I Almost Drowned in the Water Bottle Craze
Water bottles have turned into something bigger and more sinister. And no one was more surprised than me when I fell into a Stanley-induced trance in Target.
Last week, I went to Target to get three vaccines. Well, the pharmacy within Target. I’m not getting juiced up in the dorm linens aisle. But I am dumb enough to schedule three vaccines in one day, rendering my right arm useless for 24 hours. But, for once in my adult life, I got somewhere 15 minutes early and the pharmacist suggested I just wander around. Easy. Great! Doing nothing and looking at things is my favorite pastime.
I made my way through the board game aisle and then checked out some greeting cards. This was an express Target so the clothing section was small and nothing other than the standard variety pack of Hanes underwear piqued my interest. Coming off the holidays, I was pretty shopped and random stuff-ed out. Even the themed earring sets that I am usually dangerously susceptible to purchasing weren’t speaking to me.
Eventually, I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a cathedral of water bottles: Owala; Stanley; Contigo; pinks; mint greens; powder blues; bright yellows, girl colors, woman colors, huge tumblers, mega huge tumblers, tumblers so big they might legally be coolers. All of these water bottles were brands and colors I’ve mindlessly watched a blonde woman (I couldn’t tell you which blonde woman. All blonde women?) evangelize on Tiktok, their clicky-clacky coffin nails tapping on the stainless steel or BPA-free plastic products. “Y’all are gonna love this one,” she (all the blondes) promises. Y’all (me) do.
I went into a slight trance. Which one do I want? An inner voice that did not sound like my own demanded I answer. It was some sort of deep, animalistic voice, harking back to my early shopaholic ancestors. Staring at the wall of colorful metal vessels turned me into a ravenous chimpanzee, ready to scoop food into her arms. Pink. Big. Hydration. Shiny. Matte. Water. Yum. Must. Have.
By some miracle, I snapped out of it and averted a fate where I went home with $250 worth of water bottles. But the trance I had been in was alarming. I already own three water bottles: one for my bike, one for home, and one that once lived on my desk at work before getting laid off. To that end, I spend 80% of my waking hours these days at home—where I fucking have cups. I do not own a car that these cups can fit into (a huge selling point of them, I’ve learned). And I don’t tend to go on rigorous outings that deplete my hydration levels in any way. What the hell came over me?
The simple answer is TikTok. And marketing. And social media campaigns. And the women with the clicky-clacky coffin nails. Over the last year, and especially the last month, water bottles have transformed into something bigger and frankly, more sinister. Stanley, a century-old outdoor gear brand that used to have a predominantly male client base, saw their profits increase from $70 million to $750 million over the past four years once they began marketing their 30 oz $35 “Quencher” bottles to women. Specifically, three women from Utah (2/3 of whom are blonde for what it’s worth) who ran an influential consumer blog called The Buy Guide that recommends products for moms, started promoting Quenchers to their audience. It was such a hit and they were in such demand that the women convinced Stanley to let them sell the water bottles wholesale to their readers. From there, the water bottles’ popularity grew, Stanley worked more closely with The Buy Guide women to promote new colors and designs, and the male-centric outdoor brand quickly transitioned into a lifestyle consumer brand targeted at women. And if 2023 taught us anything, between Barbie and The Eras Tour, it’s that women have purchasing power. Quelle surprise!
Staring at the wall of colorful metal vessels turned me into a ravenous chimpanzee, ready to scoop food into her arms.
Cut to New Year’s Eve 2023 (a few weeks before I found myself in the Target aisle) and Stanley released a limited-edition collaboration with Starbucks at Target. That holiday evening, people—mostly women—waited outside the stores and rushed in, Black Friday-style, to buy these water bottles. Hashtags for these brands—Stanley, Hydro Flask, Owala, Yeti—are flooded with women showing off their collections of dozens of colorful, ginormous, expensive, 35 oz, 40 oz, and 64 oz water bottles, worth hundreds of dollars in total. It’s nuts!
The hypocrisy of creating demand and over-consuming reusable water bottles isn’t lost on anybody. The consumer trend has received plenty of backlash in comment sections, on social media, and in articles calling out such hypocrisy. Some (though not all) of the conversations are wrapped in some “ladies be shopping” type sexist bullshit, but a growing number of people are calling out the rise of social media-fueled conspicuous consumption.
Having read these critiques and watched these water bottle-hoarding TikToks with judgmental skepticism, I (turns out!) wrongly thought I wouldn’t be so sucked into the desire for one. I, who proudly resists so many trends; I, who doesn’t shop fast fashion or even have an Amazon account; I, who, again, already have three fucking water bottles. I was completely insatiable upon seeing them. I had a thirst that could only be quenched by 40 ounces of pink, stainless steel.
It freaked me out. I hadn’t realized how subconsciously influenced I’d become after scrolling past dozens of videos of women in the front seats of their cars or perched at their spotless kitchen islands showing off giant, temperature-controlled water tumblers. My favorite hobby of “doing nothing and looking at things” betrayed me. My brain was no longer fully in my control. I realized I had placed some sort of pride in othering myself from those water women, that I’d leaned into a real “not like other girls” mindset. But here I was, like the other girls, enraptured by a small vessel meant for water and, let’s be honest, probably Diet Coke in some situations.
During that moment in Target, I did what the experts advise in situations of potential gluttonous overconsumption (as well as bear encounters.) I backed away slowly. I implemented the 24-hour rule: If I was still thinking about water bottles in 24 hours, then…I would need to seek psychiatric help. Twenty-four hours later I was in the throes of covid booster symptoms and while I was religiously drinking water, my burning and urgent need for a Stanley or an Owala or Hydro Flask had simmered. And thank God, because, unlike these TikTok queens of suburbia, I reside in a small Brooklyn apartment without pantries or the extra space necessary for a fourth water bottle.
But long after feeling returned to my deltoids, the urgency and obsession that overcame me in that Target aisle still lingers. The riptide of overconsumption is strong. Ultimately, I find it to be unethical given the climate crisis our world is facing but I now understand the pull of it, which has given me more empathy for these women. It’s addicting. No one is safe from the clutches of capitalism, no matter how many critical articles you read about it. It’s all-encompassing, it’s exhausting. It’s important to stay hydrated to keep fighting against it. Try cups.