SICK GIRL SHOP­PING

You might ac­tu­ally need ther­apy for your re­tail ther­apy.

Preview (Philippines) - - Preview November - WORDS BY CHICA VIL­LARTA

When re­tail ther­apy be­comes the prob­lem in­stead of the so­lu­tion.

feli­cia Fran­cisco*, 26, scans her closet, straight­en­ing out a few stray fringes off a black top she just ac­quired that morn­ing. Her closet (her two clos­ets, to be more spe­cific) take up a sig­nif­i­cant amount of her stu­dio unit and are ar­ranged hap­haz­ardly: color-co­or­di­nated hang­ers sep­a­rate tops from bot­toms, but only a few of them hang prop­erly while the rest com­pound in a colour­ful mess of cloth­ing. By the bed, sev­eral never-used clothes (telling by the tags at­tached to them) are on the verge of fall­ing off. Feli­cia scoops them up to clear the bed, and drops them in a gi­ant fold­able IKEA laun­dry ham­per. Fill­ing half of the ham­per are even more un­used clothes, the stark white tags stand­ing out from the fab­ric blob.

At the op­po­site end of Feli­cia’s condo is her bot­tom cup­board, and here lies a mas­sive col­lec­tion of folded pa­per bags, amassed from many months of shop­ping (she al­ready did a mas­sive purge last month as the bags were over­flow­ing from their stor­age). The stack of pa­per bags are neatly com­pressed into mul­ti­ple piles as if in a sale counter, and are of var­i­ous brands and sizes—some are from the neigh­bor­hood de­part­ment store while some were flown home from Feli­cia’s re­cent trips to Toronto and Hanoi. A few feet away were a dozen stuffed bags, yet un­opened.

“I save all my pa­per bags be­cause I can re­use them even­tu­ally. I like be­ing eco­nom­i­cal,” Feli­cia says with a smirk. But the re­mark was a self-dep­re­cat­ing at­tempt to hu­morize a mor­bid sit­u­a­tion, for atop Feli­cia’s shoul­ders is a mas­sive P200,000 credit-card debt wait­ing to be paid.

Com­pul­sive buy­ing disorder (CBD) comes in sev­eral other names: onio­ma­nia, a de­riv­a­tive of Greek words onios (for sale) and mania (the state of in­san­ity); and shopa­holism. Feli­cia’s case is a prob­a­ble can­di­date for CBD: ex­ces­sive shop­ping and buy­ing with a marked neg­a­tive ef­fect on the doer.

Feli­cia is, for all in­tents and pur­poses, a work­ing city girl thor­oughly en­joy­ing the lib­er­ties of a sin­gle lady in her late 20s. Twice pro­moted in her posh ad­ver­tis­ing job and liv­ing alone in a rented condo close to the busi­ness dis­trict, Feli­cia has long set­tled into self-suf­fi­cient, in­de­pen­dent liv­ing. She pays for rent, bills and leisurely ex­penses from her own earn­ings. Stripped of money for a good part of her life—at 12, Feli­cia’s fa­ther lost his po­si­tion as a bank ex­ec­u­tive while her mother’s re­cruit­ment agency went bank­rupt just a few years af­ter—one can say that Feli­cia is mak­ing up for lost time. Her weekly credit card tab racks up on at least two books a week, din­ing in ex­pen­sive res­tau­rants ev­ery night, booze and cig­a­rettes on the week­end (in many in­stances Feli­cia pays for her friends’ as she keeps an open tab at the bar), and scores of bud­get travel tick­ets. Be­long­ing to a cir­cle of aes­thet­i­cally charged young cre­atives whose very ca­reers cen­ter on cre­at­ing the need to buy nice stuff, she ac­quires cloth­ing, shoes and jewelry on an al­most daily ba­sis, whether on­line or in her fa­vorite stores.

Feli­cia earns less than a quar­ter of the P200,000 she owes the bank, and is com­pletely at a loss as to how she’ll set­tle this debt quickly enough with­out rack­ing up a sig­nif­i­cant amount of in­ter­est. “Work­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing and be­ing among a cir­cle of peo­ple as en­thu­si­as­tic about shop­ping, din­ing out and trav­el­ing as me, I al­ways thought my spend­ing habits were nor­mal, even ther­a­peu­tic. For a while I seriously thought that shop­ping had a pos­i­tive ef­fect on me—af­ter work­ing late hours or be­ing be­rated by my boss, there was no stress that brand-new clothes, plates or plane tick­ets couldn’t fix.”

It was a widely ac­cepted fact that the act of shop­ping is cathar­tic, and to an ex­tent, hu­man be­ings are gen­er­ally in­flicted with an in­tense de­sire—that is, an im­pulse—to con­sume. But how does one iden­tify if their shop­ping be­hav­ior is a nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring im­pulse or an er­ratic case of CBD? The first step is to re­al­ize that com­pul­sive buy­ing disorder has the same ge­netic makeup as all other med­i­cally di­ag­nosed ad­dic­tions. Ac­cord­ing to a study con­ducted by doc­tors O’guinn and Faber in 1989, CBD is “a re­sponse to an un­con­trol­lable drive or de­sire to ob­tain, use or ex­pe­ri­ence a feel­ing, sub­stance or ac­tiv­ity that leads an in­di­vid­ual to repet­i­tively en­gage in a be­hav­ior that will ul­ti­mately harm the in­di­vid­ual and/or oth­ers.”1 Spend­ing a mini for­tune on a sin­gle shop­ping binge isn’t nec­es­sar­ily con­sid­ered a disorder if you can very well af­ford it, but the mo­ment you trade off, say, your kid’s school fees or med­i­cal treat­ment to af­ford your pur­chase, then that’s when it be­comes harm­ful and there­fore dis­or­derly.

The sec­ond step would be to in­tro­spect on the tan­gi­ble ef­fects of the shop­ping act. Emil Krae­pelin, one of the ear­li­est physi­cians who rec­og­nized com­pul­sive buy­ing as a dis­ease in 1915, pro­vided a more con­crete def­i­ni­tion: “Krae­pelin men­tions the buy­ing ma­ni­acs (onio­ma­ni­acs) in whom even buy­ing is com­pul­sive and leads to sense­less con­trac­tion of debts with con­tin­u­ous de­lay of pay­ment….”2 In short, when you’re broke and in deep debt yet still keep swip­ing, then there is most likely a prob­lem.

These broad def­i­ni­tions of the disorder make Feli­cia’s case qual­i­fied for CBD. But Feli­cia is not alone. Women make up 80 per­cent of known CBD cases in the United States, and while there is a sub­stan­tial lack of em­pir­i­cal stud­ies of onio­ma­nia in the Philip­pines (the disorder it­self is sup­ported by lim­ited lit­er­a­ture and has yet to be gen­er­ally ac­cepted as a clin­i­cal con­di­tion), Filipino women are still more likely to shop than men as they take up 60 per­cent of the to­tal con­sumer pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the an­nual Nielsen Shop­per Trends re­port in 2016.

Though fic­tional, there is one wo­man that comes to mind in the topic of shopa­holism. The most mem­o­rable se­quence in the 2009 chick-lit block­buster hit Con­fes­sions of a Shopa­holic starts with a mono­logue. “Re­becca, you just had a credit card bill of 900 dol­lars. You do not need a scarf,” the trou­bled pro­tag­o­nist Re­becca Bloom­wood in­ter­nal­izes as she fawns over a green scarf dis­played in the win­dow of a fic­tional Bar­neys-like bou­tique. Af­ter a con­vinc­ing speech by the scarf-don­ning man­nequin come to life (an ob­vi­ous hal­lu­ci­na­tory episode), Re­becca has­tens to the cashier, at­tempt­ing to pay off the $120 price tag with petty cash and mul­ti­ple credit cards. When her fi­nal card pay­ment is de­nied, she rushes to the near­est hot­dog stand, ad­mon­ish­ing the man to sell her 97 hot dogs and $23 in cash in lieu of a check pay­ment, all for “a des­per­ately im­por­tant scarf.” Re­becca took home the scarf she wanted.

This scene is ac­cu­rate in rep­re­sent­ing four phases in the act of com­pul­sive buy­ing. It all starts with an­tic­i­pa­tion, where the in­di­vid­ual sets her eyes on a spe­cific piece or place to shop. It is fol­lowed by prepa­ra­tion, where she gets ready for the splurge, mulling over which cards to use and con­vinc­ing her­self of the pur­chase. The hype she builds is ul­ti­mately con­sum­mated by shop­ping, in which the in­di­vid­ual is in peak eu­pho­ria. A 1994 com­pul­sive buy­ing study done on 46 sub­jects even re­ported some cases ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sex­ual plea­sure in the act of shop­ping.3 Fi­nally, the shop­ping act is le­git­imized and ends through spend­ing, an act of­ten fol­lowed by feel­ings of dis­ap­point­ment and guilt.

As with most ad­dic­tions, in­di­vid­u­als suf­fer­ing from CBD mo­men­tar­ily as­sume that once the cy­cle is com­plete, their de­sires will fi­nally be sa­ti­ated and there will be no crav­ing to spend fur­ther. Some will even as­suage reser­va­tions to spend by promis­ing that this will be their “last.” Such lofty procla­ma­tions of­ten

fail, and the cy­cle is bound to pick up again sooner or later once the “sale” sign is in sight or the next stress­ful in­ci­dent beck­ons.

Com­pul­sive buy­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be big spenders. The disorder of­ten stems from a sin­gle ini­tial pur­chase, with the act in­creas­ing in price, fre­quency or both, as the in­di­vid­ual latches on to the ther­a­peu­tic feel­ing of shop­ping. Even­tu­ally, she starts med­i­cat­ing her de­press­ing sit­u­a­tion through spend­ing, as the plea­sur­able act is able to mo­men­tar­ily nurse the stress. The mind af­flicted with com­pul­sive buy­ing be­hav­ior con­fronts three stages4: first is the ac­ti­vated feel­ing of emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal ten­sion, where “the per­son grows more and more anx­ious,” as in­di­cated by doc­tors at the Asian Hospi­tal in Ala­bang, Muntinlupa.5 Sec­ond, the af­flicted per­son ra­tio­nal­izes that the act of buy­ing will cure her from her af­flic­tion, which oc­curs right when the per­son heads to the mall or clicks on her shop­ping app. Fi­nally, the per­son com­pletes the act of shop­ping as a re­ac­tion to the build­ing ten­sion, rather than the need to own a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct.

This brings to mind the row of un­opened pa­per bags gath­er­ing dust at Feli­cia’s condo. For peo­ple who suf­fer from the disorder, the re­ward of their shop­ping act stops at the thrill of per­form­ing it, rather than the prod­uct they af­ter­ward ob­tain. The same qual­i­fier also proves why CBD is highly likened to other be­hav­ioral dis­or­ders such as klep­to­ma­nia or py­ro­ma­nia.

One can­not turn a blind eye to CBD’S highly likely links to fash­ion. As clothes can be af­ford­able, ac­ces­si­ble, dis­pos­able and ever-chang­ing, fash­ion en­thu­si­asts are highly sus­cep­ti­ble to the disorder. “Re­tail ther­apy” is a hall­mark term widely used mostly by the fash­ion-ob­sessed pre­cisely be­cause fash­ion ap­peals to he­do­nis­tic ten­den­cies (re­mem­ber, peo­ple with CBD en­gage in buy­ing be­cause it heals their in­ner ten­sions and conflicts). It’s a highly vis­ceral prac­tice, sa­ti­at­ing the need to feel good while mo­men­tar­ily sus­pend­ing logic and in­tel­lect. Most shop­pers la­bel their trendy pur­chases as guilty plea­sures, and that’s ex­actly what it is: Shop­ping is fod­der for one’s plea­sure senses, and by the time logic takes over again, the money has been spent, the dam­age has been done, and the re­main­ing feel­ing is the op­po­site of plea­sure.

While lov­ing fash­ion isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a health risk, the land­scape where it thrives cer­tainly makes peo­ple sus­cep­ti­ble to CBD. The phe­nom­e­non of on­line shop­ping il­lus­trates that fact for us. On­line shop­ping has phe­nom­e­nal­ized fash­ion in that it al­lows a more in­stant shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence—there’s vir­tu­ally zero time to con­tem­plate the im­por­tance of a pur­chase when one can shop in a few clicks. In the Philip­pines, the on­line shop­ping pub­lic is grow­ing at a steady rate. In a 2016 joint study con­ducted by a dig­i­tal news web­site and a lo­cal bank, there were 26.01 mil­lion e-com­merce users in 2015, with an ex­pected num­ber of 46.1 mil­lion users by 2020. In this multi­bil­lion in­dus­try, 140 mil­lion dol­lars are spent in clothes and shoes.

For this fea­ture, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from a top e-com­merce re­tail web­site re­counted the big­gest sin­gle pur­chase on the site: “A mid­dleaged pro­fes­sional pur­chased items amount­ing to an es­ti­mate of P190,000 at our an­nual sale in 2016,” she says. “Aside from this, the lady had made eight other pur­chases in the past year, with an av­er­age bas­ket size of P26,000 per or­der.” Fur­ther­more, the fig­ures that an on­line lux­ury shop­ping web­site shared with us give an even big­ger glimpse into how much and how of­ten some Filipinos are will­ing to spend for fash­ion. A mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive for the site of­fered: “Our big­gest one-time pur­chase was by a client who spent an es­ti­mate of P400,000 in one day. She paid in cash. Only a few days af­ter, she made an­other pur­chase worth P100,000. This client is a house­wife in her 20s.”

On­line so­cial and con­tent me­dia has in­flu­enced peo­ple’s buy­ing be­hav­iors. Haul videos—videos where in­di­vid­u­als dis­play, enu­mer­ate and tell sto­ries about their most re­cent pur­chases— are the sixth most viewed Youtube con­tent, way above highly pop­u­lar song cov­ers and cook­ing videos, ac­cord­ing to Me­di­akix, a Cal­i­for­nia-based on­line in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing agency. As of 2014, over 50 mil­lion peo­ple have spent an ex­cess of 1.6 bil­lion min­utes watch­ing haul videos, and in re­cent years, 700,000 haul videos have been posted on Youtube.6 The same study in­di­cated the ef­fect of haul videos on re­tail and proved that prod­ucts ap­pear­ing in haul videos fly off the shelves faster than oth­ers. Un­box­ing videos of­fer the same kind of ap­peal, where an­tic­i­pa­tion is at a high as so­cial­me­dia users “un­box” or un­ravel the pack­ag­ing of their in­ter­est­ing, of­ten ex­pen­sive pur­chases. In 2015, un­box­ing videos gar­nered more than 1.1 bil­lion Youtube views.7

The prob­lem with haul and un­box­ing videos is that they only par­tially rep­re­sent the pro­cess of buy­ing and ac­quir­ing ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions. These tan­ta­liz­ing videos are your shop­ping trip’s high­light reel. Aside from pre­sent­ing an un­nat­u­rally ex­ces­sive mode of spend­ing, they of­ten fail to in­clude (or even omit com­pletely) the very real con­se­quences of a shop­ping spree: pos­si­ble credit card debt, mis­placed fi­nances and shirked re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in fa­vor of in­dulging one’s com­pul­sions.

On the other hand, many cases of CBD point to a deeper psy­cho­log­i­cal prob­lem and of­ten have proven co­mor­bid­ity—that is, they manifest to­gether with a pre-ex­ist­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion. “Com­pul­sive buy­ers and their first-de­gree rel­a­tives of­ten have co­mor­bid psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders, par­tic­u­larly mood, anx­i­ety, sub­stance use, and eat­ing dis­or­ders. No par­tic­u­lar type pre­dom­i­nates, but the ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive, bor­der­line and avoidant per­son­al­ity types are seen most fre­quently,” says a study pub­lished by the Delhi Psy­chi­a­try Jour­nal in 2009. Shop­pers who suf­fer from CBD may even be us­ing the disorder to self-med­i­cate their associated dis­or­ders: de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, sub­stance abuse, eat­ing dis­or­ders and im­pulse con­trol dis­or­ders are only some of them.

What­ever the case may be, CBD is a real prob­lem, and it’s a con­di­tion that war­rants med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal as­sis­tance.

”One can­not turn a blind eye to CBD 's highly likely links to fash­ion. Fash­ion en­thu­si­asts are highly sus­cep­ti­ble to the disorder .”

pre­view 11.2017 CHAP­TER ELEVEN edited by jae de veyra pick­rell

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