Glamour: How Pictures/Videos can Make us Want Things

Insights for leveraging the power of glamour to improve self-awareness and avoid its dangerous ability to pull one away from intrinsic goals and objectives

There’s a power in photography/videography which I’ll extrapolate to the field of marketing and advertising that has the power to move you and I. I became aware of this power after reflecting on one of my 5 minute Instagram binges of endless scrolling. During one of these scroll-throughs I found myself saying “I want to have that”, “I want to do that,” “I want to be that.” After reflection I wondered how these pictures and videos invoked these desires and perhaps something similar has happened to you. I’d encourage you to be cognizant of this phenomenon the next couple of times you get on Instagram or watch a show you love. That Instagram moment is when I hypothesized that photography/videography could be used for more than visual entertainment and wanted to understand the power it had to invoke yearning and found an answer with the help of Author Virginia Postrel. Postrel wrote a book called Glamour that provided a perspective of why all those “wants” popped into my head whenever I scrolled through Instagram timelines or watched my favorite shows. This article distills my key takeaways which I think can help you harness the power of glamour and protect yourself from glamour’s ability to distract you from internal goals and desires. I think this awareness will help you limit being unconsciously driven by outside influences.

What is glamour?

Postrel asserts that “Glamour reveals the truth about what we desire and, sometimes, what we can become.” I partly agree with this and would add that glamour can also be used to create an idealism that people think they should desire or pursue. I’d argue that disciplines like advertising and marketing sometimes use glamour to create consumer demand for things and influence cultures. The ability to recognize these idealisms requires a certain level of self-awareness that I want to help you cultivate.

I’d encourage you to verify this with your own experience, but I’d say you can classify something as glamorous whenever you feel a visceral pull towards an object or think thoughts like “I want that,” “I want to be that”, etc. In addition,  what you find glamourous will, in some cases, differ from what I or another person finds glamourous. Whenever you come across something glamorous, there are a few scenarios that may play out depending on the level of self-awareness you have around your personal goals and aspirations.

  • If you have a strong understanding of your goals and desires something glamorous can:
    • Provide evidence that your goals can be achieved
    • Confirm that your goals/desires are genuinely desired and not a product of extrinsic motivation
    • Challenge you to be non-conforming and disregard something that other people are pursuing
    • Lead to a reorganization of your goals and priorities if you find the glamorous object to be something you truly want
  • If you don’t have a strong understanding of your goals and desires something glamorous can:
    • Reveal an aspiration or goal you weren’t fully conscious of
    • Lead to the creation of a new goal or aspiration
    • Cause you to chase something that you don’t genuinely want but think you should pursue

I found the show Suits to be glamorous in college, and in retrospect, I think it influenced a few of my collegiate and professional decisions in both positive and negative ways, which I’ll touch upon in this section. I liked the entirety of the show but the object of glamour that influenced me the most was Harvey Specter. I perceived him as being socially skilled, well-dressed, and competent at his craft which were traits I personally wanted while in college. Moreover, I thought the combination of those attributes gave Harvey incredible influence, which was a trait I valued the most. I’d bet that being the eldest of 2 siblings and wanting to guide them positively gave me a heightened awareness and respect for influence.

I’m able to articulate why I found Harvey Specter glamours now, but it wasn’t until I interrogated my admiration years after working professionally for several years that I more clearly understood why. While watching the show in college and months after graduation, I wanted to be like Harvey Specter. This manifested itself in my desire and pursuit of jobs that I thought mirrored Harvey’s professional lifestyle. These pursuits fortunately led to getting jobs in consulting, software engineering, and product management, but I had an undercurrent of stress and anxiety while working in these roles. With reflection, I learned that some of that stress stemmed from chasing fulfillment that was dependent on external circumstances like the type of treatment I received from others, the type of job I had, and the type of outside opinions people had of me. During college and my early professional years, I didn’t have the self-awareness to know that it was the influence I perceived Harvey to have that primarily made him glamorous to me. Had I had that self-awareness I would’ve self-reflected to figure out how I’d personally like to be or acquire influence rather than obtain influence by being another Harvey Specter.

Using glamour to better understand yourself

I think that understanding what you want is one of life’s greatest and toughest tasks, but discovering and noticing what you find glamorous gives you   clues. This data could lead to more questions and, in some cases, more questions you may not be able to immediately answer, but these questions are often the pathway to more conscious living.

So next time you scroll through your Instagram or see an artifact like a picture or video you adore, I suggest you take a second and ask yourself…”What do I find glamorous in this and why?”

Power of Glamour book:

Why I recommend being wary of glamour

In some contexts like marketing and advertising, glamorous things are not true reflections of reality but are artificial constructions of some sort. Whether it’s models with expertly done makeup, photo-shopped pictures, or manufactured scenes or events, things that are perceived as glamorous may not only be unrealistic images but may be downright unachievable. Someone unaware of those realities and glamour’s influential power can be compelled to advance agendas or pursue things they wouldn’t if they were aware of glamour’s power. Depending on intent, I think glamour can be a manipulation tool.

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