Certain consumption choices have become badges of environmental consciousness, often to the exclusion of encouraging people to engage in other, less obvious lifestyle changes like, you know…maybe not buying so much stuff.

This tote bag, designed by a British activist group, came out last summer and became a fashion accessory:

According to this story from Time (which is also where I found the image),

…the bag was first introduced in Great Britain in April —Keira Knightley, Alicia Silverstone and singer Lily Allen were photographed carrying it, fashion magazines jumped on the trend, it was part of the Oscar swag, and before the bags hit the country’s Sainsbury grocery shops, supposed to be its primary retailer, a fanatic fashion following had taken root. The bags sold out immediately, with many turning up on eBay for hundreds of dollars. When 20,000 were released at 450 supermarkets across England, women got in line at 2 a.m. and had snapped up all of them by 9 a.m.

Soon enough, the controversy erupted…The Evening Standard revealed that the so-called green carriers were made in China, using cheap labor, and that the bag was neither organic nor fair trade.

Hindmarch responded that the message of We Are What We Do is that by changing the small things you do in everyday life you can make a large difference. Her company, she said, worked with a reputable supplier in China whose workers are paid double the minimum wage and that complies with Chinese Labor Law. And the bags were shipped by sea, and carbon credits were purchased to offset the environmental impact of production and transport.

Ghanimah A. sent us these images for Cordaid, an “international development organisation” that specializes in “emergency aid and structural poverty eradication.”  We would love to know what you think.

Ads often connect buying products with giving women freedom and independence. For instance, of course we knew we’d come a long way, baby, once we got our own cigarettes:

The Chase Freedom credit card gives you the liberty to spend money on all kinds of things:

All of these ads use the theme of women’s independence and freedom as something to be purchased. Women don’t get more freedom by struggling for it, and there aren’t any real obstacles; these companies have commodified independence for you, so all you have to do is buy their product and you’re set!

See also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Found at The Situationist.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

A while back, Captain Crab sent me a link to Baby Couture Magazine (“We put the ‘coo’ in couture”):

It is, as far as I can tell, a magazine dedicated to how to raise a kid very stylishly. The magazine features fashion spreads of kids with information on where to get the clothes, just like women’s magazines such as Vogue or Glamour. There’s a section where you can send in pictures of your kids to see if the magazine might want to use them as a model or just “…show off your children (and their outfits!)…”

In the caption of a photo of Salma Hayek currently up on the site (posted on June 20, 2008), we learn about her daughter, “Valentina’s father, Francois-Henri Pinault, is reportedly the 3rd richest man in France, and owns and runs PPR (subisidiaries of which include Gucci, YSL, Balenciaga, etc).”

Here’s a playset highlighted in the Spring 2008 issue that costs $21,850 (image at

About the Nurtured by Nature line, we learn,

…it is a fabulous baby shower gift as well (you know, when they open your present at the shower and other parents look at you like that “momma who just knows her thang”). Anyway, they are not mass-produced so they may be on the pricey side (it says on their site that a Nature’s Dream gift set is $200.30).

Yes, that might be just a tad on the pricey side for most people. I went to the company’s website and found onesies running from $22 to $99. I’m all for non-mass-produced items made from local materials (in this case, New Zealand-grown merino wool), but…$200??? For a baby gift set??? I bought some of my friends’ babies’ presents at resale shops.

This could be interesting for several different kinds of class discussions–the class element is obvious, not just in terms of how much things cost or who the audience is, but also ideas of parenting and how they differ by social class (for instance, as far as I know my friends and family members aren’t offended if I buy nice used baby clothes at resale/consignment shops, but I suspect that if you gave such a gift to the type of women who read Baby Couture, you would be a permanent outcast–something to keep in mind if you’re trying to extract yourself from such a social network).

You could also discuss changes in parenting overall, though, not just among the wealthy. In the book Parenting, Inc: How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers–And What It Means for Our Children, Pamela Paul discusses how parents confront more and more products they are told any good parent must buy for their child (such as “educational” products that have no shown positive effects on learning), so that book might provide some interesting analysis about why we think we need these things. The whole topic brings up a number of interesting questions about parenting in general: what does this mean about how parents who can’t (or won’t) afford all these things are judged? Why do new parents increasingly look to the marketplace to tell them what they need–and how–to raise a child? How does middle-class fear of “falling behind” play into this whole trend? Why have we become so convinced that raising children requires huge amounts of “expert” advice and purchased products?

NOTE: Well, I have to say, I didn’t actually believe there were such things as $800 strollers–that just seemed exaggerated–but for fun I did a quick search before I posted this and behold:

The Boy Meets Girl Pink & Blue Limited Edition Valco Twin Trimode, for $825 (though there are several hundred dollars’ worth of upgrades available on top of that). Of course, it’s also good that it’s color-coded so you know which side to put the boy and girl in. Also, it’s described as an “all-terrain” stroller. All-terrain stroller??? Where exactly are people taking their kids these days? There are a lot more similarly bizarre products at Let’s Go Strolling.

So I learned something today: No matter how much the upper limit is that I can imagine for a baby product, I need to add many, many hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to it. And upper-middle-class parenting has become very, very strange.

And I owe it all to Captain Crab!

A while ago I posted a set of ads for engagement rings, asking what those ads had to sell you in order to also sell you a diamond ring (see the post here).  Then Miguel sent us the ad below, writing: “This ad is almost too honest.”  Indeed.  Notice that it also supposes that it is the quality of the ring, and not the quality of the groom, that makes a woman happy on the day she says “yes” to marriage.


I’m always interested when I see ads that play on parents’ fears of neglecting their children as a way to sell them stuff. Middle and upper-middle class parents often encounter, and adopt, a parenting ideology that requires the input of lots of money, time, and emotional energy to be a “good” parent. Parenting is commodified into a set of things parents feel a lot of pressure to buy to prove that they love their children and care about their futures–and don’t want them to be social outcasts.

My mom got pregnant with me when she was 16 and I grew up decidedly working class, and the parenting style I was used to was basically, “The kid’s still alive, so I guess I did a pretty good job.” My mom may have taken this attitude to extremes a bit, since she was known to put me in a harness and tie me out to the clothesline so she didn’t have to keep such a close eye on me when she was busy around the house. Give her a break–she was a teenager! It seemed like a really good idea! (And admit it: there’s part of you that is thinking, “That’s brilliant!”)

My point is, I’m always interested in the ways we seem to always be raising the bar on what is considered good parenting, and “good” parenting is usually defined by middle class standards–though we also often criticize middle and upper-middle class parents for supposedly being distant and self-centered and for pushing their kids too much to succeed. So it’s a catch-22: working-class parents don’t have the money to buy a lot of the products or services we think loving parents must provide their kids, and middle-class parents who do provide them may be criticized for doing so.

Anyway, the other day I came upon these two ads, both of which try to sell products by making parents afraid that if they don’t, they’ll be neglecting their kids. This first one makes it clear that this tactic isn’t new; it’s from 1919:

I found it in the article “Standardizing Childrearing through Housing,” by Paul C. Lukin and Suzanne Vaughan, in Social Problems, volume 53, issue 3, p. 299-331 (the poster is on p. 310).

I found this ad in a Las Vegas community magazine. The text lets you know that silver crowns can be unattractive, and that for your child’s sake you better pay for the white fillings (which are more expensive, and the extra cost is often not covered by dental insurance, even when people have it). I also like that metal fillings are called “bling.” Awesome.

Some of the text below the picture:

Being able to see the dental work in your child’s mouth is not always an appealing appearance. A healthy, natural looking smile for your child is our goal…Now you have a choice!

This is a two-page ad for the Tiguan, a “compact” SUV from Volkswagen. Whereas most SUV ads stress how big and powerful they are (often using images and language that associate them explicitly with masculinity), this one does the opposite–its small size compared to other SUVs is an asset in these ads.

I wonder who the target audience for the Tiguan is supposed to be. And are gas prices finally affecting what people are looking for in vehicles? Is being huge no longer the positive characteristic it was, like, 3 months ago?

Marc sent in this image (found here):

According to this site, the photo was taken by Margaret Bourke-White; this site, where you can buy old issues of LIFE magazine, lists the photo in the index for the February 15, 1937, issue. Apparently the people standing in line were flood victims.

This is a great image for sparking discussion about “the American Way” and what that was meant to be (clearly white and presumably middle-class, from the mural), and the ways in which non-whites (and poor whites) are often invisible in depictions of what America is. And, of course, it could be a great image for a discussion of rhetoric and propaganda (for instance, murals proclaiming how wonderful the standard of living is even though the Great Depression was by no means over).

Thanks, Marc!