is being a shopaholic truly an addiction?

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sa shopping window INLSA Women who can't pass a shop without spending their childrens supper don't deserve our understanding, says a writer. Picture: Mxolisis Madela

NO

SAYS CAROL SARLER

The name itself gives the game away: “shopaholic”. Get it? Of course we do: by borrowing, as it does, from “alcoholic”, it implies the two problems have something in common.

This is not mere over-indulgence, the name insists; this is a disease. A condition, a syndrome, whose “victims” – just like those in the grip of alcohol – deserve your heartfelt compassion.

Now scientists in the US claim they have found a pill which can cure shopaholics. Psychiatrists tested a medication called memantine, normally prescribed to prevent deterioration in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. The results showed that after eight weeks, men and women taking the pill reduced the amount of time they devoted to shopping and the amount of money they spent.

Offering a cure suggests they, too, believe they are dealing with an illness – an attitude I regard as another nail in the coffin of common sense.

To suggest that those who cannot pass a shop without popping in to bankrupt themselves are in the same boat as a person who knows that their next beer or whisky could kill them – and then drinks it anyway – is, frankly, an insult to alcoholics.

For some unfortunate people, alcohol is a poison, up there with crack cocaine. When their system is infused with it, they really cannot help themselves: not their decay, not their degradation, and certainly not their actions. Indeed, so piteous is alcoholism at its worst that at first glance it’s hard to see why any Louboutin-strutting fashionista would wish to be even remotely associated with it.

At second glance, however, it’s all too tragically obvious. It’s precisely because, however grudgingly, we accept alcoholics are driven by forces beyond their control, so too do these so-called shopaholics want to be considered as bona fide addicts. They also want to be excused.

They don’t want us to believe their spending habit is nothing more than selfish greed; far better, from their point of view, that we feel sorry for them instead. So, one afternoon, 10 pairs of shoes and a purple bustier that doesn’t quite fit? Not her fault, is it? The girl can’t help it.

Well, I’m afraid – if you’ll pardon the pun – I don’t buy it. For a start, if it were a real affliction, it would have been around as long as shops have and it would apply to both sexes and all ages. But it hasn’t and it doesn’t.

When a man roars past in one of those midlife-crisis cars, clad in Armani and bling that most would guess he cannot afford, what do people say? “Tacky”, at worst. More likely: “Last of the big spenders, huh?” Or, on a good day: “Wow!”

They do not, however, call him a shopaholic. That’s a title reserved solely for women – very often used to describe themselves, and for those of an age and a mentality who relish the idea that they’re just too girly-weak to be expected to exercise self-control.

My mother’s generation wouldn’t have dreamt of it. The ethic of her time was that if you really wanted something you worked for it. Or saved. Or usually both.

Now, however, we’re immersed in the “because I’m worth it” generation, a mantra happily espoused by spoilt brats who seem quite unable to grasp the simple maths: you are worth exactly – and not a cent more than – what you have in your bank account.

Indulged by parents or sometimes by husbands hellbent on making rods for their own backs, these are women who confuse “need” and “want” and whose desire to own for owning’s sake outweighs anything approaching self-respect.

Yet still they live in denial. Not about the money spent – rejected credit cards remind them of that – nor even that much of their money is wasted. Wardrobes full of the unworn and unloved bear testimony. What they continue to deny is that any part of it is actually their fault.

So fiercely liberal have we become about anything that masquerades as an addiction, not one person ever comes on and says: “Oh, for heaven’s sake, get over yourself.”

If your credit cards are burning a hole in your pocket, cut them up. If you can’t go out without spending cash, stay at home. You’re not ill, honey – you’re stupid.

Instead, all we get is sympathy, and all that sympathy brings, according to the US research, is this: women who earn a decent whack but nevertheless end up thousands in debt because they spend more than 60 percent of it on impulsive purchases – mainly clothes – during an average of 38 hours a week in shops.

For this, we manned the barricades, clenched our fists and screamed our strength: ‘I am Woman, hear me roar…”

It is dispiriting enough to see women weakened by the whims and whimsy of men; it is infinitely more so to see women weakened, of their own volition, by a wilful refusal to act more like grown-ups and less like children in a sweet shop.

Sympathy be damned, I say. Women who spend their children’s supper on shoes don’t deserve our understanding or support – let alone these magical new pills – to relieve their “symptoms”. What they really deserve is a smacked bottom.

YES

SAYS TAMARA STURTZ

Shopping is my biggest weakness. It’s a compulsion that dominates my life. So when I read about the possibility of a pill to cure shopaholics, it was music to my ears.

I would try almost anything to cure my shopping problem – even medication. I don’t think I am merely over-indulging myself. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I had an addiction; characterised by the same highs and lows shared by alcoholics, drug addicts or gamblers.

I spend hundreds every month on things I don’t need and I have more than R10 000 worth of unworn clothes in my wardrobe, sitting there untouched. Reminders of my guilty habit.

It’s not an addiction that means I can’t function, but it affects my life nevertheless. I frequently feel it’s out of control. And when I think of the money I could have saved by now if I hadn’t splurged so often, I am consumed with guilt.

It started in my early teens, when I spent all my pocket money on lipstick and black eyeliner. I progressed to buying my first designer dress when I was only 16 and since then my habit has only got worse.

Moving into a career in glossy magazines didn’t help. Most lunch breaks were spent scouring the shops, and while my colleagues used to joke about my “habit”, it had barely begun to take hold at that stage.

Then I decided to open a fashion and lifestyle boutique with a girlfriend.

I had the most fabulous clothes and accessories on tap, and we would spend hours discussing the importance of skinny jeans and high heels, or how our lives would be transformed if we bought the latest St Tropez tanning spray. My job facilitated my shopping habit.

Now that I’m working from home, the internet has become my new best friend. If I am down, a new purchase will put the world to rights. I get such a high when a package arrives that I often leave it a day or two before opening it, simply to prolong the suspense and, dare I say it, euphoria.

If things go wrong, a new dress washes the problem away for a day or two. But the fix is always temporary, and before I know it I’m shopping again.

I have a friend who shops for clothes that are practical, comfortable and durable. She buys them because she needs them, not because she lusts after them. And, more importantly, she wears the clothes she buys.

My wardrobe is full of beautiful items I never wear. I buy them thinking I’ll sparkle in my fashionable wedges and maxi dress, but in reality my jeans and top are just, well, comfortable.

I still have a bag under my desk with a top in it that I bought last year, unopened. I can’t even remember what it looks like.

I thought after I had my daughter, now three, my shopping habit would naturally subside, but in reality it has got worse.

Because I still haven’t lost some of my baby weight, I’m now buying clothes that I will slim in to. A very dangerous strategy, I know.

I have also discovered that accessories are a great alternative when clothes don’t fit. Last week, it was a designer handbag, but being “pre-loved” it was a fraction of the price, therefore in my eyes, completely justifiable.

This week, it might be a beautiful embroidered bag, a long coral necklace or a large crystal ring.

My daughter also has a rather fabulous wardrobe with more labels than she can possibly wear.

I’d love not to be wasting my hard-earned money on clothes that don’t even see the light of day. Would I rather be saving instead of spending? Of course I would.

I haven’t sought help in the past for my shopping addiction, as there have always been more important issues to deal with, such as four years of fertility treatment and other family problems.

But now that I’m writing this, I can see that something clearly needs to be done. Like losing weight, if it was as easy as popping a magic pill, I would seriously consider trying it. I know that shopping doesn’t make my life better, it just fills my wardrobe with clothes that no one ever sees and makes me poorer.

And I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that shopping like this is acceptable.

So if the shopping pill becomes available, I’ll be among the first to pop it. And in the meantime? I’ll do my best to curb my spending, even setting myself a goal and saving up for a holiday instead.

But only after I’ve bought the sparkly flip-flops that I saw yesterday. – Daily Mail


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