Thursday, 1 October 2009

Recovering from fashion anorexia

I hate and fear winter. I think winter in England is particularly oppressive because when I go to work it's dark, the sun shines for a bit, then gets tired and it's dark again by 3pm. When you don't have a car and you're waiting for buses in the cold it seems unfair. So as a protest act I usually wear my flip flops as long as possible and delay getting my winter coat out of reverse hibernation until it's absolutely essential. This year I'm thinking of getting a new winter coat, as I'm not sure I can bear busting out the four year old grey thing that is now more functional than anything else. I thought I'd scatter my jacket pinings throughout this entry, but it's really about recovering from fashion anorexia.

My old gray coat is symbolic to me of having absolutely no money when we first moved to Birmingham four years ago. It was a really hard time financially (and in lots of ways), but through it we also learned some great lessons about contentment & simplicity. It was forced on us, but slowly I really got into this idea of living with less and less, rather than more and more like society instructs us. After a few years, when I'd go home to America and go to a mall it just seemed so gross and indulgent and selfish. Plus, I had just started working at an international development NGO, so it's easy to succomb to this mentality of 'who am I to place importance on what I wear when 5,000 children die each day because they don't have proper toilets?!'.

At some point my simplicity became a fixation, a source of pride almost. I become subtley addicted to not buying things. I'd get a mini-high from being too good for materialism. Like, look how righteous I am not caring about my clothes or not wearing any make-up. But really, people didn't think I was holy, just disheveled, or ill. With this addiction came resentment, because my personality isn't Amish.

I heard a great story about a woman that we work with in the DRC - one of the most difficult places to live in the world. She had made some money from a loan our partner organisation had lent her. And with that money, do you know what she bought? A handbag! At first I was like, whoa, that's a bit indulgent...a handbag - lady you need to prioritise. Then it dawned on all of us: this woman had lived in poverty and conflict her whole life, and if she wants to buy a handbag, let the woman buy a handbag dammit! Because a handbag for her was about dignity, expression, creativity and not merely surviving.

(I love this coat in black!)

As I've been recovering the creativity that was squashed in the last few years (plug for The Artists Way by Julia Cameron), I'm starting to recognise again how important fashion is, that it's not holy to have a dull and ratty wardrobe. (I'm not talking about £500 handbags here, I'm talking about a new dress from H&M!)

I know I'm a bit odd. I tend to struggle with issues that are polar opposite to 'mainstream' problems (like, 'help! I'm addicted buying shoes'-ism). I'm just trying to navigate my way between two things I really value:

Creativity, style, expression, empowerment, design


Simplicity, justice, contentment, and sustainability.

They often feel in tension, but I think they're integrated somehow.

Has anyone else been unhealthily addicted to consumer-deprivation?


Jess Fouche said...

Interesting reading your thoughts Lish- I am recognizing some very similar thought patterns in my mind (wow aren't I great I use old jars to store my home made food instead of buying a boat like my fellow church goer... for example:) and while there is so much to be said for simplicity and sustainability, there is also a balance where our creativity can come alive without agonizing over buying a new outfit or art supplies, etc. There is also a lot to be said for knowing why we live the way we do- I so want my bottom line motivation to be generosity instead of that pat-on-my-own-back feeling of satisfaction that is rooted in pride.

I think you are amazing and I love reading your blog. Cheers to letting creativity loose!

Jess Fouche said...

one more thought... I've been thinking more on all this as I play trains with Judo this am- our desire for simplicity and justice can and should lead to a more creative life- that out of it can come resourcefulness and a way to use what we have in more ways than one. We can have both our creativity fulfilled while living in light of justice and sustainability when we do buy things when we know what our money is going toward- and supporting fair trade, companies that treat their employees right, etc.

alisha said...

Thanks for your thoughts Jess. (I do love how you have so many jars btw :) ) I like what you say about our desire for simplicity and justice can and should lead to a more creative life. It's so true that they need to be interconnected. What's the point of me indulging my creative spirit through buying something that has exploited somebody else?

It's all about balance isn't it? And being gracious with ourselves when we swing too far one way. :)

Nadine said...

I go so far into not spending money, that sometimes Matt has to remind me to live.

And my big exciting shopping purchase this year (i.e. my only shopping purchase) was a trip to Old Navy, buying 5 shirts and 2 pairs of pants all for under $100.

But I do miss those heavy coats for winter...

negar said...

hey im in love whit the sailor jacket wear can i find it pleas I relly like it : )

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