Friday, July 23, 2010

philosophy: New Age Skincare for the Spiritual, but not Religious

Ever since the first time I saw a bottle of "amazing grace" facial cleanser on the bathroom counter at my mother's house when I visited, I have had an uncomfortable relationship with the products from philosphy, an upscale cosmetics company whose products all seem to promise more than just nice skin. In fact, they seem to promise love, grace, hope, and even miracles, in most cases for a substantial pricetag.  The marketing is brilliantly aimed at those who are "spiritual, but not religious."

Each scented product comes with a "philosphy" - a New Age, vaguely poetic and often spiritual inspiration (always, like the product names, in lower case only) that somehow thoughts associated with using this product will create a larger sense of well-being.  With fragrance names like "eternal grace," "amazing grace," "inner grace," "pure grace", "be somebody", "unconditional love", and their anti-aging line: "hope in a jar," "when hope is not enough" and "miracle worker,"each product comes with a script and an air of promise.  

"inner grace", for example, claims to be "...a still, quiet voice that connects us to places that live inside our hearts and places beyond this galaxy and the next. to live in inner grace is to be embraced by the deepest, sweetest peace you will ever know."  All the texts use spirituality "buzz-words"  such as "stillness", "well-being", ":embrace", "soothe," "transcend," "connect" and more. References to long walks, yoga, and other forms of self-care are interspersed with a persuasive rhetoric promising wonderful things and spiritual fulfillment.

Here is some of the company's own rhetoric about itself:

philosophy's promise is to bring its customers products that inspire them to live a better life by being better to themselves. our products care for your skin and your overall well-being.  what makes philosophy unique:

•we take a mind, body, spirit approach to personal care and believe only when you feel good can you truly look your best.

•our products are formulated with scientifically-proven ingredients and technologies

what is "in" philosophy jars and bottles can give you better skin. what is "on" philosophy jars and bottles can inspire better days. we believe in miracles, and we believe in the beauty in everyone.

So, are you unhappy? these products give you self-help ideas to remedy that.  Done something you don't feel so good about?  How about some "purity made simple" with its invitation to recover innocence?  Think these are not trying to be spiritual?  Take a look at the first half of the text found on "unconditional love": 

"the divine journey the the highest and best parts of who you are and why you are here begins with the experience of being loved unconditionally...."

I have a sense that lonely, unfulfilled women searching for something to fill the "God-shaped hole" in their lives are being targeted and seduced into purchasing expensive products. The marketing is not subtle. The texts are aimed to pull at the heartstrings of those seeking fulfillment.

If you tune into the QVC shopping channel with any regularity, there is an entire culture of seduction built around the Philosophy segments.  These products, when on special,sell quickly as thousands of women, hungry for the promised luxury, peace and well-being offered by these products, snap them up by phone or internet ordering.  Some products are so popular women purchase them in huge containers, and have them automatically replenished several times a year.  Obviously, at $40-$80 per item, money is no object in the search for true inspiration!

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