Corporations entrench societal privilege by making it okay to discriminate against people, they make it normal. When corporate giants such as Tesco and Asda put ‘mental health patient’ Halloween costumes on sale, what they’re really saying is that it’s okay to laugh at this particular issue.
Whilst this is in the past and they retracted those costumes, I was shocked that a year later Wal-Mart (Asda’s parent company) introduced ‘fat girl’ Halloween costumes on its website. I am astounded as to why anyone would think this kind of labelling is acceptable. What’s more frightening is the juxtaposition of their lack of sensitivity with their influence over society.
I am not claiming there wasn’t public outrage over both of these ‘hiccups’. But I think there’s a ‘sheep-mentality’ problem with society today where we don’t think for ourselves.
We only revolt against the actions of corporations when an intelligent individual expresses that something is wrong, adequately explains why it’s wrong and thus why we should agree with them. Usually this is done over social media—we jump on the bandwagon and criticise corporate decisions until offensive statements are retracted, or in Asda’s case, until the costumes are removed.
Some might argue in a moment of brutal honesty that we do recognise the acts of corporate giants are morally questionable, yet we choose to ignore them until it’s seen as socially acceptable to criticise them.
For example, if you are not affected by mental illness at the present moment in time, you are more likely to detach yourself from the issue and concentrate on your own life rather than spending time and energy standing up for a cause that doesn’t directly affect you.
If this is the case and society does recognise that particular acts are offensive to particular people, I would suggest we adopt a more overtly altruistic approach. Mental illness can affect anyone without prior warning and without that individual doing anything to cause it.
The World Health Organisation report that around 450 million people currently suffer from different mental disorders, making mental illness among the leading causes of ill health and disability worldwide. What’s worse is that it is estimated nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help.
To know that companies endorse and encourage stigma and discrimination either through intention or negligence is something we should all be personally standing up against. It really can happen to anyone, and the fact that people are embarrassed or ashamed to get treatment is something we should all carry the weight of. People deserve to get the help they need.
Similarly, not all cases of obesity are self-inflicted. There are a number of possibilities as to why individuals become overweight, but there is such a stigma attached to appearance based around laziness and apathy that people are made to feel marginalised at the hands of the key market players.
In my opinion, keeping an open mind and an ‘anything could happen’ mentality allows us to really put ourselves in others’ shoes which stop us from disregarding others and making them feel inferior.
Whilst I love and appreciate the fact that companies rely on the support of the public which to some degree makes them accountable for their mistakes, I think it’s important to recognise that we should be individually sensitive to issues such as mental health and insecurity before issues become topical and someone writes an article about it.
It really does start with personal morality, sensitivity and compassion. One in three people are affected by mental health issues over their lifetime. 64 per cent of people in the UK are deemed overweight or obese. The quicker we grasp the realities of the statistics, the quicker we stop marginalising affected individuals.
I am not denying we should promote a healthy society, but if we can recognise something is offensive and wrong personally before we revolt collectively, our communities will become full of individuals sensitive to what others are going through, which to coin a phrase, really can make the world a better place.