Thursday, June 11, 2009

Robyn's Complaint- Ethical Consumerism and the Fashionable Girl


I have oft been accused of being evil or morally bankrupt- usually by dudes, and usually in regards to my attitudes concerning sexuality, fidelity, etc. Oh, and you know, that whole having gone my whole life not having ever believed in god thing. Anyway, this is not exactly true. I just have my morals in different places- I was just raised with different commandments- commandments like "be way smarter than the boys", "stand up for people", "be unwaveringly loyal to your friends", "don't cross a union picket line", "choose your choice", and "vote with your feet, vote with your dollar." That last one has been the general theme of the past few days.

I was telling my mom about the leggings I coveted but did not purchase from American Apparel.

"If it was the 70's, those stores would have been burned down! I can't believe you people! I can't believe you'd hand over any money to a creep like that!", she said.

I explained the moral quandary- the workers who make the clothing *are* actually paid a living wage. Also, I am a fan of leggings. She explained that it didn't matter, because Dov Charney is a misogynist.

"Don't make excuses. Boycotts are the only thing that change anything! You think I didn't like grapes? You think I didn't like orange juice?" It went on for a while. I know she's right. I did not buy the leggings.

What I did do yesterday, however, was a bit worse. I got a manicure/pedicure at the cheap nail place across the street. I don't do this often, because it's a whole world of mental anguish for me, for the following reasons:

1) I know that I should really just do it myself.

2) Flesh eating diseases. Do not want.

3) For godsakes, my best friend is a Nail Tech. A licensed one. Unlike the people at these places. She tells me a lot of freaky stories about how dangerous they are.

4) I always fuck it up and feel really guilty when they have to redo it.

But mostly, it's because the whole thing smacks of imperialism in a way that fills me with horror. I mean, I'm sitting there in the massage chair, my feet in the blue water, reading the latest issue of Harper's, looking at the posters on the wall (hands with long fake nails clutching a crystal ball, feeding fish, holding flowers...), and I cannot relax. Not for two seconds.

A little boy, the son of one of the manicurists comes up to me and tells me that he is five and likes humongasaurs, and would like to know if I like humongasaurs as well. "Humongasaurs are awesome. Who doesn't love humongasaurs?" I say. We talk for a few minutes, and I try to pretend like I totally understand what he's talking about (Alas, I am not hip to what's cool with the kiddie set these days), and soon his mother finishes with her previous customer, she comes up and starts removing the poorly applied red nail polish from my toes.

I am not comfortable with people touching my feet. It's a thing I have. I guess that's why I couldn't ever go to Nicole for a pedicure- I see her way too often for that. It's not like I have terrible feet or anything- other than the fact that two of my toes are a little too Siamese-ish for my liking, and the fact that I have weirdly high arches. I probably wouldn't even bother with pedicures if I was any good at doing it myself, or if I didn't work in an environment where I have to be perfectly groomed always. I only get two a year to supplement my own efforts, but even that is a little much for me.

Once she's done buffing and sloughing and doing all that other shit, another girl comes over to do my nails. This is where I really start to freak out. Why? Because of the Imperialist thing. Because I'm sitting there, being a white lady, my Marc Jacobs shoes tossed off to the side, with these two Vietnamese ladies waiting on me, literally, hand and foot. The power dynamics here are just icky. I hate myself. I am the worst person ever. I am Mrs. Pickering. I am having a heart attack. Nice feet and hands are just not worth this agony. I cannot possibly be this person! I used to hate these people! They might be talking about me in Vietnamese- discussing my bizarrely high arches and Siamese toes, the fact that I keep screwing up their paint jobs, smearing pink (toes) and school bus yellow (fingers) nail polish on my scarf or their equipment- maybe they think I'm some smug bourgie twit. This doesn't bother me. They should, by all rights, be talking shit about me, and all the other customers. I used to talk shit about customers in French with my old co-worker. It's how you deal.

I feel sometimes as though I've slacked on some of my convictions as of late. I drink Diet Coke now, something I boycotted for years. I drink Starbucks, because it's close to my work. And every time I do either of those things, I feel sick. I die a little on the inside. I can't use ignorance as an excuse, because I know how insanely evil the Coca-Cola corporation is as far as human rights violations go. I know how evil Nestle is, and yet I buy shit tons of Nestle hot chocolate because I like it better than Swiss Miss. I buy chocolate, often, even though I know that cocoa beans are often harvested by slaves. Actual slaves. I shop at Urban Outfitters, even though I know the owner donated money to Rick Santorum and various other awful conservative candidates. When I'm low on cash, I buy non-fair trade coffee. I've bought clothes and shoes that I know full well were probably produced using child labor.

I used to be on the all boycott diet. I used to only buy my clothes from thrift stores, or make them myself. I used to be an organizer. For godsakes, I was on the cover of the Washington Times, post-getting billy clubbed in the tits during an anti-WTO protest! I was that person, and now I'm this person. I don't think I'm ok with it. I feel like I'm becoming the people my mom hated in the 80's- the former hippies who turned into the me-generation. I feel like I've capitulated too much. I don't have the time to go to every protest these days, but I am able to be an ethical consumer, instead of a lazy consumer. And I can do my own damn nails from now on.

2 comments:

Welcome to Chicago, Jillinois said...

First and foremost: leggings FTW.

Secondly, I agree totally. I just cannot get into anything that involves one group of people (usually immigrants) doing something for me while I sit there and watch. Like doing my nails or cleaning my house. Ugh.

Miss Robyn said...

I think we need to create our own line of ethical leggings.