Online shopping, you can be a real sexy bitch. J Brand jeans, Alexander Wang tees, Ray-ban shades, funky gladiator sandals. I could spend five hundred bucks in five minutes with just the click of a button. They shipped fast and shipped for free. And a better self would arrive at my doorstep! Sweet Baby Girl, you bought in, literally, to the lie. You can’t put on inner peace and love.
Don’t get me wrong – I still like nice clothes and putting together stylish outfits. I can still appreciate that we often do feel better when we take the time to wear something appealing rather than just puttering around in sweat pants and baggy shirts. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice and feel comfortable in our skin. And our clothes can certainly function as a form of creativity and expression and art.
But it can get so out of hand. It can get so…all-consuming. And for many of us these days, it can be come a game of chase that leaves us panting in the dust, hating ourselves, and wondering “why can’t I ever be good enough?”
I’m not going to preach too much about consumerism or sexism or the whole objectification of women (and men, now, too) that has taught us to be, first and foremost highly concerned with what we look like. I’m not so much angry about it anymore as I am aware and willing to make choices that take the blinders off and help me not buy in. I think many of us can agree that we live in a culture and a society that encourages spending and accumulating to find happiness and that teaches us that our very worth is measured by what we look like, wear, and own. In a nutshell, we live in an external and extroverted culture that doesn’t want to bother with the inner landscape of humanity all that much. What a fuss to tend to what we cannot see! But oh, but oh but oh! how we miss out on the richness of life when we live that way.
I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt. We are visual creatures – who wouldn’t at first believe that if everything looks nice, it must be nice, right?
Not so much, from my experience.
When I was 24, I was a size 2. I looked thin and hot, by Los Angeles standards. I had a stylish haircut and great highlights that cost 350 bucks a pop. I wore expensive trendy clothes and expensive pretty makeup. I hung out with girls running down the same American dream. I drove a nice car, was finishing my degree at UCLA, was sober. I had a good-looking boyfriend and we were “in love.” It all looked really damn good from the outside.
What was it actually like? Well, I lived off of vegetables and grilled chicken and green tea. I had no period and no libido. I weighed myself ten times a day. My skin was turning this strange hue of orange on account of all of the carrots I would compulsively eat. I’d binge on cereal and pretzel and chocolate and then throw up in the toilet. I drained my bank account each month in order to buy a new pair of tighter jeans that would only fit for a month until I inevitably could no longer starve myself smaller. I obsessively shopped online and checked Facebook to compare myself to other girls. I suffered daily from chronic pain. I lived in fear and anxiety and utter low self-worth. The thinner I got, the worse I felt. My boyfriend and I never had sex, we didn’t treat each other all that well. We stayed together long after the relationship was healthy. I went to AA meetings and obsessed about what other girls were wearing and felt less than if they had a nicer bag than me. I was jealous of girls who were able to buy nicer shoes and purses and dresses. I was jealous of girls who were drop dead gorgeous. I also felt strangely superior to girls who were heavier than I was at the time. I was filled with rage and bitterness. I hated my father. I hated everyone. I hated myself the most. And then I relapsed back into addiction.
Not so sexy now, huh?
I’m not blaming the purses and the jeans, here. Obviously, they weren’t out to get me. But what I am pointing a finger at is our culture’s encouragement of fixing the outsides. Buy this outfit your life will change! Drive this car if you want to be good enough! Look this way if you want to be worthy! Get a boyfriend, and then you’ll be saved! I have found, dear ones, that that is all a heaping load of crap. It’s actually impossible to feel good from the outside in. Clothes and cars and shapes and images are just objects, and objects don’t have feelings. Even another soul, even the shiniest brightest soul, cannot make you happy. It’s got to come from within. From the inside out. Always.
It took me a while to believe this. It took some trial and error. It’s interesting how we buy into culture, because for a long time I was scared to stop caring about all of that stuff. I had major FOMO. (Fear of Missing Out.) I still sometimes get a little scared. Because it’s unconventional and daring and different to not buy in. It takes a willingness to stand alone and apart from the machine of accumulation and consuming and tweaking and fixing. But it is such a relief!
Look, I still buy things. I still have a lot of clothes. (Too many, and I am always schlepping bags to Good Will.) I still drive a nice car and like a great pair of jeans. I still want to be pretty and healthy and attractive. But the sting has been taken out. I don’t obsessively online shop or have to get the latest bag or keep up with the other girls and what they are wearing and toting. It just doesn’t interest me anymore. What interests me is looking good on the inside. And by that I mean feeling good. Toning up that soul instead of those muscles. I like to read a lot of books and listen to music and write and pray and meditate. I like to get lots of sleep and rest. I like to laugh and play with my friends and my students and my family. I like to watch films that make me weep. I like to eat delicious food and healthy food and sometimes junk food. I love to take long walks and occasionally break into runs. I like to treat myself to some new clothes when necessary. (The great irony was that, when I went through a long period of necessary weight gain and fluctuating size, I hated shopping, and I had to drag myself kicking and screaming into H&M and Bloomingdales. Today, it’s getting a bit more balanced.) To be honest, I still only wear 20% of the clothes that I own. I plan this summer to get rid of most of my stuff and (try to!) just stick to the basics. It’s so much easier and so much more comfortable. I no longer desire to own a bunch of stuff and to accumulate more. I no longer feel this pressure to have nice things in order to make me feel good enough. It doesn’t work, and I don’t need it.
As they say in the rooms, recovery is an inside job. It has very little to do with the outside world. We are not what we own or wear or appear. We are not our physical beauty or body shape or size. We are what’s on the inside. And you can’t buy it.