11/28/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Dark Side of Designer "Must Haves"

Did I really just see a picture of Sarah Palin's 7yr old daughter, Piper, carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag? Are you kidding me? I was so struck by this picture and the fact that nobody seems to be commenting on the absurdity of the situation, that I felt compelled to do some digging.

I logged on to the official Louis Vuitton site and found the bag that looked most similar to the one Piper carries in the picture; the Popincourt Haut, retails for $975. It would take the average American two and a half weeks working 40 hours a week at $10 an hour to pay for that bag. Outrageous!

Please don't get me wrong, I am not out to vilify Sarah Palin or her daughter. They are merely pawns in this game of "women and girls need to look good in order to be accepted". I don't see John McCain, Joe Biden or Barak Obama spending $150,000 on clothes and $22,000 on makeup in a two week period. Why is that? Because they are men, and men are not routinely broken down into parts. Their worth is not being measured by beauty and designer clothes. What kind of message does this send to our daughters? It tells them that in order to be valued you must be pretty, appealing, alluring and wearing the "right" clothes and accessories, whether or not you can afford them. The implication behind that message is that your intelligence, imagination and talent are secondary to how you look.

Let's look at how unconscious and wide spread this message is. I recently rented the Sex in the City movie. Aside from the difficulty with the flow of the film, I was taken aback at the appalling focus on designer goods, from shoes to clothes, to jewelry to bags. I began to notice myself feeling inadequate and questioning my life choices because that's not the way I live. I don't own those things...what's wrong with me? I'm a successful therapist in private practice -- a self-made woman. I've worked hard all my life, never expecting a man to support me financially. And I am being influenced by fictional characters!

By all rights, I should be able to afford to dress like Carrie and Samantha. Right? Wrong! Show me a woman working as a columnist for a newspaper living in NYC who can afford a closet full of $700 - $1,200 shoes. We are used to seeing such completely bogus representations of reality, we no longer question them. Many years ago I read an article comparing the TV life of the Friends characters and the Ally McBeal characters and their real-life counterparts. The discrepancy between what the TV characters would earn in real life and the apartments and life styles they have on TV was enormous. Of course I know television is fictional, but kids can't necessarily make that distinction. They live in a world where anything is possible and are easily influenced by what they see as "real." They don't yet have the life experience or cognitive ability to distinguish between the glamour in media representations and its relationship to reality. Case in point: As a teenager I saw a magazine ad for nail polish. The model in the ad was pretending to be an auto mechanic and she had these beautiful, long, perfectly polished nails. I thought at the time that it was possible to work in a male dominated job and remain perfectly glamorous and sexy. Can you imagine an auto mechanic with a perfect manicure? I laugh now, but at the time I actually saw the ad as empowering women! I honestly didn't have the frame of reference to know any better.

And even if it were possible for most of us to afford these items, is it the smart choice? Wouldn't buying a home, a condo, or investing in a retirement fund with the tens of thousands of dollars spent on designer items bring more stability, financial security, and lessen anxiety than having to have the latest Christian Laboutin's? Where are our priorities as women? Why do we allow others to dictate where our self-esteem and empowerment comes from? Jimmy Choos are not the fundamental building blocks of self-worth. We need to take responsibility for our choices, by not buying into illusion and passing it along to our children as truth.