What does “selling out” really mean?

When I meet a marketing expert, especially one in consumer media, I immediately see “branding”, “outreach”, and “content creation” cross their eyes. My gut twists. An invisible shell grows instantly around me. All because I don’t think that matches who I am.

But what does it mean to “sell out” anyway? When I started promoting the Kickstarter and spreading the glory of the Ice Cream Travel Guide, I received many emails. Want to help up promote dairy, one said. Another invited me to take part of a food blogging event. Yet another suggested that I take part of radio shows and TV appearances. I hesitated and selectively chose ones.

Working in design, which touches advertising and marketing, I am familiar with all that nomenclature. Based on research, people don’t like being advertised to. They don’t want to be told Use our household soap to open your pores! and our vacuum cleans 10x as fast and efficient as the one you own! I pride myself on being authentic and real, but in doing so, I realize that I am losing by not letting others know who I am.

Yet, it’s partly because as much as it doesn’t seem like it, I value my privacy. It’s a risk to be vulnerable. So of course, I show scorn at the lifestyle brand of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Blake Lively’s Preserve. Someone in their team thought: what if we take a well-known celebrity and make it into a brand?! And that’s what it turns out to be. An empire of fashion lines, household beautification techniques, recipes that *gasp* the celebrity eats, and curated videos that “show” glimpses into the celebrity’s life. I raise my eyebrows when I read obviously designed language to not drink Earl Grey (since it contains bergamot; reality check, only if you’re allergic to oranges) and the juice cleanses believed to cure all (reality check: the body is made for cleansing; a cleanse may feel clean only because it’s psychological). But who knows, I am just this Asian chick in San Francisco who doesn’t really get it. But then, I realize that by putting yourself out there whether it’s a horrible marketing message or not, there will be someone even if it’s only one person who will love you. Even if it’s just your parents.

And so I continually write in this blog, a place that I haven’t promoted to anyone for nearly a decade. Partly, it’s because I am afraid of the above. The scorn that I show others is likely the same that will occur here. So I remain in my safe place, not growing, squeezed in this perfectly controlled box. I am stunting myself by that fear, yes. But in the moments that I send words out to literary magazines and publications, I hope that someone would hear my voice. Not because it’s about selling things, but because my work is good.

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