Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Groupon Anxiety: How Opening Up Your Inbox Can Make You Feel Inadequate

Written by Erica Scourti

Every day a flurry of emails from Groupon appears in my, and doubtless millions of other women’s inboxes, promising what adds up to a moodboard of life as it could be—an endless parade of gleaming new smiles, pop-up gelaterias, and vintage sewing classes.

While the dazzling diversity of offers occasionally gets me questioning whether the solution to my problems is actually a course of colonic hydrotherapy, most of the time it just induces a low-level panic I’ve identified as Groupon Anxiety.

The syndrome is characterized by a wistful regret for all the fantastic experiences I’ve never had, and if I am honest, never will have (falconry? what even is that?). It holds out a tantalizing glimpse of the exciting life that could be yours, and the wonderfully well-rounded person you could be, in a parallel reality where time, money, and willing sidekicks were in abundance.

But it’s also the sneaking suspicion that you just aren’t as well-groomed and sleek as some other, unidentified women—otherwise, surely you would already be getting IPL hair removal, not Googling it. (Needless to say, hair removal is a biggie, as are teeth, and pretty much anything vintage—although perhaps not vintage hair removal, even Groupon would balk at that).

The idea that you too could achieve these undreamt-of heights of fabulousness on the cheap seems to tap into two fundamental female hooks: the desire for physical betterment, and the lure of the bargain. In fact, Groupon, and its attendant “anxiety” does seem to be aimed at women, or more precisely, the unfortunately still well-honed sense of female inadequacy that advertising trades on.

Why do we not get offers for nose-hair trimming, wardrobe makeovers, or beer belly reductions? It’s not like there’s any shortage of guys who could benefit from all three. But men just don’t give enough of a shit, not yet anyway. The general attitude is, “I may have a bit of flab or crap clothes, but hey, I’m OK overall; it doesn’t really matter.”

Obviously this is a persistent issue, whereby women are ranked according to their looks, especially their weight and wrinkles (or, in both cases, lack thereof). Despite progress in this department, it seems that as women we are forced into spending time and money on beautifying treatments, potions and, well, tortures (hello, bikini wax!) that men are apparently exempt from.

What winds me up about it—and what Groupon taps into—is this sense of oneself as a never-ending self-improvement project, constantly deficient in some undefined way. And this creates perfect consumers: “Maybe this or that thing will complete me and make me feel good! Yeah, bring on the laser lipolysis!”

Wouldn’t it be great if, as women, we were happy to say: “I may not be ‘perfect’ (whatever that means) but sod that, I’m fine as I am. It’s not in my job description to be a goddess, so why the hell should I be chasing an unattainable ideal of beauty when I could be out enjoying life as I already am?”

Aside from desiring treatments you never knew you needed, and worrying that you must be lacking in some way if you don’t go ahead with them, there’s another aspect to Groupon Anxiety: the reality of the offer rarely lives up to the dreamy tones it’s talked up in.

On the lower end of the scale is the snobbish air that customers are often met with at swanky hairdressers as they pull out their crumpled Groupon vouchers. Then there’s the pitfall of “undisclosed” details, like a shoddy, or even scary location. One friend found herself being pummeled in a disused youth center, which, having visited a fair few in my working life, I have mentally embellished with peeling yellow paint, neon strip lights, and most probably a few dick scribbles adorning the walls.

My own acupuncture session at a Chinese herbal center involved being practically beaten like dough in a similarly neon-lit room before being coerced into buying ludicrously expensive face masks because—as the assistant helpfully pointed out—my skin was so dry and cracked. Having always assumed my skin was greasy, I left with a whole new cosmetic deficiency to worry about. Relaxing, it was not.

But my favorite story came via my friend who cunningly booked a laser tooth whitening treatment on the day before embarking on a round-the-world trip. The timing was meant to avoid the potential shame of turning up to work having to explain a newly-fluorescent smile to colleagues; most (non-celeb) Brits still smirk at the idea of cosmetic treatment. However a story of a similar deal told by a friend gave her last-minute cold feet.

Her “experience” had involved being strapped down in a darkened room, her teeth plastered with a noxious paste that immobilized her jaw, while green lights were beamed at her mouth in what sounds more like a science fiction torture scene than cosmetic dentistry. The assistant then disappeared, abandoning the literally speechless woman in the room to curse her Groupon fate. My friend gave me the voucher instead; I’m still working out if I’m brave enough to attempt it.

The moral of the story is, clearly, don’t believe (too much of) the hype. Just as I and many of my girlfriends have been guilty of taking tickets to fantasy-land with rose-tinted specs in tow on meeting a halfway decent man, Groupon taps into our overactive imaginations and our beliefs (or hopes) that maybe, just maybe, this is the thing that’s been missing, that will make us happy.

We should—in both instances, romance and Groupon—learn to inspect what’s actually on offer. Do I really want or need this? Do I even believe in it? What do previous, erm, customers have to say about the services rendered? If it all sounds too good to be true, it probably is; so take it with a pinch of Himalayan Sufi crystal salt, coming up at a bargain price on a Groupon near you.

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