So, let’s say it’s Tuesday. And today on Tuesday I will be going to work, eating lunch at my desk, and then taking a walk at lunchtime and maybe getting a chai latte, even though I know it’s packed full of sugar and I probably shouldn’t.
Look at how sultry and bold Eva Mendes is, thanks to her shampoo.
And I’ll pass, let’s say Coach, on my walk and I’ll see some shoes that are cute, but would be more comfortable with a thicker heel and then it will occur to me that I would look great in those shoes. Like, at a garden party (I’ve never been to a garden party but I’ve seen them in the movies, and they have attractive people, champagne flutes, at least one person to offer comic relief and sometimes light flirtation). I would wear the shoes at at garden party and I’ll be a bit thinner at this party then I am currently and my hair will somehow be thicker and I’ll be in a lovely dress and then I’ll run into a guy who scorned* me or something and they’ll instantly realize they’re an idiot and regret their decision.
That’s how it works in my head. Similarly, if I go to Walgreens at lunch to pick up some milk for my tea, I’ll realize while I’m there that the new dry shampoo they’re selling in the store is profoundly different than all the hair products I own, and even though I’m generally too lazy to really put product in my hair, if I buy this one then suddenly everything will be different and I’ll no longer ever have a bad hair day in my life.
If that happened (no bad hair days) my brain somehow connects that to happiness, and, presumably, other good things, as if people with perfect hair are also smarter, funnier, nicer, richer, and maybe speak a third language or something.
The point being, I’m totally a consumer. Even though I know – I KNOW – I know intellectually that buying new shoes or a new hair product is not going to magically turn my life around, I still have that narrative in my head. It’s very difficult to turn off. Frankly, I’m really not sure if it’s possible (that’s a whole other conversation).
What’s frustrating about this is that I really do dislike the idea of consumer-oriented culture. and I really dislike the idea of consuming products and thereby supporting this cycle when I’m not sure that it’s really good for anyone to have this globalized consumer ideal.
So, to compensate (that is, to marry the two halves of my brain, the one that wants to go to a garden party and the one that knows this is all stupid) I focus on the idea of shopping ethically.
I get really into the notion of supporting local brands and “green” products. It is undoubtedly the most self-indulgent form of armchair activism. And I think about it. A lot.
Toms are the ultimate armchair activist purchase. They’re trendy, they’re fashionable, they donate to charity! You can stick your foot into colorful circles! Community, yay!
I’m not the only one. Lot of people in San Francisco (where I live) are into this idea. No menu is complete here without a list of locally farms at the bottom, no household bereft of earth-toned cleaning products and at least one pair of Toms.
And yet, I can’t help but wonder at how these trends are divided. Over at Sociological Images, they’ve discussed how even something as simple as high-heels can function as a class distinguisher (my spellcheck says this is not a word. I’m choosing to ignore that.)
I can’t say I have any data, but I feel like much of this dialogue is contained to spaces where upper-middle class white people operate. (Well, I’m not a scientist or a pollster, so really, I never have ANY data. Just access to Wikipedia, and the ability to make angry YouTube comments.**)
In seriousness though, my garden party revenge fantasies (that just got darker) never involve me wearing a fashionable garment from Walmart – it’s always a funky dress from a local store. Probably a more expensive store. This line of necessity that I have in my head (you MUST look chic, you MUST shop ethically) pretty much guarantees an expensive wardrobe.
Similarly, my farmer’s market trips and locally sourced meat from Whole Foods and Bi-Rite aren’t what you’d call cheap. Although I’m not exactly wealthy, I do have a much firmer landing pad than most people, and have to wonder at the availability of this option to most others, and additionally, at the participation of different classes in this dialogue.
Do I only notice (generally white) yuppie 20 and 30-somethings talking about this because they’re the people I’m most likely to spend time with, or because they are they only ones participating in the conversation? Is this kind of activism beneficial, or merely avoiding the actual work of dealing with bigger issues? If it is only a few groups of people engaging in this concept, is that because we’re on to something everybody else doesn’t know about, or does everybody else know something and we’re all hung up on this silly idea? Or is it because it’s a conversation that is either not welcoming to different groups…or taking place in a space that other groups can’t engage in?
I’m not claiming to have the answers to any of these questions. But they’re all questions I’d love the answers to. I certainly hope that trying to only support conscious retailers will have a positive effect, and it stands to reason that is the case. I also hope that this is an effort that many people are participating in, and I’m only witnessing a small slice of it.
Additionally, I want to point out that (!) hooray (!) thrift stores are totally cheap, AND a non-wasteful use of resources, plus they fulfill that consumerist itch. That said, I feel that thrift stores do have some classist issues as well. Although my neighborhood is replete with them (we funky, y’all) if you’re living in say, suburbia, then shopping at a thrift store where the selection is likely to be dated, is really forcing to adopt a certain style. One that might be ostracizing in some cases, especially if it’s a certain look that you don’t feel defines you, in a world where people are heavily judged on their appearance.
*I don’t actually think I’ve ever been really scorned, per se, but it works really well for this particular fantasy.
**I’ve never actually left an angry comment on YouTube. I’m not that person. Seriously. I have no idea who those people are. If you’re one of them, I’d love to hear the thought process behind that decision.