anything tacky like a weave, or heavens forbid, a rug ("Never, never.") The reader is being told exactly what laughable things Rogaine isn't. By making the appropriate selection of brands, you can achieve the appropriate self.

His gaping smile seems to make implicit, almost invisible, the act of consumption: the answer (with Minoxodil) has freed him from shame. Sure, under that baseball cap there's a bald spot now, but he knows that there is a magic out there strong enough to restore his full and true self, which, apparently, has been thinning as of late. His head is painfully cocked at an angle, as if to laugh right at the "factoids" in the text, which, if thoroughly considered, might discourage a potential consumer from trying Rogaine. Don't worry, John tells us -- the product is the simple, sublime answer.