This week, Shmitten Kitten--one of my favorite blogs both locally and in the whole, wide webiverse--hosted a "Break Up Extravaganza." Seems some lame-o dude had the audacity to dump our dear dating voyeur Amanda Mello. And because parading your broken heart for anonymous commenters really is the best catharsis, Amanda disclosed her tasteful tales of woe.
"I still want him to take me to the planetarium for my birthday," she wrote. "I still want to go to Puerto Rico with him in March ... I still want to spend an excruciatingly painful day couch shopping in New Jersey with his dumb ass."
The Shmitten Kitten's "Break Up Extravaganza" was all about the shameless sharing, a refreshing alternative to the usual apologizing for anguish. The Kittens offered no shame about neediness, desperation, retail therapy or drowning in a pint of soul-soothing Ben & Jerry's.
With one exception: Self-help books.
When detailing the vital contents of an emergency breakup kit, Amanda blushingly instructed readers to invest in a copy of It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken, by married duo Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt and Greg Behrendt, the very Sex and the City contributor who co-authored He's Just Not That Into You--which, yes, is now coming to a theater near you.
A million chicks are giddy to see the star-studded self-help flick next weekend. Opening night viewing parties are already sold out, and have been for weeks. So why are the Kittens so timid about advocating the self-help genre?
Looking at the It's Called a Breakup Because It's Broken website, apparently, made Amanda "cringe." She even suggested wearing a disguise to purchase the book (because it seems, for the recently dumped, there is no such thing as Amazon.com). Ultimately, though, she still recommended the tome calling it "helpful" despite the fact it's "corny" and "stupid."
Anyone who's ever been let out to pasture can recognize the humiliation. While dealing with my own shattered heart a few years ago, a friend dragged me to Barnes & Noble's self-help section--which I had previously, strategically avoided--and demanded I purchase a guide or two on how to sort out my post-breakup habits of self-pity, the constant urge to call him and my inability to go more than five minutes without lamenting the possibility of ending up a wrinkled spinster. I balked.
Like the Shmitten Kittens, I thought I was above corny, stupid self-help books. So I ducked behind my oversized shades, scoffed at my friend's recommendations and disappeared into the cookbook shelves, thinking I could overcome my problems with enough cocktail therapy and screenings of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. (Hint: Wait at least 60 days post-breakup to watch that weepy).
I wasn't wrong. I'm healed. Still, though, I wonder, why--like the Shmitten Kittens--I was so averse to self-help at the time I needed it most?
It's not like we'd be alone. According to Micki McGee's Self-Help Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, the self-help industry is worth about $2.41 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Besides the top-selling self-help books (The Last Lecture, The Secret and The Purpose Driven Life, just to name a few) self-help TV and movies are now insanely popular. So much programming--especially reality programming targeted to women--centers on dissatisfaction.
Almost all the shows on TLC instruct viewers how to improve their wardrobes, figures, families, homes, dinner menus and weddings. Similarly, Lifetime has shows about how to look good naked and about the emotional journey of going from "fat" to "fit." WEtv is all about "healthy lifestyles" and "new beginnings" when it comes to love, sex, weddings, fashion, your body, your money and your job. The Style Network offers plenty of confidence-boosting "inspiration" for weight loss, beauty, interior design and, yeah, your wedding. And let's not forget about Oprah, the self-help queen, whose daily therapy sessions educate viewers on how to live their "best lives" when it comes to matters of health, style, relationships, home, food, money, the world and the spirit (the sub-categories of Oprah's ever-instructive website).
And next weekend, thanks to serial dumper/dumpee Drew Barrymore, He's Just Not That Into You is making the leap from self-help book to self-help flick--though admittedly one with a surprisingly decent soundtrack featuring the Ting Tings, Lily Allen, the Cure and Wilco. Will anyone feel the need to wear a disguise to the theater to engage in this collective self-help exercise?
Because when our self-help has disguised itself as entertainment, we're less wary and less resistant to distance ourselves from the fact that we're all emotionally flawed, clueless losers who could all use a little self-help kick to improve our lives.
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