What’s the Opposite of Retail Therapy?

You can tell this is not me because: A) She’s wearing heels B) She’s tall C) She looks like she enjoys shopping D) All of the above

“How did it go?” W asks, looking into my cart.

“Hrmph,” I say. “Three items, after all that.” A pair of khaki shorts, a pair of gym shorts, and a tank top lay in a small heap. I’m thinking of the garbage bag full of no longer wearable summer clothes that I weeded out of my closet. Including these shorts, I’ve still got only two that fit right. And I didn’t find a single plain, colored t-shirt, the bulk of my shopping list. All of them were too long, awkwardly cut, and stretchy in the wrong ways. Or maybe it’s my body that has turned appallingly lumpy.

“That’s not bad for a quick shop,” W consoles me.

He doesn’t mean I’ve shown admirable restraint. He is reminding me that this expedition wasn’t altogether unsuccessful. Shopping makes me anxious. It’s not clinical, like an agoraphobic response to being in a big store full of people. I just hate shopping.

I know: women are supposed to love shopping. That’s what the advertisers tell us, anyway—buy and you will be happy. I watch in bewilderment ads full of smiling (tall, skinny) models laden with bags of clothing. Are there real women like this?

I guess part of my issue is continually rediscovering that I no longer have the body of a 17-year-old, a fact I manage to hide from myself when I’m not in a brightly-lit mirrored fitting room.

Plus I’m filled with self-loathing after contributing to the swollen pockets of corporations whose politics I hate. Today I gave money to Target, which is funding major efforts to prevent some of my friends from marrying the people they love. The part of me that refuses to spend more than $12 on shorts and avoids malls has won out against the politically motivated side and I’m feeling badly.

Then there’s the pre-emptive buyer’s remorse. Even before I check out I know that once I get the clothes home I’ll find they really don’t look good on me either and I have to hang onto them because otherwise I’ll have to go naked, which is really frowned upon in our culture, besides the fact that it’s too cold most of the year to go au natural. And did I mention that I don’t look like a supermodel?

There was a time when I enjoyed shopping, back when shopping meant a day out with my mom.  Right through high school we’d cram into the dressing room together like best friends. Well, we were best friends. We could hear mothers and daughters arguing in the rooms around us, but we were giggling at the outfits that didn’t work. She always took the attitude that I was perfect the way I was, so if the jeans looked funny, they were just weirdly shaped.

Clothing always baffled me, even as a teen, particularly deciding what colors matched. My mom seemed to have a good color sense, and I knew she would only point me towards flattering clothes, so mostly I relied on her judgment. I remember several trips when she’d say, “This color looks nice on you,” and then we’d build my whole wardrobe for the season around it.

When I was in middle school she zoomed in on a bright teal. I ended up wearing that color so frequently that one close friend used to refer to it as your-color-blue. In her own wardrobe, my mom favored earth tones but for me, she liked bright colors. After years of my-color-blue, one shopping trip she handed me a button-down shirt (with eighties shoulder pads) in banana yellow. She said it brought out my blue eyes. Only years later did I realize that even though my mom thought everything looked beautiful on me, yellow isn’t really a flattering color on anyone. But back then, I felt great wearing that shirt.

What I wouldn’t give for my mom to be around to hand me some outrageous outfit and convince me I look radiant in it.

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