8 Shocking Signs of American Excess

Here in America, we do everything bigger. Our skyscrapers are taller, our toilets have more-powerful flushes, and even our beauty queens are prettier than those from the rest of the world. We like our reputation as the home of the biggest, the best, the grandest, the fanciest, and the most luxurious.

Except that commitment leads to some pretty embarrassing displays of excess. We Americans are used to a level of abundance that many in the world would gawk at; in fact, it can be downright embarrassing. Other countries and other cultures have their vomitoriums, desert ski resorts, and the Taj Mahal, but when the rest of the world talks about America as the original land of outrageous, inexcusable, and stomach-churning gluttony, this is what they’re thinking of.

1 Man v. Food

In this television show for the Travel Channel, Richman tours the country, looking for the biggest, most fattening, most heart attack–inducing plates of food. And then he eats them. Or he tries to, anyway. Seriously—that’s the whole premise: how much food can Adam Richman stuff into his gullet? In a world where 1.7 billion people live in poverty, this show could only be the product of a country airing no fewer than eight weight-loss reality shows on television as of December 2010. In other words, screw you, poor people!

2 The $5 Million Bra

Apparently, diamonds aren’t quite as rare as we’re made to believe, because each year, Victoria’s Secret uses several pounds of gemstones to create a special Fantasy Bra for the holidays. The 2010 model features 1,500 carats of black diamonds and rubies costing a total of $5 million. As extravagant as that may seem, it doesn’t hold a candle to the $7 million bra from 2006 or the $12.5 million 2005 version. Although the company acknowledges that no one has ever actually purchased one of these brassieres, that doesn’t stop it from making them. Apparently, Americans are so desensitized to seeing boobs on parade that now the only bosoms that warrant attention are spangled ones.

3 “Noisy” Sun Chips

In 2010, Frito-Lay developed a plant-based compostable package for its SunChips line of snacks. Good green news, right? Wrong. Sales of the chips plummeted because consumers—the same ones who flaunt their eco-friendly shopping totes and refuse to consume high-fructose corn syrup—refused to buy them. The reason? The bag made too much noise. Yes, a little extra crinkle and crunch offended Americans’ delicate aural sensibilities, forcing the manufacturer to go back to the original landfill-clogging bag. The biodegradable packaging is still available in Canada, however, since Canadians somehow believed that a little extra noise was worth it to help the environment. Go figure.

4 The Neiman Marcus Christmas Book

Fancy a life-size likeness of yourself made of Legos? How about a portrait of yourself in chocolate syrup? A two-man submarine? A backyard waterpark? If you have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to burn, all of these delights could be yours, courtesy of Neiman’s legendary Christmas Book. In it lie the kinds of outrageous, outlandish gifts that no one thinks to ask for … because no one actually needs them. But that doesn’t stop people from buying them anyway.

5 Triple-Ply Toilet Paper

That soft, plush toilet paper Americans favor comes with consequences: that softness requires the kind of virgin wood fibers found only in untouched old-growth forests, which makes logging for the purpose of creating toilet paper a significant cause of deforestation. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that if every American household used one less roll of regular toilet paper and replaced it with a roll of recycled paper, it would save 423,900 trees per year. Recycled-paper toilet tissue is widely available, but it doesn’t sell well. The reason? Too scratchy. Americans refuse to wipe their butts with anything but the best.

6 Waxes for Children

If there’s one lesson a prepubescent girl should learn, it’s that her body hair is dirty and wrong and no man will ever love her unless she rips it out. Of course, grown women have taken this ethos to heart for years, but now the waxing trend has spread to girls as young as six or seven, with many urban spas even offering discounts for child clients. According to the New York Post, several New York salons offer leg, upper-lip, and, yes, bikini waxes for little girls. Advocates point out that waxing fine “virgin hair” can be more effective, saving the child from a lifetime of repeated and painful wax jobs. Opponents, of course, counter by pointing out that even if it’s more effective, it’s still pretty sick.

7 Teen Cribs

Who doesn’t love watching the spoiled children of the nouveau riche flaunt their indoor swimming pools, bowling alleys, personal recording studios, and basement disco arcades? The kids featured in MTV’s display of conspicuous consumption are shown hanging out by their foyer waterfalls or showing off their custom closet installations—you know, like normal, everyday teens do. The message of the show isn’t that being rich makes them better, kinder, or more interesting people; it’s that when you’re rich, your parents love you more.

8 The $161 Billion Wedding Industry

According to Condé Nast’s American Wedding Survey, the average American wedding cost $28,082, for a grand total of about $161 billion spent on tooth whitening, personalized M&Ms, monogrammed bridesmaids’ tracksuits, favors for every guest, and, of course, plastic surgery to look perfect on Your Most Special Day. It’s no longer enough to throw a nice party with good food for your nearest and dearest—nowadays, if you don’t have a second dress for the reception, a horse-drawn carriage to transport you to the ceremony, a midnight milk-and-cookies bar, and a chuppah decorated with $10,000 worth of Peruvian orchids, you might as well accept that your entire marriage is doomed to fail.

America may be the Land of Plenty, but seeing a restaurant serve chocolate cake topped with twenty-four-karat edible gold leaf suggests that we’ve turned into the Land of Slightly Too Much. Any one of these obnoxious displays of our nation’s wealth and security should give us pause and make us think about those in the world who’d be grateful for our table scraps. Surely, many immigrants would love to come to this country to make a better life for their families by working hard year after year until they, too, can achieve the American dream and buy their teenage daughter a Brazilian wax and her own petting zoo. U.S.A. #1!

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