The Dark Side of Being a Material Girl

Living in a material world will leave you poor and lonely

In 1984 Madonna sang out that we are living in a material world. Almost forty years later, Saucy Santana has TikTokers now declaring they are a “material girl”. While the songs may sound innocent enough, the truth behind them is much more sinister. Yes, materialism has become the new world religion, but it does not deliver salvation, just suffering. Materialism has impacts on your finances, your friendships, your sexuality and intimate relationships. So if you choose to be a material girl, expect to end up poor, stressed, insecure and alone.

What Is Materialism?

Materialism is

a value system preoccupied with material possessions and the social image they project.

It places overwhelming importance on physical objects and believes that these, and their inherent statements about identity, are the most important things in life. The way that materialism has shifted our values and has us pandering to the preaching of marketers means that it fits the definition of religion perfectly.

Materialism fits the definition of a religion in that it is:

  • A set of beliefs, behaviours and practices. Materialists believe that the right phone, shirt or car or skincare product will make them happy and show success. So they watch people who appear successful and happy, find out what phone, shirt, care or skincare they use, and then set about replicating these possessions in their own life.
  • An externally driven dogma. These beliefs and behaviours are founded on the prime concerns of appearance, image and what others think of you. They are based on the tangible world of being seen to have and do the right things. A person’s sense of worth is established through objects and possessions, being merely the superficial layer of their full existence.

Ultimately, the materialist religion is based on fear – the fear of never having enough, never being enough, of being ridiculed and rejected. It is also a clear indicator of insecurity. When a person does not feel that they are inherently worthy, they will continually try and put on layers of protection, to convince themselves and others that they are ok. 

And while we all like to think of ourselves as strong and independent adults, there are gods in this religion dictating standards of what makes a great life. These gods disguise themselves as marketers and politicians. Marketers manipulate your greatest fears and your deepest desires to make you buy stuff. Politicians pull the policy strings to ensure all the economic indicators are moving in their favour – employment, GDP, business confidence, consumer spending. Growth is good, and growth is fuelled by people buying stuff! Growth will get them re-elected and preserve their power.

Materialism Hurts

Don’t get me wrong; if anyone wanted to give me a trinket from Tiffany & Co or a pair of Chanel boots, I would quite happily take them! I like beautiful things just as much as the next YouTube Influencer. Appreciating and celebrating magnificence is life-affirming, whatever the object may be. The danger comes when appearance and possessions turn inwards and become to define your sense of identity and worth. 

With the religion of materialism, what you have becomes more important than who you are. The true, full and beautiful you tend to get lost in the fuss around maintaining facades. The dangers of a materialistic preoccupation are real and were foretold by the 18th Century poet Lucien Jacqu:

“Humans are nourished by the invisible. We are nourished by that which is beyond the personal. We die by preferring its opposite.”  ~ Lucien Jacque

Materialism creates death and destruction in all aspects of our lives. It reduces our sense of wellbeing.[i] and reduces the amount of attention we have to give to our relationships. The research shows that when the materialistic values increase, life satisfaction, self-image and contentment with romantic relationships decrease.[ii]. People are also more likely to pay for cosmetic surgery when they place the greatest importance on the tangible and material appearance of things, especially themselves.

Moreover, rather than having us feel part of a tribe, materialism breeds a sense of loneliness and isolation. In turn, this loneliness promotes more consumption, as more things are sought to fill the emotional void.[iii].

It seems that being a material girl (or a material boy) is a sure way to end up sad, anxious, and alone.

Materialism Impacts On Your Sexuality

So, what the hell has all of this mayhem around materialism got to do with sex? Well, there is an inextricable connection between our spirituality and our sexuality. Our fundamental beliefs inform our thoughts around gender, attraction and pleasure. Our views about our life purpose and importance also impinge upon our motivations and goals for intimate relationships. This connection also works the other way, as so beautifully put by Alice Walker.

“Sexuality Is one of the ways we become enlightened, actually, because it leads us to self-knowledge.”

Now we get to the juicy bit. If you are willing to agree that the modern religion is materialism, then for most people, their driving purpose is material success, with all of the associated trappings of tangible goods and acknowledged identity. Their values revolve around possessing more of the “best things” and having the right appearance. They are fundamentally afraid and insecure but plaster these doubts over with possessions – of goods and labels. So, it is inevitable that these values and behaviours will feed into how they understand and express their sexuality.

They will not define their own gender identity – they will have it defined for them by what is trending on TikTok that day. They will not be true to what they feel is attractive – they will be driven by what they are told is crackin’. They will aim to own the best labels (sexy, hot, tight, thick, smokin’) and seek to rid themselves of the inferior labels (slut, whore, loose, cheap, nasty, skinny, wanker). They will desire to have the best boobs, butt or biceps possible and work to acquire the “right” boyfriend or girlfriend. Concerning pleasure, they will allow the sex marketplace to define this for them – allowing porn in all its forms to dictate what they should enjoy. And when it comes to intimate connections, they will focus on the most tangible of artefacts – sex. In fact, other people’s desire to have sex with them will signify their level of worth in the world. Sex becomes a commodity sold with a promise of status, pleasure, success and happiness. It is something to get, not something to share.

Instead of our sexuality enabling greater self-knowledge and a connection to our higher selves, we use it to relieve our superficial suffering, to gain recognition, acceptance, and as a yardstick of success. And instead of our sexuality enabling full, mutual and meaningful connections with others, it turns others into achievements and trophies.

Community and Humanity Lose Out

When your sense of purpose is rooted in having stuff, you will never be content. There will always be something more to have. In this way, when you are a materialist, your life is driven by the dictates and dogma of what other things you should have or should be. You lose your sense of autonomy and an individual sense of purpose. You lose your ability to understand and share your unique gifts with the world. You lose, your community loses, and the whole of humanity loses.

More than the impact on the individual, materialists are not activating the important second element of spirituality – being true to something bigger than yourself – and so are sacrificing their great contribution to a broader community. Whether it be their family, neighbours, profession, humanity or all creatures on the earth, they all lose out because the materialist is obsessed with their aims for possession. This loss of greater meaning is devastating and is shown in the continual increasing prevalence of violence, addiction, depression, and our planet’s destruction.

Materialism is pussifying our potential. While we are distracted with our busy lives, it is stolen, smashed, mangled and sullied, and then sold back to us in pretty packaging at an exorbitant profit. It is not just our debt levels that are suffering as a result. The preoccupation with materialism is repressing our whole human evolution.

Why Is This So?

Why do we allow this to happen? Why have we let materialism become the norm? We have seen how destructive it is. So why are we letting our children follow this painful path and damage their minds, hearts and relationships? I believe there is one core reason.

We have forgotten about spirituality and its life-sustaining power.

Perhaps this is because we confuse spirituality with the concept of religion? Or perhaps we think we have become so smart that we don’t need spirituality anymore? The reality is that we are purpose-driven creatures. We exist to find meaning in life. If we are not in touch with our true selves, aligned with our values, and supported by a caring community, it is not long before a vacuum of identity is created. As Missy Jubilee says in her amazing film Weapons – “It’s never good stuff that fills a vacuum.”  And in this case, her wise words ring true.

Materialism has filled the vacuum and brought along its posse of depression, anxiety, isolation and loneliness. It is sold to us every day by marketers and politicians as a path to happiness. This my friends is fake news.

Wise up, get brave and stop letting others steal your amazing spirit for their own selfish aims.

Belinda is the Series Executive Producer of the Future Sex Love Art Project

[i] Tim Kasser et al., 2013. Changes in materialism, changes in psychological wellbeing: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment.

Motivation and Emotion. DOI 10.1007/s11031-013-9371-4

[ii] Leavitt, Chelom & Dew, Jeffrey & Allsop, David & Runyan, Samuel & Hill, Edward. (2019). Relational and Sexual Costs of Materialism in Couple Relationships: An Actor–Partner Longitudinal Study. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. 40. 10.1007/s10834-019-09617-3.

[iii] Rik Pieters, 2013. Bidirectional Dynamics of Materialism and Loneliness: Not Just a Vicious Cycle. Journal of Consumer Research, DOI: 10.1086/671564.

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