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Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet

Late one night, as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard advertising a jewelery brand and featuring an aspirational-lifestyle model/actress.

I exclaimed, “I really love that advertisement!”

My friend smiled and said, “You would. It celebrates you, after all.”

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

My first luxury retail experience was an emotional one, one of self-awareness. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

A few years ago, I discovered something I think of as the Superwoman complex. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled ‘High income single decision maker’
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men with high incomes, have been well tapped-into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.

I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

“Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!”

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants. Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

*An earlier version is here.

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The Garden Of Eden Within

I spent a few hours at the salon this week. Ostensibly for a haircut but I ended up getting my feet, face and self pampered as well. I came out feeling…the way I very occasionally have felt in the company of a good friend or (even more occasionally) a boyfriend. I felt cherished and cared for.

I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of my ‘I’m really just a tomboy in the girl’s room’ mentality. The parlour is an on-schedule visit for me most times with all kinds of things to be taken care of with a side-whine of “If I was a guy, I’d never have to worry about all this!!” I barely have time to fit in all the things that need to be done into my schedule.

Yesterday was different. Owing to the fact that I did have a lot of time and had made a conscious decision to not rush through things, I just sat back and let myself be taken care of. First came the hair-styling with my wonderful mind-reader of a stylist. A trim with a hair-colouring, he pronounced and proceeded to silver-foil my tresses. While I was waiting, I got a pedicure and foot massage in the bargain. That done, he shampooed and massaged my head. Everyone knows (or should know) that few things make a woman feel as wonderfully cared for as a luxuriant shampoo in warm water; better yet if done by a man. There is something special about having large, otherwise rough hands touching your sensitive scalp so gently. Even if it your hairdresser and not your boyfriend or husband. The pedicure was actually done by a lady but ah…who can resist a foot massage?

I won’t get into further details of what else got done but suffice to say, I left a good 4 hours later (with a hefty bill of course). I realised a few things. Firstly, I really indulge myself so little. I have to force myself to enjoy things ‘just because’ without my mind jumping to an immediate cost-benefit analysis. Secondly, I realised why women love visiting beauty parlours. It is a well-known fact that women crave the feeling of being cherished and appreciated and we look for it in all our relationships. It is probably a less acknowledged fact that most of us don’t receive as much of it as we would like or indeed, need.

A beauty parlour is the physical equivalent of a therapist. The latter is someone you pay to listen to you while the former is where you pay to be pampered. Even if the best things in life are free, they’re not available easily. So with our newfound economic power, who’s to stop us from buying the next best substitutes that money can indeed, buy?

~O~O~O~O~O~

On another note, I also went shopping today. A chance remark from a friend also got me thinking. He said,

I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear any footwear other than sneakers.

And yet, I know I have a shoe-drawer full of sandals, kitten heels, mules, slippers and block heels. But I just haven’t been making the effort lately. Drowned in practicality and pretty much just barely keeping my head above the water, I have been pulling on my sneakers and rushing out with little attention to my looks. My make-up drawer lies neglected, my dresses and skirts from an earlier shopaholic phase haven’t seen daylight in ages.

It may seem shallow to think that my femininity lies in dolling up, shopping till I drop and spending hours at the spa. It isn’t entirely that. It is the attitude that drives it. The desire to look and feel good physically. With no little modesty, I already look and feel good mentally. That is to say, I can hold my own in a conversation, I have ‘personality’ (which in some circles isn’t exactly a compliment but sucks to that crowd, I make my own rules. I have attitude as well.)

My vanity is what has been missing. It hasn’t cost me anything, externally. Quite truthfully, I have been getting my usual share of compliments and male interest coming my way. But it is something within, something invisible to other people. I think it is the idea of doing something for myself, of wanting something just because I do, without having to explain myself to any group of people, without having to fit into a norm of intelligence and practicality. It is that realization that I’m as intelligent, worthy, successful, respectable and admirable as I’d ever want to be or to prove. And now it’s time to spend time just doing things that make me feel good. Not for a reason but just because.

Suddenly I have a whole new understanding of why beauty lies within. It’s got nothing to do with how other people see you. It has everything to do with how you see yourself. The Garden of Eden within you, how do you cherish and nurture it?

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A version is posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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