When we consider the euphoric highs and ever-increasing lows associated with addiction, is intoxicating ourselves with fashion really as harmless as we think?
With her flowing silk scarf and ornate drop earrings, Rebecca Bloomwood sweeps into an upscale department store where glossy mannequins tempt her with their plastic-perfect figures and designer outfits.
Later on in the film, Confessions of a Shopaholic, we learn that Rebecca is deeply in debt, but that doesn’t stop her from going full Wrestlemania at a sample sale where women engage in tugs-of-war over boots and dresses (an excellent way to infantilise women, but that’s another story for another time).
From the saccharine, pastel-hued shopping spree in Enchanted, to Carrie Bradshaw’s reverence for shoes, retail therapy is a popular trope that has put a clever spin on unrealistic material indulgences. It’s fun! It’s empowering! It’s about sisterhood! You deserve it! As bouncy, upbeat music plays in the background and crisp paper bags begin piling up, feelings of joy perfume the scene and the promise of new and better fills the air.
In real life though, retail therapy can have serious consequences and (shockingly) we will not be spared because we comically outrun the debt collector at every turn nor because somehow, the Fairy Of No Consequence waves her wand and voila, our bank accounts remain undamaged.
Oniomania – A Compulsive Buying Disorder
Oniomania is the term for a behavioural disorder that causes people to shop compulsively in a bid to evade negative feelings.
We are familiar with the tragic faces of addictions like alcohol and drugs because they are unsettling, potentially fatal and require immediate help. Oniomania, however, is socially acceptable because the prevailing images of this addiction are beautiful women who just can’t help themselves. They’re charming, funny, stylish and they should know better but those shoes are just too divine.
Now, not all shopping equals to addiction. But shopping has become easier, faster and more thrilling with the deluge of choices. High street retailers churn out new collections every two weeks. Designer knock-offs are sold for a fraction of the real cost. Clothing hauls on social media induce anxiety about what we are lacking in our own closets.
We’re not here to diagnose anybody with oniomania but we would like to talk about some real-life consequences of retail therapy (spoiler alert – we don’t end up with Mr. Big).
Credit card debt has been growing over the last few years and anecdotal evidence has allowed us a glimpse into the desperate states people get into because of their shopping addiction. Debt is real. Recovery from debt? Not always a reality.
Often, the initial rush of euphoria wears off as the novelty of new purchases fails to sustain us. While depression can be a cause of compulsive buying disorder, it is also a consequence. Once we are no longer in the throes of a ‘buying high’, the reality of our problems focus back into view and we’re left with a daunting credit card statement, a mountain of clothes and the same state of emptiness. Only this time, we may also be hounded by guilt.
Depending on the pace at which we shop, it can be difficult to keep up with the parcels and packages. Countless times, I’ve seen unopened boxes stashed away in the hallway of my friends’ flats. Slowly, they accumulate and wardrobes begin bursting at the seams with unworn outfits, their tags still forlornly attached. Hoarding can become a serious mental health issue on its own.
Make no mistake. Any therapeutic aspect of retail therapy is fleeting at best, and elusive at worst. Films, TV and advertising want to offer retail therapy as a legitimate form of healing. It’s time we start naming it for what it is – a potential path to addictive behaviour.
Written By Sumitra Gopal