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It's interesting how much you notice about a thing when you return to it after a long absence. In my case today, it was retail.

It's not that I never go in stores. I do. I sometimes buy things other than groceries. But I haven't been in a department store for YEARS, and I wandered into one this afternoon. Macy's, to be exact. The fancy downtown one.

Wow. There are big photographs everywhere of the kind of people they want their customers to imagine themselves to be: if you are female, then young and very skinny. If you are male, then it's okay to be up to about 43 years of age, but please stay skinny if you get that old. And for god's sake, be beautiful.

This is nothing new, of course. It's a large part of the reason that I avoid every aspect of corporate, retail, consumer culture that I can possibly avoid.

The way I felt on leaving Macy's is the reason I avoid that stuff: activated, on high alert, threatened and unsafe, unboundaried, excessive, ashamed. In a nutshell, like crap. When I was younger, I would feel like young, desperate crap. Now that I'm older, I find that I feel like old, worthless crap.

And to think: I used to feel that way all the time. I exposed myself to those stimuli dozens of times a day. The activation of my sympathetic nervous system was constant. Who knows what damage I did?

It's a subtle feeling. It took me four years of intensive training just to learn to recognize it, and I still usually only catch it by observing its fruits: the tension in my neck and shoulders; the negative thoughts; the fear of things that ten minutes earlier seemed perfectly safe; the sudden reappearance of the inner browbeater saying mean, mean things to me in my head.

I managed to sneak invisibly back up the street to my office, where I've buried myself safely in difficult work all afternoon. Now I have to go ride my bike home in the dark.

Damn Macy's.

This entry is cross-posted from DarkEmeralds on Dreamwidth.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 4th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
But you are an awesome woman with superpowers of bike riding, and you made an amazing podfic as a labor of love (and are making another, squee!), and you made a gorgeous coat that Nathan Fillion touched.

You are funny and cool and warm and brave enough to call that guy out on the rape analogy, and so reasonably that he actually immediately said you were right.

Can you imagine one of those vapid chicks in the photos doing ANY of that stuff?

(At least 2 of them are busy throwing up at this very moment.)
Feb. 4th, 2010 03:07 am (UTC)
Sadly, trauma knows no logic. But I thank you for the uplifting words. A fast bike ride home did wonders to "clear the mechanism". Endorphins! Mighty Warriors in the Blue Realms!
Feb. 4th, 2010 03:48 am (UTC)
Well crap, crap, crappity crap. Fucked up notions of body image and beauty are teh suxx0r.

I've never been in a Macy's. Or a Nordstrom's, Saks, etc. etc. They've always seemed pretty clearly places where I Am Not Invited, even when I was young and thin (though I didn't have access to such places then, and anyway, wouldn't have had the money to buy anything anyway, but still). Even having never gone in one, I still got the message loud and clear that I was in some way inadequate, or backward, or unsophisticated.

In other words, that societal rottenness runs deep, yo. The really, really terrific thing is that you're able to recognize it, and exert control in removing yourself from that environment. AND! To issue a big ol' "FUCK YOU" to the establishment by quite cheerfully walking your own unique path frequently and with relish. I find it's rather like belonging to a secret club. ;) And who wouldn't want to belong to our secret club? It's awesome and our food is way better.
Feb. 4th, 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
LOL! Our food IS better!

You want to know the really ironic thing? (I think it was ironic--I'm never quite sure of that word.) I only went into Macy's because my sis and I were parting ways there following an afternoon coffee break, and I desperately needed a restroom.

Hah! That'll teach me to have to pee.
Feb. 4th, 2010 05:25 am (UTC)
When I was young, I'd cover my feelings of inadequacy by walking in like I owned the joint and they were lucky to get me--amazing how that always, always works. But it's exhausting and frustrating and ick. Now, I just don't care. It is what it is.

Mostly, I avoid shopping, even though I work in a damn store...no doubt some awful karmic revenge.

Here's the weird thing--lately, I've found pretending I'm nice makes the day go faster--especially when dealing with folks who equate 'nice' with 'stupid'. Then, my day just gets even more fun. :)
Feb. 4th, 2010 05:35 am (UTC)
You make me laugh! Pretending you're nice...ha h! Sez the lady who lovingly recs her niece's fic.

Walking in like I owned the place was a great strategy when I was young and somewhat indigent--i.e., when I knew the clothes would probably fit, but that I definitely couldn't afford them.

Now it's the other way around, of course. And if advertising didn't make a person feel inadequate, it wouldn't be doing its job. Its damnable, evil job.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 4th, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Nor would I, but that seems to be who the clothes in those stores are for. I could conceivably afford them these days, but I'd have to give them to my 15 year old niece to actually wear.

It's funny--when I was in Harrod's the last time, I felt pretty okay. Of course, I wasn't looking at clothes--I was in the food department with kispexi2. Hee! I bought fancy Cheddar cheese at her recommendation, and she had exactly the right accent--like, from the general vicinity of Cheddar itself--and I felt completely entitled.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 5th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
And that feeling of inadequacy is just not worth having, is it? That's what I spent many years in therapy learning to walk away from. Not cure, not analyze, not talk myself out of. Just put it down and walk away.

Your dry-ice smoking cocktails must have been the hit of every party!
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 4th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
The A&F posters are certainly pretty, and I imagine I'd feel a little more drooly if they, too, didn't remind me of the tyranny of corporate image-making. But I can never separate them in my mind from the rest of A&F's bizarre marketing strategy.

"Our customers are simply better than everyone else, and we have found that it is better for them to be shielded from the trials and tribulations of the normal population than to be exposed to their normal, insignificant lives. We all will be better for it."

So yeah, I can set pure aesthetics aside in the face of that shit.
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 5th, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say "the crack of firm young ass."
Feb. 5th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC)
And, on second look, the post I linked you to might, indeed, be a gag, but the reality is, it's VERY hard to tell the difference between the gag and A&F's actual strategy. Here's more of an actual quote from Mike Jeffries, the somewhat ridiculous CEO of the firm:

“We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that."
Feb. 4th, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Ouch, sounds like a rough night. I hope you are feeling better today, and able to embrace and celebrate the awesomeness of you!
Feb. 4th, 2010 06:45 pm (UTC)
Nah, by the time I rode home I was fine.

Experiences like the one I described here are, strangely, not about my self-esteem, any more than my run-in with a car was. The assault isn't to some ephemeral psychological construct, but to the central nervous system.

The ephemeral psychological construct--negative self-concept or "low self-esteem"--is the body's reaction to the assault, and not some persistent reality. If I'd understood that when I was 16, I imagine I'd have led a very different life.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )



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