There’s something about large groups of femmey, gregarious women that makes me feel like I’m perennially choking on my own nervous snot. It’s not the whole queermo thing, because I react to being surrounded by attractive men by becoming almost aggressively casual. It’s more that finding myself swept up in a crowd of giggling, nice-smelling women takes me almost viscerally back to middle school, when I wore a retainer every hour of the day and thought that playing the alto sax in the jazz band made me the next Kathleen Hanna.
Also, I was really into Kathleen Hanna. So.
Despite these disadvantages, I actually managed to have a pretty big group of girlfriends, most of whom had mothers who actually taught them how to shop. My mom is a take-no-shit middle-manager type with a wide smile and tired eyes; she was always too busy taking care of my aunt and grandma to devote much time to her style beyond, “Pants? On.” The few shopping trips we took when I was a kid inevitably ended with both of us making beelines for the See’s candy kiosk and then buying another ten pairs of the same high-waisted shorts I already owned.
In middle school, my friends would drag me to the outlet mall for hours; we’d crowd into dressing rooms and pose, putting on chunky silver glitter eyeshadow and fogging up the mirrors in the Pac Sun. My friends would shove clothes at me and squeal, delighted, when I finally put on shirts that were neither tie-dyed nor plastered with pictures of dogs. I’d grin back at them, but I always felt a little like I was learning a language I’d never be fluent in. This feeling continues today; whenever I hang out with a group of intimidating women, I’m back at American Eagle, wearing a shirt with a duck on it and feeling about two sizes too big for my skin.
Maybe this is why I categorically hate shopping. Because, oh, baby, do I ever.
Something about dragging my feet around malls for hours while other people look at clothes makes me want to try to swallow a metal hanger. It’s okay if I have a “mission," like if I need to find a red cloak for a Halloween costume or heels for a wedding or my friend wants ass-kicking combat boots and a hoop skirt. Then we can approach it like an adventure heist movie or a sports montage, and the whole day becomes awesome. If I happen to pick up a collared button-down shirtdress while we’re on our journey to find dress pants, so be it. But moseying around Macy’s just to while away an afternoon inevitably becomes a lesson in monosyllabic misery from Prof K. Conway.
Maybe this is stereotypically butch of me, but there’s constantly a part of me, one who sounds a lot like my mother, who mumbles, “Do we really need another cardigan?” whenever I get overexcited in the men’s section of Old Navy. I like developing my “personal style” (that steampunk Joseph Gordon-Levitt look isn’t going to un-vague itself), but it’s a little hard to do so when you automatically convert every price tag into as-yet-uneaten burritos.
Also, it is really fucking boring. I know that there’s supposed to be some sort of thrill in bargain hunting or something, but I only shop at like three stores anyway and one of them is Target. It is fun to discover something like a military jacket or vegan Oxford shoes, but the brief zing of dopamine release is dull compared to the never-ending monochromatic sea of Another V-Neck, Oh My Goodness!
In my brain, I always entertain these visions of finally finding a pinup dress that fits my non-boobs and va-va-vooming triumphantly in front of one of those three-way mirrors, but instead I end up slumped in despair with my pants around my ankles, reading Twitter on my phone. I once accidentally popped a giant ingrown hair in an Urban Outfitters in Manhattan and it was the most fun I have ever had in a dressing room in my whole life.
This is not to say that I think there’s something uninteresting or wasteful about people who like to shop. I frequently spend long hours watching those Bad Lip Reading videos on YouTube and buying Cards Against Humanity packs for everyone I know, so who the hell am I to judge your interests? I’ve just never been able to access more enthusiasm for the whole shopping experience past the vague hope that we can drink Icees at the food court.
I thought that this was going to be one of those things that made me kind of a weirdo, like conducting fake interviews with myself or pretending to be an Avenger during krav maga classes. But turns out a full third of women would also rather lie in manure-scented quicksand (I assume) than spend any quality time indulging in “retail therapy.” Unlike my hatred, though, most women hate shopping because it reminds them of how they’re not fitting into the feminine physical ideal.
According to online clothes retailer Marisota, fifteen percent have cried over being too fat, and ten from being too skinny. A large percentage of women often dwell on their own sizes while shopping and get upset when their “funny shape” (direct quote) prevents them from looking like Christina Hendricks in a pencil skirt.
And I totally get that! No one knows the indecipherability and subsequent self-shaming of the H&M sizing system better than me. When I was fourteen, for example, I punched a hole in the wall of a department store because my mom and I were prom dress shopping and she’d dared to suggest I was a size larger than I deemed acceptable.
Most people shop for pleasure because they want to feel good in their clothes, and it’s hard to feel sexy when the size of your shoulders Hulk out of every dress in Forever 21. As wholeheartedly as I believe that women should also be able to feel healthy at every size, it’s hard to remember that on a personal, microcosmic level when everything I try on is somehow managing to make me look even flatter-chested and larger-calved than usual.
I also think that’s not the kind of mentality that can be turned off by boycotting shopping. If you’re the type of person who stares fixedly at their arm pudge in the fluorescent light of The Gap, you’re probably also going to do it at home. Even shopping online, which the survey in the Mail (conducted, notably, by an online clothing retailer) cites as a less traumatic experience, just moves all the love-handle-pinching and belly-sucking from the fitting room to your bedroom. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather keep the two very, very separate.
It seems, though, that the chief emotional issue that bothers women who hate shopping is that feeling of having just missed the boat. I don’t think it’s insignificant that half the women surveyed feel “intimidated” by the other women who work in shops. They, like my friends in middle school and anyone else who knows how to walk into a Victoria’s Secret without bursting into tears, are speaking that language of what women “should” be interested in. When it comes to the cultural capital of decent fashion sense and shopping ability, they have more power.
Meanwhile, every time I walk into a mall it’s like a mantle of hormonal foot-in-mouthedness from middle school descends upon my Hulk-shoulders. And I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake that. Ultimately, I’m just more comfortable leaving everyone else to it.
Kate is quoting YouTube videos at @katchatters.