I had an upsetting experience while at the local Shoppers Drug Mart last week.   I went to Shoppers last Thursday with my two children.  Hannah is almost 5 years old, and Isaac is 2.5 years old.  We needed to purchase the plastic covers for our ear thermometer, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for being organized enough to do this before one of the kids caught the next cold.  The problem began when we were waiting in line at the check-out.

For the first time in all our visits to Shoppers, Hannah became transfixed with the magazine display.  As I watched her staring at the magazines, I read headlines about celebrities being praised and scrutinized for their bodies, the latest methods to shed 10 lbs in a just a week, and fitness solutions for the upcoming bikini season .  When Hannah asked me what the magazines were all about, I stumbled for the right words.  I wasn’t prepared for her awareness at such a young age.  I told her that they are just “silly” magazines filled with pretend people who don’t look real.  She replied “hmm, they do look a little strange”, and promptly ran off to the candy display.  By this time, my son Isaac had stuffed about 10 chocolate bars into his jacket and was begging me to buy them all.  Hannah joined in, and very predictably they ended up in tears as I helped them to put all the candy back. 

Why was this so upsetting for me?  Every day I meet women who are trapped in the struggle of trying to achieve an impossibly “beautiful” body, the image that is represented in that magazine display.  They develop an unhealthy relationship with food in the context of this struggle and, before long, are on a dangerous and self-destructive path.  At the same time, our society is facing an “epidemic” of obesity, particularly among children.  Foods that are deemed unhealthy, such as the candy so prominently displayed at the check-out, are certainly a contributing factor to this issue. 

Shoppers Drug Mart is a well known and respected pharmacy in our community.  I recognize that they carry far more merchandise than just medication, especially after having to walk through the “beauty boutique” area before the entering the main section of the store.  But Shoppers is still a pharmacy, and as such I hope that I am not out of line in expecting that items they sell promote the health and well-being of their customers.  The magazine and candy displays at the check-out area are not just unhealthy.  They also create a fundamental contradiction.  How does one live up to such an unrealistic standard of beauty, particularly in a culture whose food leads to the extreme opposite?  How should I explain this to my children as we leave the store? 

I came home feeling frustrated and disappointed, but refusing to feel powerless.  I sat down and wrote a letter expressing my concern to the Manager of the Shoppers Drug Mart.  Will my letter convince him or her to make a change?  I doubt it.  The displays in such a huge chain are certainly dictated by the higher powers that be.  But hopefully it will make that Manager think twice when walking through the check-out area.  Perhaps that Manager will even consider what his or her own children are thinking while they wait patiently to pay.