In this commentary, Danya Alandur reflects on the ways that companies use targeted advertising to exploit insecurities experienced by neurodiverse women.
This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.
“They definitely made this for me,” I thought to myself as I let out a defeated sigh. Yet another company had managed to successfully stop my daily Instagram scroll with an advertisement that seemed directly aimed at me. After ruling out the possibility that my diary had been leaked, I realized that being a neurodiverse woman makes me an ideal target for businesses to exploit. My bank balance was at the lower end thanks to these companies vulturing over it.
As a woman, I’ve long been aware of the notorious pink tax (costs added to products marketed toward female-identifying people) and have encountered it in almost every aspect of my life. What I hadn’t registered was the compounding effect of my neurodiversity that makes dodging these attacks of capitalism so much harder. It’s almost like most companies advertising to me were founded with the mission to take advantage of insecurities that women like me have.
Every aspect of my neurodiversity has made me feel like I would never be good enough unless I fixed my “defects” (read: symptoms of mental health conditions) by spending every penny on things that promised to do this for me. A productivity app that claims to cure my executive function? Click. A new blend of essential oils that relieves me from anxiety attacks? Click.
My experiences of being harmed, instead of helped, by the mental health system only made matters worse. Anxiety conditions are over-diagnosed in women while ADHD is severely under-diagnosed. Research indicates that women are almost twice as likely to receive an anxiety diagnosis while men are ten times more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis. Both these circumstances create a unique opportunity for capitalism to thrive on the backs of neurodiverse women.
In my diagnosis journey, I was first identified as having generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and depression. It was years before there was any mention of an ADHD diagnosis. The professionals I went to had failed to realize that all my other conditions developed as a way for me to mask my undetected ADHD, mostly to fit into gender roles. A huge chunk of my stress stemmed from my struggle to meet the standards and expectations placed on me starting in childhood.
My undiagnosed ADHD manifested in a way that went completely against what is stereotypically expected from a woman in our society. Being disorganized, loud, outspoken, bold, and often unpleasant due to emotional regulation challenges is tough enough without having people expect the opposite from you. I had been conditioned to tie my worth to how well I can walk the tightrope of being a well-kept and well-mannered woman. This added to my self-image and self-esteem issues, which companies then swooped in to take advantage of. I often think about how I could’ve saved myself more than just money had my ADHD not flown under the radar due to inadequate mental health resources for women. But I was left without support to deal with the consequences of a broken mental health system. Now, a lot of my expenses revolve around treatments, services, and products not covered by insurance to cope with the disastrous effects of not getting my ADHD diagnosis sooner, like disordered eating.
Paying the pink tax for purchases like menstrual products, cosmetics, and everything else that costs more when it’s marketed toward women is extremely draining. Having to factor in the cost of also feeling like I need to keep my neurodiversity at bay is my personal hell. Every day I face the pressure of buying something new in order to feel more accepted. Thanks to my severe rejection sensitivity, I feel like I have no choice but to give in to that pressure.
What bothers me most is that the very systems and structures that cause me to pathologize my experiences are the ones that demand I fix them by giving up my time, money, and energy. Companies that invest so much into targeting and exploiting neurodiverse women clearly don’t care about investing in improving the mental health system. Instead, they make us feel ashamed of our valid neurodiverse behaviors in order to exploit us. But my body image issues are not something I can fix by spending my money on the newest diet pill. They are a consequence of having anxiety and growing up in a culture that perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards. Healing these issues starts with self-compassion and self-acceptance, not the shame that most marketing tactics make us feel.
Our capitalistic culture values taking advantage of the vulnerable and as a neurodiverse Indian woman, this is a harsh reality for me to accept. But I’ve started to combat this by rejecting discriminatory standards instead of rejecting myself. There’s nothing to spend money on fixing if I lovingly accept myself, “flaws” and all. My neurodiversity is not a deficit that needs to constantly be made up for at the cost of my priceless peace. You can take that to the bank.