ISSUE TWO: On Choice
Recently I bought my dad slippers for Father’s Day. When I started looking online for this purchase, I took a deep breath and opened my internet browser anticipating to open multiple tabs in order to read reviews, find the right size and the best pair available. However, that hardly had a chance to happen. I had the purchase (electronically) in hand in under ten minutes. At first, I thought I had made a rash decision, but I had actually looked at a few sites and then it dawned on me, there wasn’t actually that much to choose from.
The lack of choice had not only made the process easier but highlighted to me how much time I would normally take when buying something for myself, or, another woman.
If I were to undertake shopping for the same item in the female equivalent, it would be exactly that, an undertaking. Sure, it could be said that by buying for myself the personal investment may be greater. However, I have the desire to know that I have seen all the best options. A principle I apply regardless of who I am shopping for.
It seems to come down to shopping being seen as a pursuit for women when it is a means to an end for men. Women are encouraged to and will often make a hobby of this task as I know I have. If I had to fill out a very basic personality test (just imagine I would need to do that), then shopping would definitely be on the list.
In Navaz Batliwala’s The New Garconne: How To Be A Modern Gentlewoman, perfumer Lyn Harris admits to being ‘one of those people’ who obsesses over something and tries everything out often to pick her initial choice, she justifies this by saying ‘I know they’re the best because I’ve tried them all.’
I too am an obsesser – I am sure a behavioural psychologist, or my phone, could tell me how long and often I look at something before I take the plunge, I’ll walk around shopping centres making a list on my phone to keep track of what I am even doing and I will even keep looking after the fact – just to be sure. On the odd occasion, I stop completely for fear of seeing something else, that’s god forbid, better.
In Alvin Toffler’s 1970 novel, Future Shock, he discusses the idea of choice. It might sound rather obvious, but in essence, Toffler is saying that the more choice we have the longer a decision takes the chooser. So being presented with two options is easier than being presented with four-even if we make the same choice each time.
This is only exacerbated by technology. Unlike having to walk from one store to the next, I can simply open multiple tabs, windows, devices and take in all my options. On top of this I can read reviews, hear of personal experiences, see things styled by others, see myself in the item and watch YouTube videos all about the same bloody thing.
The number of products offered to women contributed to pure distraction. Whilst men get to use the time saving if not confusing 3 in 1 squeezy bottle of whatever women are encouraged to anti-age, hydrate, mattify and glow.
At a training for a part-time job at a skincare and makeup store the trainer told us a ‘horror’ story of her brother using Dettol to clean his face every day. We collectively shuddered and laughed then went on to learn the ‘necessity’ of a multi-step skin care routine. Side note: apparently this woman’s brother had flawless skin. The irony.
The opposite to this decision making buffet is of course to have no choice at all. A few years ago this felt like a nirvana. I had heard the quote ‘to be rendered choiceless is to be free’ and for some reason this felt apt. I relayed this quote to my then mentor teacher who told me she didn’t agree, ‘what about people in prison?’ she questioned. I was stumped, like most neat quotes they worked best when applied to the frivolous such as brunch options or candles. During this time whenever I bought something I would buy it in every colour available; simultaneously providing myself with lots of options (that were all the same) and ensuring I didn’t make the wrong choice. Making the wrong choice sometimes can be a revelation because at least a decision has been made. The to-ing and fro-ing can end.
Minimalism is something we have seen a lot of lately, the philosophy which encourages you to whittle down material possessions. This philosophy of less is more doesn’t eliminate the idea of choice completely but allows you to use the energy you would spend making decisions or trying to find the right cleanser on a reddit thread for more important things.
And this is just it, we have been encouraged to spend time making fairly pointless decisions thinking that they will have a big impact on our life. A large theme of this essay has been things pertaining to appearance. I don’t dismiss these as unimportant but what does need to be dismissed is the amount of energy, they are able to take from us when we could be using that time for something more beneficial.
It’s not that we need to constantly question our choices but question which choices we are giving our time too.
This past week I have been watching an old favourite, Bosch. I also watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix which freaked me out about social media more so than I am already. I have really struggled to settle into a book so have swapped between Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self Regard and Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror. I’ve been listening to Booty Shakers Ball by Vista Kicks and lots of Taylor Swift.
What’s everyone else been up to?