It’s a peculiar phenomenon: humans are simultaneously trying to survive and kill ourselves off.
Exhibit A: WebMD has millions of viewers a month.
Exhibit B: Cheetos.
Albeit funny, and kind of odd, I also recognize the tragedy of our dual drives to survive and self-destruct. Because deep down, I think most of us probably want to live — as long as possible, without debilitating illness.
If only we didn’t have those stupid obstacles in the way.
So this is my area of inquiry, and the reason behind this blog’s name. How can we survive in spite of ourselves (and marketing)?
My interest in the obstacles to health arose when I was writing for U.S. News’ health blog several years back. They eventually let me ditch the “top 4 things” posts and report on phenomena like smellvertising and gymphobia. I also wrote for the weight loss company IdealShape for 6 years, listening to so many of their customers describe their struggles, frustrations, and hard-won triumph.
My curiosity deepened. I was hungry to understand the complex forces that shape our health.
I was also hungry for chips, all the time, and I could put away a whole bag in one sitting. Sometimes I still do. It’s awful. Advice in women’s magazines to “crunch on carrots instead of chips” made me want to snap the advice-givers’ fingers in half. OBVIOUSLY CARROTS ARE NOT CHIPS. I CAN EASILY STOP AT ONE CARROT.
But perhaps I could chalk up the chip addiction to a salt and chemical loaded formula — and maybe some clever marketing — and if so, I might be empowered to break their hold on me… to fight back.
Cheeto fingers aside, I was also motivated to get in on the research action, and help to fill some of the gaps in our understanding of how to survive and thrive despite so many forces against us. This (and my own anti-survival instinct to sleep less and drink more?) ultimately drove me to graduate school, where I am now, at the University of Utah.
I study persuasion in health contexts — things like psychological reactance and message effects — building on the insights I absorbed from working in magazine publishing, journalism and marketing. I’m also a member of the Health Communication and Technology lab at the U of U, where our focus is cancer communication.
I still have one foot on the journalism side. Because what good is gleaning all this knowledge, if it doesn’t spread beyond the ivory towers?
Or just read this, one of my favorite posts, about Starbucks rituals.