Yes, I am a recovering clothing shopaholic. Perhaps you think clothing shopaholics are just women who can’t control their urge to spend money on clothes. But that really isn’t what the addiction is all about. There is a big misconception about clothes shopping addiction. So I am going to let you in on the truth about it and tell you all about the secret fantasy life of the women who have it. You see, all female clothing shopaholics have one thing in common:
WE CRAVE FLATTERY, ENVY, AND COMPLIMENTS ON OUR APPEARANCE EVERY DAY OF OUR LIFE.
When we get a compliment or an admiring stare on the way we look, we feel great. And here is another truth about our addiction: we all have a “female appraiser”. A “female appraiser” is the female in our life that we always imagine envying us and complimenting us when we try on new clothes. She is the one we always wear new outfits in front of to get appraisal and compliments about how we look. She is the one who notices every new pair of shoes, every new piece of jewelry, whether our hair looks particularly healthy and attractive that day, and every new item of clothing we are wearing to the minutest degree. She dissects us physically; she is our lifeblood to feeling we exist; by noticing us, envying us and complimenting us; she makes us feel alive.
And we are her female appraiser as well. We notice every new item she wears and we comment about how good she looks as well. We often envy her appearance and new outfits. Our relationship is the mutual symbiotic feeding of our ego envy. Usually our female appraiser is our female mother, sister, friend or coworker who we subconsciously compete and look to get approval from about our appearance. We always try to upstage her in appearance and make her feel envious of us; we always think about whether what we buy will make her envy how we look before we buy it and when she sees a new outfit on us and we feel her envy (of course the ultimate high is when she asks us where we bought it) we have our ultimate addictive fix. We even watch how many people notice us more than her when the two of us walk together in public, to know that we are getting more attention than she is. Yes, it’s an “envy/dislike/need of approval dynamic” we have with our female appraiser (or multiple female appraisers) on a complicated physical and emotional level.
When I was a clothing shopaholic, I lived for clothes, they were my life passion. I still love clothes. But I am less in need of the power they give me to be noticed, admired, and envied. The need to shop for clothes and imagine wearing them and getting compliments from women when I wear them has taken less of a hold on me. But there was a time when shopping for clothes was an essential part of my daily life because I lived for the attention and praise those new outfits gave me. I would fantasize as I tried them on in the store and imagine being envied by my female appraiser when I wore them. And once I bought them, wearing them always made me feel special and alive when I got that attention, envy and praise from my “female appraiser”. I always needed to wear something new to be noticed and that is why the money was spent; to continually have new clothes to wear so I would continually get compliments and be noticed. When I wore that outfit a second time, it wasn’t new anymore and no compliments were given because they’d already been given when I wore it the first time. So that outfit did not serve its purpose any more for my addiction unless I wore it in front of a different female appraiser who never saw it before (sometimes I had 3 or more female appraisers in my life). On the days I wore an outfit that I received no attention about, I actually felt invisible and depressed. Sometimes just thinking about another new outfit I would wear the next day and how good I’d look and how envied I’d be was all I thought about on those depressing days. It was the only thing that kept me going; imaging that outfit in my closet and the power it would give me to be noticed and complimented.. I’d fantasize about the shoes I’d wear with the outfit and how I’d match my eye shadow to it and the admiration I’d be getting. Because I always knew exactly what to buy and wear that would make my female appraiser envious and wish she had my clothes and got the attention I was geting. And what a euphoric high that would give me; even thinking about that happening.
Clothing shopaholics have an odd addiction because when you take away the women you feel competitive with, the addiction loses its hold on you. That’s because the addiction is about fantasizing about being envied for how you look in clothes. But take away the female appraiser, and you don’t have the envy and you lose the need to fantasize or shop for clothes. Of course, eliminating female appraisers in your life isn’t easy. As long as you have a mother or work in a corporate office, or have a female sibling you see, you will have a woman in your life assessing your appearance. Even when babysitting my friend’s 10 year old daughter, she assessed my appearance by informing me my pants didn’t match my top; “the colors were off” she told me. And here I thought I was free of that kind of appraisal from children and could just “throw on sweats and any old top.” After all, why care what a 10 year old girl thinks about how I look when I’m babysitting her? But yes, her comment did bother me, although I stood my ground and refused to change my clothes. Needless to say, she is a budding clothing shopaholic in the making.
Here are some more truths about this secret clothing shopaholic life: I would go into my favorite clothes stores every day to return clothes (which I loved to do because it gave me an excuse to shop again) and always walk out buying something else, usually something I knew I would probably return. Walking into a store filled with clothes and breathing in the smell of new clothes gave me a euphoric high. Trying some new outfit on and imaging my female appraiser noticing it and complimenting me on it and asking me where I bought it; just imaging that happening as I tried on the clothes in a store gave me an adrenaline rush. This is what my clothing shopaholic addiction was about. Most women who are clothing shopaholics are clueless about what the core of their addiction is about. They think it’s about an addictive need to spend money, but it really isn’t about that. Yes, you do need to spend money to buy new clothes to feed your “attention fix”, because without buying something new, you don’t wear something new; and without wearing something new, you don’t get your “fix”. And you have to go to a store to try on something so you can experience the fantasy in your head of getting the attention, which is the first stage of the addiction.
So this is why spending money becomes a problem. And mistakenly becomes what everyone thinks the addiction is about: the inability to stop the urge to spend money on clothes. But teaching someone to resist spending money does not curb or cure the addiction. The only way to curb or “cure” it is to remove the need for a “female appraiser” in your life. But that is another article for another time. The money spent by clothing shopaholics becomes the casualty of the addiction, but it is not the addictive need to spend money that causes the addiction. I would venture to say that alcoholics get an addictive fix sitting in a bar and breathing in the smell of alcohol and seeing other men who are alcoholics around them. Yes, the need to drink alcohol plays a role in the alcoholic’s addiction, but so does the need to be in the environment. It’s the same with clothes shopping addicts, we need to be around clothes, smell the smells, and try on clothes. It is a comforting experience that calms our nerves and gives us an inner peace. But, why? It has taken me a very long time to understand my addiction to buying clothes; why I shop for clothes and why I need the attention, flattery and criticism about my appearance. I realize it all started when I was a child growing up in my mother’s clothing shopaholic world. So let me share my childhood story with you:
I was born a beautiful little girl full of life and love. I received a tremendous amount of attention from my grandparents, father, aunts and cousins. It seemed as if everyone wanted to be with me, hold me, walk with me and give me endless praise about how cute I was. Well, almost everyone. My mother envied the praise and attention I received. She found it difficult to praise me or give me physical affection. She rarely stayed in the same room with me unless she had to tend to me needs. This went by unnoticed by others, because my mother did interact with me on the surface; she picked me up; fed me; dressed me; bathed me; she did all those “interactive” things a mother has to do to raise her daughter. But there was one very important thing she did not do and that was to LOVE ME UNCONDITIONALLY.
She never hugged or kissed me, she never told me how much she loved me, and she never expressed true appreciation of anything about me to me. Yes, she told others what she appreciated about me, but she could never say those words to me. My mother was unable to give me the emotional connection of unconditional love because she did not feel good about herself as a person. She envied me for the attention and love I received. She envied me for having so many qualities she felt she didn’t have, because her own mother raised her with the same kind or resentment and envy. She found it very difficult to be in the same room with me, or to have a picture taken with me, especially when I got attention, just as her mother had found it difficult to do the those things with her.
As I grew up, my mother’s interaction with me became one of constant “assessments” about my appearance and “monitoring” of everything I did to an extreme. She criticized me endlessly about my appearance; justifying her criticism by saying “I tell you this because I’m your mother and I love you”. She always justified her comments by telling me she had my “best interest at heart”. This seemingly good intention justified her commenting on my appearance every day: whether it was leaving the house with the wrong coat, wearing the wrong outfit, not standing up with proper posture, not wearing my hair the right way, not eating or liking the right foods which made me too thin; her interaction with me was a constant barrage of comments about something that was wrong with my appearance. This constant criticism eroded my self worth to the point that I could barely make friends, and had intense insecurities and shyness around everyone growing up. She used her control over my appearance to control my self confidence. When she took me shopping to buy me clothes, she ridiculed and criticized me about how I looked as I tried on clothes with her in the dressing room. She never liked anything I liked on myself. I was always too thin, my posture was too slouched over, and according to her, I looked awful in everything except the one garment I didn’t like. And that was the one she bought. My mother made me feel ugly inside and out. She controlled my ability to be make independent choices about my appearance and to feel that my self worth was only based on looking physically good.
As a child, I believed I deserved to be treated this way because I felt there was something innately wrong with me. I did not realize I was being verbally abused. How could I? My own father, although adoring me in every way, ignored her cold, critical behavior towards me. I never understood that her behavior towards me was based on envy. To me, she was so incredibly beautiful and well dressed, that is seemed ridiculous to think that she envied me. As an adult, I now can see that her interaction with me was her way of dealing with her own low sense of self esteem. But as a child, I just felt physically flawed and inferior to everyone around me. I fixated on my appearance, my hair, my skin, my posture, and I always felt unattractive, physically flawed and inadequate. I only saw women as worthy of existing and having friends and being liked if they were attractive. My mother was a clothing shopaholic. She shopped endlessly spending money on clothes for herself every day and often returning ½ the clothes she bought the next day. She took me shopping with her wherever she went. When my mother bought herself clothes, I enjoyed the experience tremendously, because it was the only time she was happy and loving towards me. When I helped her find her favorite Kimberly® designer dress; it was one of the few times we bonded as mother and daughter. I felt such pleasure watching my mother look at the clothes she tried on in the mirror. It was the only time she seemed to like being with me. And seeking those good feelings became the root cause of my own shopping addiction as an adult. .
My mother’s focus was not just on my appearance, she was obsessed about her own appearance as well. I can recall many times she walked up the 2nd set of stairs into my bedroom, gave me a comment like, “it’s warm in here, you should open a window” and then proceeded to open one of the closets in my room which she took over as her own closet for her Kimberly® collection (after all I didn’t need a closet for clothes, since I had so few of them) and sort through her wardrobe for hours. That’s right, she wasn’t coming upstairs to see me, she was coming upstairs to look at her Kimberlys®, put away her dry-cleaned ones, check that the moth balls were working and none of them (they were all made of wool) were getting moth eaten (god help our family if that ever happened, she would moan unhappily for an eternity). My mother spent more time bonding with the Kimberlys® in her closet over the years then she spent talking and bonding with me.
But the rest of the world was another story. My mother talked about how beautiful other women looked on TV and in magazines with admiration. To her, beauty was what gave someone my mother’s approval. And these models and actresses often got her approval. I longed for that kind of approval from her, but I never got it growing up. Perhaps that’s why I drew countless drawings of women wearing clothes that looked like my mother, just to get her approval, even if it was just about a drawing I did. As a blossoming teenager, when the rest of the world started noticing me again and I was able to buy my own clothes, I realized that getting compliments on my appearance felt intoxicatingly good. I was finally getting the approval my mother could never give me. I grew up needing to hear how I looked, needing attention from guys just to feel okay with being alive. I needed to hear comments about my appearance every day just to feel I was normal. I knew nothing better.
As a teenager, my mother fixated more and more on my appearance, telling me how to wear my hair, make up and what to wear. If I didn’t follow her directives, and defended myself angrily by insisting she stop criticizing me, she would get angry at me to the point of behaving like a child who was throwing a temper tantrum. I had no right to feel good about myself and no right to defend myself against her critical attacks Unlike my mother, my father related to me about my appearance by hugging me, taking pictures and making me feel cute, pretty, and attractive(which only added to my mother’s envy of me). He gave me much attention when I blossomed into a teenager; as fathers often do with their daughters. But he worked all the time and found it easier to never be around the home. This way he didn’t have to witness how my mother was raising me and hear her critical comments towards me. He just didn’t have the emotional capacity to battle with his wife about the way she spoke to me. He accepted her behavior and chose not to deal with it but staying at work and golfing most of his life.
So this was my childhood. It is not unique. Many young girls are only given “conditional acceptance” by their mother based on their behavior and appearance. This lack of unconditional love has its price. It sets you up as a female adult to be completely dependent on others for attention and criticism in your life and to easily fall prey to addictions like clothes shopping and an addictive need for attention. The life you had with your mother and the value she put on your appearance will set you up to value yourself only when others give you approval about your appearance as well. You will crave the need to be around clothes because it is a comforting childhood experience. You will crave fantasizing about getting a female appraiser’s approval and envy on how you look in clothes, because it will bring back the relationship dynamic you had with your mother. Your appearance will define your feeling of self worth and how good you look in clothes will be what you value as the ultimate definition of being worthwhile as a person. This is what your mother taught you and this is the mindset of the clothing shopaholic. The dynamic of your relationship with your mother never leaves you, it transfers over onto other women who have the same need. It also sets you up to be very dependent on men who only value you physically and sexually. It’s so important for women to understand this addiction and how it impacts every aspect of their adult life. It’s important to see the obsessive world of clothes shopping in its naked true reality. Only then can you start to live your life with more appreciation of the things that really matter, like unconditional love, and have gratitude for those things in life that mean so much more than any new piece of clothing.