The following are extracts of « Consommation et image de soi, Dis-moi ce que tu achètes… » (Consumption and compensation, Tell me what you buy...), a book I published in 2005 (pages 108 to 110); it's in French only... for now. In it, I demonstrate that consumption is a form of compensation for some people.
Continuing the reflection on the relationship between product image and self-image, I would like to demonstrate the compensatory role consumption may play for people whose self-image is negative, established by their low self-esteem. I propose to call «compensatory self-incongruity» the relationship between a product’s positive image and negative self-image of a person who nevertheless buys the product, despite the incongruity between both images.
My demonstration involves six types of products (goods or services): perfumes, luxury products (cruises, renowned hotels, designer clothing, etc.), art objects, eating out in a restaurant, cosmetics and clothing. To establish this compensatory self-incongruity, it is mandatory to demonstrate that the image of said products is positive, something confirmed by three facts.
Firstly, those who mention said products deem those to be representative of them; to classify as representative products whose image is negative would violate the self-image enhancing principle. Secondly, the foremost symbolisms associated with these products are all positive. Thirdly, consumption of these products generates positive emotions, such as the feeling of well-being mentioned by all interviewees. Moreover, the persons in question have a negative self-image, as evidenced by their low self-esteem.
Therefore, according to Sirgy, the relationship between the (positive) image of those products and the (negative) self-image of said persons is an example of positive self-incongruity. Consequently, the latter should not purchase the former because the incongruity between images initiates a conflict. However, such in not the case since, on the contrary, these people actually buy these products. I see a form of compensation in this phenomenon; through their consumption, these people want to express something positive about their image, project a more positive image of themselves. This is thus an example of compensatory self-incongruity.
This assertion is supported by the existence of significant differences between those whose self-esteem is weak or very weak and those whose self-esteem is strong or very strong. Thus, an analysis of the level of consumption reveals that 60% of people whose self-esteem is very weak consider that they consume more than most people; this proportion is only 24% for those whose self-esteem is very strong. Significant differences also exist in terms of representativeness of products. Thus, 80% of people whose self-esteem is very weak mention perfumes as products representative of themselves, against 38.5% of those whose self-esteem is very strong; this difference is maintained for luxury products (66.7% against 38.3%), for art objects (60% against 7.7%), for eating out in a restaurant (40% against 21.3 %) and for cosmetics (71.4% against 28.6%).
These results demonstrate unequivocally that consumption as a whole, especially of the products mentioned, is much more important for people whose self-esteem is low; in their case, consumption seems to me to be a form of compensation.