Maya Seligman
Swarthmore College
English 95: Fictions of Consumption
Prof. Lisa Cohen
February 18, 1997

Shopping Journal #4

I went to the mall this weekend with two friends in order to go shopping for formal dresses. It was more of an ordeal than I had expected. We kept getting distracted, going off on non-dress-shopping tangents, which made us spend a total of four hours in the Springfield Mall (MUCH more than my usual tolerence). The first three stores we visited were basic clothing stores. I noticed a definite abundance of polyester in all three of them: bright poly shirts, dresses, pants and jackets. I caught the consumerism bug as soon as I stepped into the first colorful, loud shop. I lost my focus as I was bombarded with visual stimulation overload. Instead of just concentrating on finding the right dress, I was soon looking through the sales racks of all other types of clothing.
Victoria's Secret has only three dressing rooms, each a huge, private room with pink wallpaper, thick carpeting and large padded seats. As I was trying on bras, I wondered to myself if I was being watched. Recalling Aaron's brief comment in class a couple weeks ago (the parallel between dressing rooms and the visual/watched theories of our readings), I looked around the little room for a possible camera hole. I didn't see anything, but they've gotta be there -- well hidden. Does someone have a job to sit and watch the monitors of three video-taped changing rooms, do you think? It kind of gave me the chills, the thought of baring my breasts for some anonymous stranger. Reminding me of the panopticon, I saw how this system of being watched has the power to prevent unwanted behavior (shoplifting).
After taking a body image workshop earlier this weekend, my eye seemed to be tuned to pick out the mall's many influential standard-setting images. I noticed how abnormally skinny the mannequins looked in the various displays, with their looooong legs and tiny waists. Many were without faces. Macy's had plenty of pictures of immaculately beautiful women, many photos portraying just one body part: eyes, lips, fingernails. I saw many high-maintenance, image-conscious consumers. One 20-something woman standing in line in front of me was the epitome; her hair was a wide range of different blonde shades, curled and gelled into an immobile mass of frosty peaks, and her face was a meticulously-constructed masterpiece of overdone makeup. She had a daughter (elementary-school age) following in her footsteps, carrying a little plastic purse and wearing a thick purple headband. At one point I saw this young girl start to pull out her headband, but her mom slapped her, telling her not to mess up her hair. What a sad, disturbing glimpse into the far-reaching effects of consumerism.
By the end of our shopping adventure, I felt completely drained, as if I had gone through a hurricane or something. Achy feet, throbbing headache, dwindling energy and cranky, cynical attitude. I ended up buying two new bras, thigh-high black stockings and a red satin dress.

* * *

Readings: Rachel Bowlby raises some interesting issues in Shopping with Freud. In the introduction chapter she writes that our society has gotten into the trend of addressing individuals as consumers, even outside the activity of shopping: "...when we are voters, students, patients, parents, citizens of all sorts, we are now to identify ourselves as consumers, and that term is supposed to give us rights from which we were previously debarred" (3). I think this offers a unique perspective that has some truth, but I wish she would have elaborated more on the last part of her statement. I don't quite understand what she meant by her reference to increased access to certain rights. Chapter 5 of Shopping with Freud is a worthy supplement to Studies on Hysteria; I'm curious to see how others view Bowlby's ideas in relation to shopping. (Somehow I missed any direct connections.) The Random House Dictionary defines CONTRETEMPS as "an embarrassing or inopportune occurence." I'll have to add that one to my vocabulary, to slip it into a few conversations this week. Turning now to vocabulary, to slip it into a few conversations this week. Turning now to Studies on Hysteria, I find Freud's connections between sexual factors and neurotic disorders to be quite fascinating. If I were a playwright, I'd want to create a play revolving around the dynamics between Freud and Breuer -- how they got along with each other in conducting the case studies.

consumption | writings | main page

other shopping journals:
[ #1 | #2 | #5 | #7 | #8 | #9 | #10 | #11 | #12 ]