Christmas is coming. For my family, that means that there will be many gifts. Some will have been pleaded for and expensive, some will be silly and a welcome addition to our collections of knickknacks. Others, by my grandmother, will be handmade and saved to pass down to our grandchildren. My sister will most likely give us some of her amazing art. None of this needs to be ashamed of. I personally enjoy trying to find the perfect gift for others, to make them feel happy and to make them feel understood.
However, at the same time, as I have been doing some online pursuing, something has been nagging me. And it has nothing to do with feeling guilty for wanting material things. I don’t usually feel I have to have more stuff to be a happier person, and when material items do bring me joy, I don’t see a reason to feel guilty. My grandmother filled her house with material things she wanted, and she created a magnificent home for her family. The problem is how convinced I become that if I had these things, I would be more of the best version of myself. This is where I fall.
This is about perfectionism. As a woman, I have felt the consumerist push to perfectionism all of my life. Women are taught that they need to be perfect, I probably don’t need to convince anyone of that. Thus, when we are confronted with a personal “transgression,” against perfection, we can feel it rather intensely. Barbie, for me, was a large part of this problem. She was fit, had gorgeous hair, an amazing and versatile wardrobe, a boyfriend, a dog, her beauty conformed to European standards, and she had an incredible amount of careers–none of which she failed at doing. Somehow, she embraced the man’s world and perfectly transformed it to suit the world of femininity.
Barbie, and others like her, shaped my consumerist habits. I wanted to get miniskirts like her (and Baby Spice), I wanted pink lipstick, I wanted platform sandals. I cried over my unruly hair. TV and magazine ads reinforced these lessons of perfection as I went through my teenage years and early twenties. I bought diet pills, blonde hair dye, a million different kinds of foundation, and clothes I would never wear. I was miserable. Who I was trying to be and who I actually was, were contradicting each other.
I think the change started when I realized I wasn’t committing a transgression against myself by not buying the right shampoo. I was trying so hard to get my hair to be straighter, calmer, and not so wild. I kept buying all of theses expensive bottles of shampoo and straightener that girls at the salon forced upon me saying it would “take care” of the problem. However, my school schedule became too busy to go to the salon to buy these products, and I settled for a cheap bottle shampoo from Rite Aid. After a week, nothing changed. I was still me, and I hadn’t hurt myself. I was still getting A’s, getting my volunteer hours in, and I was still happy. Actually, I was happier because I wasn’t thinking about my hair all of the time.
It took a few more years, but I kept breaking down these barriers of “perfection.” I stopped reading women’s magazines. I ignored shows such as Gossip Girl and 90210. I stopped reading, watching, and listening to anything that would tell me what I had to do, buy, consume, etc. to be a better version of myself. That would tell I was transgressing against myself if I didn’t try to change or if I didn’t buy a certain product. These things don’t just push unrealistic standards on young women; they tell young women that they are hurting themselves by not conforming to them.
This approach has worked for the most part. I am a much more fulfilled person, and I like myself a lot more. However, advertising works on me. That was what I was reminded of last night as I browsed through Amazon’s lists. I started feeling that I needed this expensive charcoal toothbrush. By not having it, I was somehow betraying myself, and my teeth, by not having this toothbrush. Then there was a backpack. Then some throw pillows for my couch. I kept adding these things to an imaginary list in my head. A list of items that if I had, I would finally be perfect.