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Led astray in the age of the experts

Last update - Thursday, March 11, 2010, 10:45 By Tara Fannon

We live in a media-driven ‘expert’ age, one in which we’re repeatedly told by those who know better that we must constantly improve out lives. As a result, there’s no limit to the amount of information available to us through which we can better ourselves.

Self-help industries and literature, new methods of self-control and self-monitoring enable us to renovate, re-invent and re-think ourselves. But at the end of it all, we are left with just ourselves to determine what ‘expert’ advice is correct, and what isn’t.
This is problematic when we comprehend the sheer magnitude of it all – it’s both appealing and repellent at the same time. One need only turn on the television at any time to find an endless slew of shows either instructing us how to make ourselves look more handsome or beautiful and feel more confident, or exhibiting those who are already more beautiful, handsome and confident.
Some of these are better than others: shows like 10 Years Younger and How to Look Good Naked do provide some seemingly helpful advice and encouragement. Yet something often isn’t right.
We curiously watch as someone undergoes televised liposuction or strips down to their smalls, in one fell swoop making peace with the body shape they’ve rejected their entire life. And everything presided over by the ‘experts’ – strangely militant, not always genuine, yet maintaining a smile at all times, the weapon they use to break people down in order to remake them.
To be fair, not all of what we come across in the media has the potential to be entirely harmful. There are plenty of resources which provide sound advice on just about anything related to self-improvement. Nonetheless, it’s evident that we’ve become obsessed with looking good, feeling good and living well.
Certainly one can argue that there are far worse things to be obsessed with. Really, can wanting to look or feel better be such a negative thing? But therein lays the danger. Being bombarded with so much information, even from health professionals and credible organisations, make it easier to accept that all of it must be true. It has become too difficult to separate the good from the bad.
Despite this, we’ve still come to see and understand ourselves though what we learn in the media. They tell us that we have to look and feel better, provide us with ways to do this, and we take it all in without question.
On the one hand today’s new media can indeed be useful tools in educating ourselves about things that we have an interest in. They also give us a certain permission to assert some independence in own our lives. But on the other hand, such tools can be hazardous, because there are no limits.

Tara Fannon is a Sociology student at UCD. Her column appears monthly in Metro Éireann

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