Walking through the neighborhood mall with three year old daughter Amira, this past weekend, I realized how much I’ve changed in recent years. Here’s how. Right after college, I worked for a clothing store as an associate and later as the store manager. Forty-five to fifty hours a week, my life was the mall. I earned my money at the mall and I spent most of it there too.
A year later, when Paul and I got married, I moved up to Seattle with him. Except for a few people that I worked with, I didn’t know anyone but him. To fill the lonely time while he was at band practice, I would drive to shopping mall and shop. I wouldn’t spend much, but I would buy a little something here and there for myself, Paul, and/or our tiny turn-of-the-century apartment. This was a ritual of mine for four to five years.
I remember, one evening, walking the length of the mall looking in the store windows and being surprised by the realization that I didn’t need anything. I mean, I could buy something new or upgraded to replace something that had gotten old … and there were various things that we could use, I suppose … but there was nothing we NEEDED. My shopping trips didn’t end after that, but my relationship to shopping was suddenly on my radar. I wasn’t shopping by rote anymore. I was awake.
Another factor that changed me and how I shop was gaining weight. Gaining weight played a significant role in my early stages of disconnect from the “Average American Mall.” As the pounds came on, the less and less I looked like the women in the advertisements and promotional window banners, and the less I identified with the chic, hip, beautiful and well-heeled demographic that is both built, encouraged, and catered to in malls. I didn’t fit in anymore. And for a time, it caused some depression for me.
So now, you have a woman who realizes she doesn’t NEED anything, and she doesn’t feel like she fits in … what does the mall have to offer her? If there were a lot more women like me, the mall and mass market retail industry would be in for significantly narrower profit margins. But by design, the mall works hard to counteract this kind of situation. The work they do is smart. They manufacture and create “need” for us with their advertising and marketing. They make promises, such promises, that with our purchase we too will experience acceptance, beauty, love, and that extra special quality of “with-it-ness.”
For the last few years, I’ve slipped in and out of being disconnected with the mall culture and an elicit, guilty, and covert wish to find my way back to that elusive ideal seen in magazines, store windows, and worn so jauntily on that bald-headed, size four mannequin in Nordstrom’s Savvy department. (A quickie caveat: Don’t get me wrong here … while you wouldn’t know it to look at me, I love fashion. I love the art of clothing and style. That’s not what I’m talking about here.)
Somewhere between then and today, there was a nail in the coffin moment for me. The mall is dead to me. I saw its grave marker again on Saturday as Amira and I walked through the mall. I saw her studying one of the many designer clothing photo ads that we passed. My mind raced. What are these pictures telling her about life? What does it teach her about who she is and who she should be? It took me twenty-five to thirty long years to wake up. How do I teach her to be aware and awake within the culture we live in?
We are so lucky. There’s so much to be grateful for. Over lunch today, Paul and I talked about what extravagance it is to have a waitress walking around the room with a pitcher of cold, clean water. There are so many who do not have that. Here, we live and breathe in excess and we think that is normal. And, it is.
Okay, so what am I saying here? Let me pull my thoughts together.
The time for not being awake is over. The time for thinking and doing my part is now. I live in a country with more opportunity and resources that the rest of the world doesn’t have. I am gifted with the freedom to make choices. What a gift that is! There are so very many choices. On the cusp of largest shopping day of the year, Black Friday, being awake about how we shop seems a good place to start.