The Commodification of Self-Esteem: Branding and British Teenagers


  • The authors would like to thank the reviewers and the editor for their very useful and constructive comments on previous versions of this paper. They would also like to thank all the participants for their time.

Correspondence regarding this paper should be sent to: Katja Jezkova Isaksen, Boeneslien 99, 5155 Bergen, Norway.


This study explores the role of consumption in the lives of British adolescents, with a particular focus on its role in forming and maintaining self-esteem. Through a large qualitative study, over 100 adolescents revealed their attitudes and feelings toward consumption—particularly fashion. It was found that as a result of peer pressure and the importance of conformity among adolescents, consuming the correct possessions at the right time, is essential for social acceptance, gaining and maintaining friendships and thus self-esteem. This paper argues that self-esteem has been commodified. The consequences of failing to “keep up” with consumption trends were revealed; these include social exclusion, negative peer evaluation, and reduced self-esteem. Moreover, these negative consequences were particularly pronounced among adolescents from low-income families who, in contrast to their financial status, were eager to purchase the more expensive brands. Adolescents appear to have a striking awareness of the role of branding, advertising, and peer pressure in forming their consumption attitudes, yet they are unable to resist them. The findings from this study highlight the need for a rethinking of the more traditional components of adolescent self-esteem.