I’m not having a go at Fairy Liquid itself, per se; I’m sure it really does clean with the power of an overnight soak in just ten minutes *sparkly wink*. It’s more the idea behind it. Check out the video below: beautiful, perfectly made-up mother with healthy, glowing daughter and an immaculate house. There’s an obvious, feminist objection to this, but it’s SO obvious that I’m not going to waste space on it here. What I’m really becoming aware of is the idea that life should be like this, sparkling and happy and whatever troubles you have, they can be washed away like the built-on grease that other detergents just can’t shift *repeat sparkly wink*.
I can’t take the credit for this observation, it’s my mum’s, but I am coming to realise how true and how damaging it is. Just don’t tell her, or she’ll be unbearable. The truth is that so many of us struggle with the idea that life should be perfect. Not just mothers with an immaculate house and/or a successful career, but a general Happy Ever After for everyone – the perfect job, the perfect house which is in the perfect neighbourhood with perfect decorations and perfect children singing Christmas Carols around the piano which Mother plays perfectly while Father puts the perfect star on the perfect Christmas tree. Or, perhaps, the perfect holiday in a Mediterranean resort where children splash merrily while Mummy relaxes with War and Peace and Daddy doesn’t need to check his stockbroker because his perfect PA is taking care of everything (but he might just check in anyway to make sure). And after they come home from their wonderful holiday the rest of the summer is a glow of green and gold and blue and paddling pools and fresh orange juice every morning. Anyway, you get the idea. Advertising has been drumming it into us for the last, what? 50 years? that unless you have some version of this life, you are a FAILURE. You have failed your family, your society, your own potential. You contribute nothing to the community, you are a waste of space, you’re obviously not trying hard enough. Is it any wonder so many of us end up with depression and anxiety?
There’s a growing awareness of this pernicious culture, for example Oliver Burkeman’s book The Antidote or The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. But I’m not sure there’s enough, given the growing invasion of advertising into our lives. We still persist in the idea that there’s some elusive THING – a book, a gadget, an experience, a way of life – that will give us the life of the Fairy Liquid adverts. I was delighted lately at a meeting of school governors to hear that County Durham is intending to roll out a mindfulness programme across its secondary schools; I wish everyone had access to something like this. I’m trying to begin meditation and mindfulness myself, to become aware of the fact that this, what I’m living now, this is my life. It’s far from perfect (particularly lately) but it’s what I’ve got and the Fairy Liquid advert isn’t just difficult to obtain, something that I can aspire to – it’s completely fictional. IT IS NOT REAL. It is unattainable and two of the greatest lies being fed into our brains at the minute are that it is attainable, even necessary, and that if I’m not there yet it’s because I’m just not trying hard enough. It doesn’t help that there’s a scarily fast-growing blame culture – our problems, the reason we’re not in the Fairy Liquid ad, aren’t just our fault, they’re the fault of immigrants or single mums or the unemployed. If I’m not trying hard enough, they mustn’t be either. Well guess what – they’re trying their damndest too. We all are. So don’t blame them, or your spouse, or yourself, if you’re not in the Fairy Liquid ad.
No-one is, and no-one ever will or should be.