I just finished therapy admitting that I have a shopping problem, bearing all my shame and truth after purchasing a $425 cashmere sweater and being confronted by my husband that I might have a shopping addiction. But as I cried and cried and talked about my decades-long love affair with clothing, at the end of the session, my therapist said, this was beautiful and I should write about it instead of judging me and it will relate to other women as well she said. I did not know I had so much trauma and clothing was a way to protect me and keep me warm. So I will confess all here:
It all started when I was five years old, and my love for dresses. I would dance on table tops with a microphone and my grandma would give me flowers. On weekends, I would try to get my grandpa to buy me dresses, one dress a week. I would come home, and get in trouble with my father, and he would beat me. So even when young, I had that deep shame that wanting things, especially nice things resulted in getting punished.
5 years old, I left the motherland, the mothership, I was so so sad, my grandma not so long died when I was 7 years old. I went to America and started a new life. It was a hard life. My mom dressed me in China clothing, it was sweatpants with misspellings of brands, think “hucci” instead of gucci. Kids would make fun of me. Kids can be so mean and judge you based on what you wear.
Jump to middle school, I remember my first pair of jeans from Gap. Popular kids would come up to me and talk to me and say I like your jeans. I said thank you. I felt noticed, I felt seen, I felt like I belonged.
Then my grandpa came, we moved into this dingy dark one bedroom apartment in Sunset Park. My mom worked one job to feed us all. We did not have money to buy a bed frame, and I was bitten by a fat ass rat and had white puss and scar size of a volcano coming out of my calves. I was so ashamed and had to cover it up in school. Clothing in a way protected me. I had eczema, and I would wear long sleeves and hide the blood and redness from scratching all night long. The apartment also had rat and roach infestation. One of the big fat roaches got into my bookbag and ran out during class. The classmate screamed and I was so embarrassed that I did not get caught but the shame carried with me.
Lot of people talk about racism, but people do not talk about classism, what it's like to be poor, to have money trauma. Clothing allowed me to be a chameleon, hide and only show parts of myself that people would accept or like.
Then high school came, I wore my nicest pair of jeans and t-shirt I owned to interview for Paper Source but the women scanned me from top to down and said you do not wear jeans to the interview. Little did she know, that was the nicest clothing I had. I swore to that day on, I would have nice clothes, clothes that people would not look down on me or not hire me because of it.
My addiction started early, but I remember it was high when I brought my first $22 cotton blazer from JCrew. It fit so nicely, and I was following blogger Extrapetite. Because clothes did not fit my 5 feet tall body. Then every weekend, I would go to Soho and go to the discount rack and look for clothes. You see, I was an emotional shopper. I go shopping when I’m sad, I’m happy, I’m lonely, and I’m bored. I spent most of the big holidays by myself because my mom worked through the holidays. So I was alone, I shopped, shopping with a friend, it made me feel good, it kept me warm, like a transitional object (baby’s blanket) while mom was away.
Fast forward to graduating college, I was struggling to find a job, it was a recession. Shopping became a way to cope, I would say, if I had nice clothes, employers would hire me.
Clothing was kinda like IFS, Internal Family Systems, Parts Work, I wanted people to see my professional part, or even the good part, and the bad part, the shame, I can hide. I can hide behind all of my flaws, like my shortness, it made me look older, taller and more confident. It kept me company when I was bored.
I stopped shopping as much when I met my husband, I do think he filled a void, and I no longer needed clothing. But in the past few months I have relapsed, because my mom’s diagnosed with breast cancer. It became a comfort, keeping me warm like a warm embrace. I remember it was October when we got a news, I cried for one week straight, and forced myself to go to Yoga, and I just felt very cold and thought to myself I feel cold, I want a big coat, if i’m going to feel depressed, anxious, and grief, I want to stay warm as winter is coming. Then I updated my bedding, more jackets, and more hats, and sweaters. Last week, I finally left insurance completely and went to private pay. It was like leaving the mothership, and I said to myself, if I am leaving my mothership, I want to have a soft warm sweater. I brought two.
Clothing has always been very special to be like an old friend. But it has got out of hand, and I no longer need crap to make me feel less than. I share this love story not as an excuse, but just to tell readers that there are underlying deeper unconscious roots. This post was inspired by Caroline Knapp memoir, drinking, a love story. As a therapist, I understand what women go through and I can help you process and heal.
Thank you for reading!