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On a recent trip to I learned a new term, “flexing”. Flexing means to outwardly brag about one’s clothing, body, lifestyle, car, house, really anything that people attach ego to. And you know that we attach ego to almost everything. In economics you’d call it conspicuous consumption, spending money on luxury goods and services to show status or economic power. Conspicuous Consumption is hardly a new idea. It was first mentioned in 1899 by Thorstein Veblen in his book The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions.
Since the dawn of civilization we’ve had to “signal” the opposite sex as means of reproduction. Animals “flex” as well, think of a Peacocks tail, does it really need to be that big and colourful?
Over time evolution has changed the mechanisms of how we signal, and technology has only made it worse. We want to be portrayed online as someone suitable to mate with. A suitable mate means rich, attractive, smart, popular, all those things we were self conscious about in high school.
Do we always need to share what we’re doing? Why do some people only show the nice parts of their lives? Are they immune to shitty days? Or could it be we’re lying to ourselves thinking we need to prove our existence to our friends.
Studies have shown that when we’re down on ourselves we’re more likely to buy luxury goods. In Martin Lindstrom’s Brandwashed, he references how kids with lower self esteem will rely more on brand names than kids with a higher self esteem. Lindstrom sums it up in the book with: “the larger the logo on the clothing, the lower the self esteem”.
From the book Spent the author says all consumerism can be traced back to the root cause of trying to attract a mate. If you think about it, pop culture, fashion and any new trend is about portraying ourselves as better than others and more attractive to potential mates.
Just how it got it’s name, “signaling”(pronounced “flexing”) is doing something in public that makes people think about you in a certain way. Generally conveying status, people signal others in hopes of convincing them of something.
This is why brand name clothing will always be popular. It’s a way to signal I have money! (even if you don’t and spend a large portion on hype beast gear). This is why people who never share on social media regularly go on vacation and post every day.
Or the bigger the flex the less they feel confident in themselves. It’s sad really but it’s always been true. I used to wear my brother’s Tommy Hilfiger shirts back in elementary school because I thought it gave me status. Sure at the time I felt more confident but it was a false sense of confidence. What you wear, drive, live in or vacate to are simply things, they aren’t you. Expensive things seem amazing at first but they loose their sparkle after a while, forcing you to make another expensive something.
That’s not a flex at all!! Specially because these people can literally afford any vehicle they want.
It’s a funny thing in our world: we spend most of our younger years wanting to show the world we have money but once we make a lot of money we tend to not care what the world thinks.
So maybe we need to just not care what the world thinks, maybe we need to ask ourselves if we’re buying things because of others or for ourselves.