“As I lay in the darkness, all I could think about was going to the local shop, buying bottle of vodka and some paracetamol, and killing myself. My life had become a nightmare.”
“The only thing that stopped me was that I didn’t even have enough money to buy the vodka and pills.” (2)
Her problems began when she went off to school to study fashion journalism at the age of 18. Banks began offering her huge overdrafts and credit card offers for her kept coming in the mail. Since she had never had much money at her finger tips, it was very tempting to treat herself to nice things.
Below image from http://www.about-face.org/goo/
She states, “I was living in a student house and driving an old car, but being able to dress up in new clothes and have expensive haircuts made me feel good about myself.” She expressed the fact that she loves clothes and that with this money at her disposal, she began buying pants she liked in every color instead of just one, splurging on designer sunglasses, and buying a full ensemble instead of just one piece. However, she explains that because she was never spending a large amount at once, she never realized she had a problem. She was spending about £500 more than she was bringing in each month, relying on fifteen different credit cards to feed her habit.
Finally, she began noticing the debt piling up. She refused to open her mail and avoided the problem. I wasn’t until she had thoughts of suicide that she finally reached out to her parents for help. They helped her determine that she was in £30,000 worth of debt. Lucky for her, her parents took out loan to save her from declaring bankruptcy and she is now paying them back by payments of £139 per month. (2)
What would have happened to a similar individual without parents to come to their rescue? What drives people to behave in such a way, to keep spending when they know they can not afford it, to want things so bad they will do anything to obtain them?
Another “shopaholic” interviewed explained how she got into such trouble with debt due to her shopping habits. In the beginning she explains, she had control, paying off her credit card in full each month. Then she went on a vacation and wasn’t able to pay off the card, the charges just kept building from then on. She would increase her limits, when a card filled, she’d open another. She thought, “Oh I’ll just buy this top and pay it off next month.” “If I used my credit card, I would pay it off in full the following month. Then, I went on holiday one year and couldn’t keep up with my payments.
An expert on addiction explains, “Shopping addictions are on the rise as society becomes increasingly materialistic and image-conscious.” She goes on to explain that today, “how you look is who you are, so it’s little wonder that women like Natalie are developing an addiction to shopping.” (2)
As Julie explains in her blog about housewives and their right to fashion, “There’s nothing to me like wearing something I like, something creative and colorful, something that says this is me!” (3)
We all use clothing for different reasons, to fit in or to show our individuality, or as “Julie” explains, it brings out something about who we hope we are and who we want to be.
Shopaholism is a serious disorder in the field of psychiatry.
“Because we all shop and it is even encouraged in our culture, we haven’t been as quick to recognize the truly devastating consequences of this behavior/disease, financially, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.” (4)
Below image from http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~nshah/fashioncrimes/consumerism.html
A study was done on 280 people in the UK. Of the people surveyed, 67% had bought items they had never worn or used, 84% had bought a perceived bargain on impulse, almost one third shop for non-essential items every week, and one fifth admit they think about shopping at least once per day – of this group 33% said this thought made them excited and 19% said it made them feel more confident. (4)
Clearly a majority of people are struggling with these types of issues of some level of shopaholism, and addiction to material things and fashion for many different reasons – especially self-esteem.
For real sufferers of shopaholism, “they don’t acquire things, things acquire them.” (4)
Much of the research I found directly addressing shopaholism was done in Britain, I thought this was an interesting side note. Have we not come to terms with this being a true disorder here in America? How devastating that would be to our consumption-driven society!
Why do people feel pressure to cooperate with fashion trends? Why is it so closely linked to our self-esteem? Why must we follow fashion trends to fit in?
One participant shared, "If you are seen negatively it is like rejection... being seen as not fitting in or being rejected or whatever... you are accepted if you are OK, you are middle of the road, you are totally accepted if you are not just making fashion statements... (Chloe, age 25)." (6)
We can't seem to escape this relationship with fashion. It seems to be deeply engrained in each of us, a need to label others by their appearance and the way they have decided to present themselves. We are taught which types appearances belong to which group each and everyday by the media we are bombarded with.
A study using personal shopping diaries was able to point out two "vulnerability factors" which seem to raise the risk of being a compulsive shopper. The first of which is a "materialistic value system", meaning that a person looks to what types of material goods they have and how many to determine whether or not they have achieved major life goals, like happiness. These types of people tend to feel that material goods are a solution to any and all of their problems.
The second factor was found to be "concerns of the self-concept". This means that if a person feels far from what they would like to be, far from their ideal self, they are also vulnerable to a shopping addiction. This type of person uses spending and buying material goods as a form of "self-repair". They buy goods which symbolize the ideal self they are trying to emulate. For example, a person with concern of the self-concept might think, "If I buy a glamorous dress, I might feel like a glamorous person." Many people fall into this second category because fashion is so closely linked to self-image. (5)
The Fashion Trap
Because we are so wrapped up in fitting in and how we match up to the people around us, we are an easy target for retailers and the fashion industry.
Fashion magazines make you feel subpar and that you need to go out and buy things, or change the way you apply your make-up to keep up with fashion and be attractive.
We invite all members of the fashion and beauty industries to unite and...
We recognize that our industry sets trends and influences millions. We take that power seriously. We will celebrate the true spirit of fashion and beauty with healthy messages and images. We are aware that girls are especially vulnerable to the idealization of thinness and the drive for perfection, and that it is critically important to set positive examples for future generations.
It is imperative that we learn from tragedies like the recent death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston, who succumbed to anorexia. We will align ourselves with trusted experts to ensure that all members of our industry are prepared to recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disordered behavior.
We are deeply troubled that eating disorders and poor body image have reached epidemic proportions around the world. While we acknowledge that these are complex issues with no single cause, we will do our part to respond proactively because we know that some sufferers are young models and many others are our consumers.
We understand that eating problems do not always appear in the form of skin and bones, and that every sufferer should receive support and referrals. We will reach out to those in need. We will also participate in the creation of ongoing industry-wide programs, events, and awareness-raising campaigns rooted in honesty and compassion.
We believe the best way to bring about change is to bring the most passionate, open-minded, and creative people together. Therefore, we will form a network of professionals dedicated to holding the fashion and beauty industries to the highest standards of integrity and social responsibility. "
 (2006, March 27) Throw away the fashion mags. http://thedebtdefier.blogspot.com/2006/03/throw-away-fashion-mags.html
 O'Hagan, Eimear and Christina Windsor. 'My 33K fashion addiction almost KILLED ME'. http://www.fabulousmag.co.uk/features/feature_fashionaddict_issue_029.php
 Leung, Julie. (2004, October 4th). Buying sly and sexy for self-esteem. http://www.julieleung.com/archives/1373
 Moyo, Lynda. (2009, Mar 23). Confessions of a real-life shopaholic. http://www.bodyconfidential.co.uk/index.asp?sessionx=IpqiNwy6IW7lJ0qiNwF6IHqi
 Mundell, E.J. (2005, Sept. 28). Compulsive Shopping Carries a Heavy Price. http://sexualhealth.e-healthsource.com/index.php?p=news1&id=528132
 Negative symbolic consumption and consumers' dive for self-esteem: The case of the fashion industry. Emma N Banister, Margaret K Hogg. European Journal of Marketing. Bradford: 2004. Vol. 38, Iss. 7; pg. 850.
 Krcmar, M., Giles, S., & Helme, D. (2008, May). Understanding the Process: How Mediated and Peer Norms Affect Young Women's Body Esteem. Communication Quarterly, 56(2), 111-130.
 Stillion Southard, Belinda A. (2008). Beyond the Backlash: Sex and the City and Three Feminist Struggles. Communication Quarterly, 56 (2), 149-167. Retrieved April 21, 2009, from http://www.informaworld.com.silk.library.umass.edu:2048/10.1080/01463370802026943
 Moeran, B. (2008, July). Economic and cultural production as structural paradox: the case of international fashion magazine publishing. International Review of Sociology, 18(2), 267-281
 "Rags and riches." The Economist (US) 370.8365 (March 6, 2004): 4US. Academic OneFile. Gale. Univ Mass Amherst. 20 Apr. 2009
 Fiona Bawdon. (2007, October). No model for girls. New Statesman, 136(4864), 28-29. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global database.
 Amadei, Magali and Claire Mysko. 5 Resolutions to Transform the Fashion and Beauty Industries. Inside Beauty