This Strange Desire: On Materialism & Image

Day 3 of 365, October 9, 2009

It’s obvious to anyone who looks at me that I care about clothes.  Aesthetics are important to me.  But more than that, let’s face it, I have thing for clothing.  Shoes.  Bags.  Scarfs.  Coats ….Oh, and my favorite in the fall: hats!!  I collect brooches. When I am particularly self-aware it’s a little sickening. It is materialistic.  But I just enjoy the hunt and enjoy creating a look.

I am also sometimes guilty of prejudging a person based on their way of dressing; their hair, glasses and shoes do say a lot about a person, I have always thought.  But now I’m seeing that it says something more about me.

It is hard to face this superficial response in myself, but at the very least I thought it was an internal issue sort of between me and my maker.  And not so obvious to others.  I was wrong! (More on this later.)

Beyond that, I struggle with addictive, compulsive behaviors so I have been known to go gonzo at thrift stores.  I love deals. It is the missionary kid in me who just beams in pride at finding a name brand jacket for $3.50 at the Goodwill.  But then I find shoes that match, and five more  jackets, all name brands and I buy them all.  This has caused stress to our finances and consternation in my marriage.  I should go on record to say that I have the most understanding and forgiving husband, although he has his own little issue with guitars.  Don’t we all have something? And I digress.

For me it’s clothes.  And I got to thinking about how much time, energy and money I spend thinking about this thing, which can only be summed up as IMAGE.  Ew!!  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and it is hard to admit, sadly, how much I consider these things. But what really got me thinking is something that happened with my daughter, Emma, who is eleven in her first year of middle school.

Getting ready for soccer she declares she “can’t go” because she can’t show up at Dock later (church group) sweaty and gross!  Of course I begin to wax eloquent about how she knows that’s not what’s important. It’s her personality that will make her friends and it’s her character that will keep them … and she shouts over me from the stairs, saying something she doesn’t even believe (I hope!)

“How – you – look – is – everything!

That – is – how – people – decide – if – you’re – worth – talking – to!”

What have I done?  It has gone too far.

I heard an advertisement recently saying “Just because times are tight doesn’t mean you should have to stop wearing designer labels!” 

As I sit on the stairs, looking at my daughter I face the superficiality that I have lived, colliding with the values that I want my daughter to have.

And I came face-to-face with the fact that my need for and desire for self-expression was having a poor impact on my daughter.  And as I had already been facing it, which is how god seems to work in my life, I ready myself to pledge  to face this consumerism, materialism and image-focus in my life, by refusing to shop for clothes for myself for 365 days.  (I actually started two days ago, so I have 363 day left.)

I am rejecting the United States economic system that says consumption as ‘patriotic’ and the messages that we constantly hear that  image is what makes a person good, attractive and interesting.  I face  my own hypocrisy, while hopefully being an example to my daughter that she is more than the Old Navy skinny jeans and Converse tennies that she wears.  I am more than my Calvin Kleins and Danskos.

As a 43-year-old mother of four, hausfrau, I have very few things in my life that differentiate me from others.  I live in the suburbs, until recently I drove a soccer mom van for eight years.  But surely my house, my car, my clothing do not define me.

I believe that intellectually, but I am not living that way.  As an aside, it took long enough but thankfully I recognized the car thing before I bought myself a cute little JEEP and opted for the Honda Accord.  (I’ve longed for that JEEP since I was 16,  but that teenage dream dies here.)

I remember a  young New York socialite I met at an Urbana convention, who was so confronted by her own materialism & consumerism in contrast with the needs of the world’s poor, that she pledged to not buy clothes for a whole year. Of course at the time I thought she was nuts and felt a little jealous because I could never do that!

But, as I sat there staring up at my daughter on those stairs, I knew that’s what I would do.  I can do it.  I will.

I like challenges and so for one year I will see what it’s like to not cave to trends of fashion or consumerism.  I will use what I have.  Borrow if need be.  Get by with what’s in my closet.  Thankfully, I already own a lot of clothes and accessories.  (And I will always take donations from friends.)   There will be times when a special event will come up and I will find this hard: like Tom’s work trip to the Bahamas.   Remind me then what I have said here and we’ll see how it goes!

For now, who knows what I’ll do with all the unspent money.  A donation to my church’s Advent Conspiracy Offering, for sure. Around Christmas time, last year, they encouraged us to give up one gift and give it to the poor raising over $100,000.   It was very cool.   But kids grow quickly as well.  Irregardless of the money I wonder what this will teach me about my fragile sense of self?  Of course, I will blog (maybe once a week) on what I am learning, or reflecting on, people’s reactions, my own issues.

And, if by now you’ve decided that I am crazy but you agree with the idea of doing something you just don’t buy into a whole year, you are in luck.  November 27th is International Buy Nothing Day here in North America and the next day elsewhere. Buy nothing for one day.  It will send a message, make you think, give perspective.

Although nominated five times, Mohandas Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize.  He once said: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” and he also said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Children are always absorbing Culture, Priorities and Values from us and I capitalize them intentionally.  Many time much more so than our words, our actions show them how to live.  Thankfully, it’s not too late.  No so suddenly, I know that my desire is to live honorably and to teach my beautiful girl something good, lasting and though difficult will profoundly change both of our lives.

See this for my 2nd entry on My Year Without New Clothes.

8 thoughts on “This Strange Desire: On Materialism & Image

  1. Melody, I have similar issues with money and clothes as well. You and I could do some serious bargain-hunting damage together. I have not yet had the courage to do what you have been doing, though I have scaled way back over the past two years as I too have watched my daughter empty out a portion of her closet to find the “right” look.

    Judging people based on appearances is a dangerous thing. I’ve found myself being judged as folks make assumptions about how much I must spend to dress the way I dress. We all have bad wiring between our hearts and minds.

    Keep us posted on your clothing fast!


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