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On consuming, and consuming, and consuming…

Certain aspects of my lifestyle are a constant source of amusement to some of my colleagues. I learnt pretty quickly as a child that a lot of people thought my buying clothes from charity shops meant something negative about me – my family didn’t have enough money, I didn’t care about my appearance or I didn’t wash properly. I reacted by begging my mum for new clothes every week and not telling anyone about the clothes that weren’t new.

Like most youngsters, all I wanted was to be accepted by my peers and if that meant sulking until I got a new glittery top, then so be it. 90s fashion turned out to be particularly cruel to my pre-puberty body, but I genuinely thought the flared pink cords and the two-sizes-too-small Jane Norman top were my ticket to “popular.” Of course, once I had the clothes I quickly realised that the popular kids were no fun, and proceeded to spend my mid-teenage years experimenting with goth and hippy culture, which was far more accepting of my eclectic wardrobe.

These days I find clothes in high street stores insanely overpriced. I cannot afford to shop in places which I consider to produce good quality clothes and I find myself questioning how anyone else does.
But, as my mother taught me, I have attempted to keep my mind from the business of others and instead concentrate on me and what I’m doing. I think about the waste I create. I think about “fast fashion” and the clothes that end up in landfill. I think about all the outfits I wore once before stashing them for years at the back of my wardrobe. I think about how trying to decide what to wear can actually reduce me to tears some mornings (that’s a story for another day).

A scary question: How has fast fashion even become a thing?

A scary answer: it uses the same model as fast food. It’s cheap and convenient.

We’re already seeing a generation of bloggers and vloggers who are changing the way fashion, beauty and lifestyle products and services are consumed (to name just a few areas). They use their social media followings to market these products or services to people in a more “human” way than current advertising manages; they build a brand that consumers identify personally with, they select which products they advertise and then they give an honest review of that product.  Good review or not, it gets an audience.

For me, the “unachievable image of perfection” that is touted by brands who wear only their corporate slogans is lessening. I feel it is less about our bodies, (although that still needs work and some of my favourite body confidence ambassadors are Leyah Shanks, the #effyourbeautystandards Instagram and the incredible Natasha Devon MBE) and more about our lifestyles.

Can you cook a gluten free cake from scratch? Are you meditating every day? Are you eating “clean”. You don’t go to the gym enough. The desire to post our food and workouts on the Internet, shared between our friends because we crave the social validation that the way we are living our lives is good and healthy; and for those with a competitive disposition, a life worthy of social jealousy instead of healthy personal improvement.

The bottom line is that most of the content we come into contact with on a daily basis is aiming to persuade us to consume by targeting us personally. Everyone knows the function of adverts; they make you want to buy things. But never before has it been so personal and so effective.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a difficult problem, and I don’t have an answer. I love watching YouTubers – I get some sort of satisfaction from watching vloggers opening box after box of clothes that I can’t afford. I spend far more time than I’d like to admit going through clothes websites, looking at the sale items and putting them in the “basket” only to exit the site having made no purchase. I watch “beauty hauls” despite the fact I wear NO MAKEUP 5 out of 7 days a week.

I already have more than enough clothes to get me through the week. I have office clothes, weekend clothes, evening clothes, workout clothes, clothes for special occasions. I don’t need any more. Yet fashion advertising never ceases and I question myself incessantly on my every day choices. Am I jealous that other people can buy new clothes?

I want to consume less.

So I face a decision. Continue to contribute to this, or try not to. As with Madeline Somerville’s How I deal with the unbearable hypocrisy of being an environmentalist, I do the best I can. When I pin myself against the newspapers of popular thought and opinion, I know I can’t be all things to all people, so I do what is best for me.

I know that I’m in this for the long haul and the questions from other people are going to be par for the course. I’m not taking the moral high ground; if you’ve got the money to buy new clothes and you’re excited about it then you go right ahead and do what makes you feel good. I’m not here to bully you into feeling bad about your choices (that’s what advertising does).

I just want you to think about it. I read a lot of stuff from the Minimalists. I have their mantra stuck on my desk at work:

“Living a meaningful life with less.”

I like to drive Tom mad with a question that the Minimalists taught me to ask every time I make a purchase. I want you to remember it, and when you’re unsure about something, ask it and listen to your gut instinct.

Will this bring value to my life?

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