No, this title doesn’t imply that we’re going discuss whether Jesus used shampoo. He probably just rinsed with lake water, and on special occasions poured some “oil upon the head” (Ps 133:2), something to make most 21st century readers (but not all) scrunch up their face and ask why. Instead, our present discussion has more to do with how Jesus went public with what he had to offer, versus the methods of commercial marketing. In a word, Jesus didn’t advertise.
One area of some of the most shameless and plainly exorbitant advertising is hair products. If you’re at all like me, you may have taken a brief moment in the shower to read the back of the shampoo bottle. Once you begin a study of these “texts,” you quickly learn that you’ve entered a rather exotic field of word play.Shampoo companies employ some of the most outrageous rhetoric in the marketing sector.
L’Oréal promises “radiance revival” with their OleoTherapy Deep Recovery Mask. Their little sister brand Garnier Fructis offers a Hydra Recharge product “with encapsulated beds of superfruit goji berry… and kiwi fruit water.” Organix grabs your attention by ingredients such as alluring eastern oils: “These healing powers work their magic with every spray. This lightweight mist protects and heals your hair while infusing it with lustrous shine.” Pantene Pro-V outdoes the rest with their “Age Defy” shampoo line: “Turn your shower into the Fountain of Youth!”
I had once thought shampoo was just soap for your hair. They all have the same main ingredients: water and lauryl sulfates, i.e. detergent. But after browsing the market variety, I’m tempted to believe there really are more excellent grades than others.
But here’s the advertising ploy. I hope by now you’re picking up on some of the basic patterns of shampoo rhetoric. They all begin with general assumption, which plays upon our dire need: your hair… is damaged. All things are conspiring against the health of your hair: the environment, the humidity, even other products themselves. If you’re not careful, you will look lousy.
Then they offer a special formula, to bind up and heal your split ends, and to restore life and moisture to your desiccated scalp. All of this, of course, is drawn from a common pool of buzz words: nourish, fortify, cleanse, protect, replenish. All are gorgeous words, which seem to stay on the tongue even after we say them. They build up in our minds an ideal image of how soft and strong hair really should be. (We borrow this image mainly from commercials, from those waves of golden tresses falling across the television screen, which communicate in the space of a twenty-second ad one simple message: Shimmer!). True enough, hair hygiene is a genuine human need. But in the background, every company is after your money, doing their utmost to have you notice their product. And when the market gets competitive, the rhetoric soars higher than before.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re no doubt asking yourself what any of this has to do with Jesus. I’m writing as a Dominican friar, so I’m expected to bring in some religious angle, on this up-to-now absurd piece about shampoo. Let’s restate what was said at the beginning: Jesus didn’t advertise.
All advertising gets at one thing: You use words or images to build up an image around something, to make that product appear “more” than it actually is. Jesus had the opposite agenda. Like marketers, he began with basic human needs. Unlike marketers, he didn’t use that towards any gain for himself. He didn’t make “more” of himself than he actually was, for he himself was in fact “more” than we could handle or understand. God’s goodness is so great, he had to disguise and dilute his glory, to slowly teach us and gently lead us back to knowing him. There is a gentleness in God’s bashfulness when he was on earth, in taking his time with us and teaching us clearly and carefully through his many words.
Jesus didn’t have to advertise. He was authentic – another buzz word of our day. Being authentic doesn’t come easily. Most of us advertise, at least initially. On every first date, first meeting, or first day of school – you present yourself in a certain light. You tell only certain stories, or recount certain interests. The same goes for Facebook page. You want to present an image of yourself. In a certain sense, we’re trying to “sell” ourselves. All of that’s a fine start, but if real love or real friendship is going to occur, you need to arrive at a place where you can just “be yourself” with another person. Once this happens, real friendship has happened.
The same goes for holiness. Being holy won’t make you the same as everyone else, some blueprint like the rest. It makes you more yourself. Thank God that God “is himself” with us. And that’s what we need most, someone who will never try to deceive us or promise more than he actually is. We need that with each other, and we need that with God!
So go ahead and shampoo however you want, and you might even give into advertising and buy some enticing products. Just don’t let the attitude of those products become your attitude among real people in your life. The best insurance against that is to keep up ties with the most authentic person to have lived this life – Jesus Christ. Giving ourselves over to him makes us more authentic as well, and we begin to become more ourselves when we’re with him.
Image: Fabergé Organics Shampoo