This year, Buy Nothing Day covers the 24 busiest hours in the American shopping calender, on 24 and 25 November. I will be participating, only because I buy nothing on at least 300 out of every 365 days of the year. If everything about the nauseating excesses of Christmas consumerism makes you want to hurl, I urge you to join me.
I hardly ever use a credit or debit card. I usually don't even carry cash. I get most of my clothes on sale or at thrift stores, because I would not pay the inflated prices of new clothes even if I had money to burn, which I don't. 'Twas not always thus. Six years ago, before I had kids, I did not look at the price tag on shoes or clothes. I was seduced by the cut of a designer suit, the sheer prettiness of silk underwear, the scent of really expensive perfume. I enveloped myself in a gorgeous sensual world. I spent whatever money I earned, not only on myself, but on others. I like to think I was generous.
Sure, sometimes I do still get a thrill from a brush with luxury. Like last year, when I stayed in the Millenium Hilton in Manhattan with my French friend Brigitte. Staying there for the weekend with her did make me happy, for the first few hours, at least. For one thing, Brigitte shelled out for the hotel. For another, we were sharing a room on the 40th floor and one wall of the room was just glass, and the view of Manhattan at night was just so thrilling, it sent cold chills up my spine.
But then, after a few hours, Brigitte started to annoy me. We went out with some friends, and it was obvious she was going to go home with this guy, who, she claimed, looked like Joaquin Phoenix (I couldn't see it myself). But because she didn't feel bold enough to ask him if she could just go back to his place, I had to hang around to see if he was going to ask, which he eventually did, at 3am, when I was ready to collapse from Martini overload. So once she'd gone off with him, I excitedly went back to the hotel room, thrilled that I'd be sleeping in the king size bed on my own, rather than sharing it with her. My joy was short lived however, because she came back at eight am, and proceeded to make lots of noise showering (Why? Shouldn't she have been revelling in Joaquin's scent?). She then got into bed with me and started telling me what a fant-ast-ique lov-eeer this guy was and all about his body. And I'm like, I'm at a luxury hotel without the kids. I want to sleep. I don't particularly find it fascinating that although he is a dermatologist he has flaky skin on his back! Okay?
And then, later that day, I felt a bit like a prostitute. I felt like I had to do whatever Brigitte wanted, just because she was picking up the tab. We ended up haring all over Manhattan to find a certain design of Ralph Lauren shirt for her on-off boyfriend in London, which was very tedious. Then the second night, Brigitte slept at Joaquin's pad, so I had the bed to myself, which was sweet, but didn't compensate for the hours I'd spent in the Ralph Lauren Mansion (which I don't recommend by the way, it's peopled by extremely patronizing shop assistants with gelled back hair, who look down their noses at you). In short, the luxury of the weekend did not outweigh the human hassles of dealing with a Ralph Lauren shirt obsessed French nymphomaniac.
I should be pleased I am no longer the victim of marketing, but it is funny to think that nothing material makes me happy any more. It's good to be so free, but at the same time, so lost. Still looking for that thing that will give me contentment. At the moment only booze, sleep, writing fiction and funnily enough, exercising, make me feel upbeat. Which leads me to the question, what non-material things gives you the greatest happiness?
Yesterday I had a startling revelation. “Look,” I screamed at my husband, as I gazed at myself in the bathroom mirror, “there are my cheekbones! I haven’t seen them in years.” And indeed, there they were, smiling prettily back at me. I have also recently seen my ribs. And though I have been thinner than this in the past, this is the only time I have actually kept the weight steady for six months. How did I do it? By going to the gym every day and not eating between meals and hardly eating any desserts. I think I may even have conquered my problem with food.
Maybe the only reason in the past I did not realize I had a problem with food was that until I was thirty my metabolism was pretty high and I was thin and absolutely starving all the time. I used to have friends who’d put on an extra pan of potatoes when they knew I was coming round because they knew that after I’d eaten everything they offered me I’d need more bulk. But, like I say, I was slim. I never worked out, although I did walk a lot around London. I felt ambivalent towards my body. Yes, most of my friends were jealous of me because I am tall and have nice legs, but then I would focus more on the fact I didn’t have much in the way of breasts. Until I was thirty I guess my body was just there. Revelation: until I had my first daughter at thirty, I had never been on a diet in my life.
Of course, I had observed people on diets. A friend I knew at college used to go so far as pouring cold tea on her cereal to save, what, thirty calories? And then she tumbled into anorexia for a while. I suppose I never had to go on a diet because I was never fat. But that wasn’t to say I probably shouldn’t have been eating the amounts I was eating. I would eat when I was hungry but I would also eat chocolate when I was sad, ice cream when I was feeling restless, six slices of toast when the weather was grey (which in England is, let’s face it, a lot). I would get drunk and eat a kebab or fish and chips on a regular basis and never ever thought that that is like a thousand calories or whatever. In short I never made the connection between the amount of food you eat and how fat you become, because there was no correlation, in that I wasn’t fat.
Then I moved to the US while five months pregnant and started eating junk. I sat around the house eating those Big Bag packets of chips and frozen TV dinners, and after I gave birth to my daughter I was practically as fat as when I’d been carrying her. And then I had a new baby and didn’t know anyone so I just ate and ate and ate, until mercifully I went on holiday to Vienna and my mum put me on a diet and I lost the weight. Until I came back to the US, got pregnant again, put on a bunch of weight by pigging out, had the baby, lost weight in Vienna, came back to States, put all the weight on again. Aaaaaaah!
I used to think there was nothing wrong with being fat if you’re happy, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s true. Like I met this girl a few weeks back who was kind of interesting. She was one of those pretty fat women who just wear everything a thin woman wears but in a size 26. Like she was wearing a shirt with a waist, although she didn’t have a waist and bootleg trousers although they didn’t exactly look much like bootlegs because she was so fat. And she was just weird, she was like totally confident. She was super confident. She was like look at me I’m so fucking gorgeous. I mean, sure, she had a pretty face, but the rest of it was like, out of control. But she did get away with it. She was telling me how she fancied this hot guy at this party we were at and I was thinking, are you insane, are you nuts? Do you really think he would sleep with you in a million years? But you know what, maybe she pulled all the time, maybe she was out with hot guys all the time. Maybe there really are people who are happy being fat, but I certainly wasn’t one of them.
And this time in Vienna my mum didn’t even put me on a diet, she just gave me the psychological going over. “Why can’t you exercise any self control? Don’t you realize that if you eat too much you will just pack on the fat? I’m not going to bother stopping you eating because you don’t want to stop eating.” For the record, even at my fattest I wasn’t that fat, I was maybe at the fattest fat time a size 18. I am now a 10.
And I don’t know what it was, but for some reason the penny finally dropped. And I realized that if you just work out, eat normal sized meals and not junk and crap, surprise surprise, you will be able to keep a steady weight. And that after a while exercise isn’t even hard, because you are fit enough to do it.
And I also realized something else. To keep the weight off you actually have to like yourself. You actually have to say, you are worth something. And then, guess what, sometimes it actually becomes less like a mantra, and more like… the truth.
Who am I? Displaced Londoner now living in the States with my two little girlies and long suffering husband. Co-author of hilarious parenting book Cocktails at Naptime www.cocktailsatnaptime.com
My mom's an Austrian, my dad's a Brit, which makes me a Britaustrian, or possibly an Austrish?