Thursday, 1 October 2009
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?
Posted by alisha at 23:54