I’m not shopping in 2020, here’s why and how

It’s already midway through January and I’ve barely started thinking about my resolutions! What diets, challenges, detoxes, or goals will I do?? I only have 353 days left this year!

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Over the past few days I’ve thought over in a panic what kind of goals I want to set for myself this year. There’s the usual lot that has rolled over from the last: be more active, lose some extra weight, maintain healthy relationships, spend less time on social media, blah blah blah.

The new year is a time where everyone is itching for diets and detoxes, to rid their bodies of sugar, toxins, and simple carbs. But in the past few years, my Youtube and blog-creeping has come up on a new type of detox: the Shopping Ban (or No Buy).

A typical Shopping Ban as I’ve seen it is a restriction on buying anything but the essentials for a determined amount of time: usually 6 months or a year. The fun and interesting part of this exercise is determining what really is “essential” for us. There are the no-brainers:

  • Food
  • Toiletries
  • Fitness

But I’ve seen a lot of Shopping Ban-dits (does this name work?) define other forms of essentials that require spending cash money. After all, we are not robots who can live and thrive off of carrots, tampons, and 15-min cardio sessions at Planet Fitness. As Cinzia from The Personal Philosophy Project states, a Shopping Ban or No-Buy year is not about punishing ourselves for the past years of spending. Nor is it a challenge to prove that becoming a hermit and rejecting all forms of modern socialization is the best way to live.

For me, a year-long Shopping Ban is a challenge for me to truly understand what I need to feel human and to feel myself.

I have come a long way from the crazed shopping addict I was in high school and early college. When I was around 16-18, I felt a need to define myself through material objects. I thought that my clothes and possessions needed to not only reflect, but project, who I was on the inside.

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What better way to celebrate studying abroad in Florence than to shop at Brandy Melville?

My room needed to be filled with tons and tons of books and statues of owls, otherwise how else could I reinforce to myself that I was a quirky bibliophile?

My wardrobe needed to overflow with grandpa sweaters and kimonos and pashminas, otherwise how else could people see that I love vintage and am artsy and creative?

I became much more frugal in my 20s and gave up shopping as a hobby, which I think was an effective way to stop the constant need to acquire more and more things. At the present, I don’t really buy things on impulse and I spend time reflecting and researching big purchases.

Then why the Shopping Ban? I’ve already come so far in confronting my shopping addiction, so why put myself through this challenge?

Although I’ve become better and more conscious about impulsively buying new clothes and decor, I still find myself itching to acquire things to reflect and reinforce the person I am and want to be. I still feel the need to define myself more through material objects and appearance than action and thoughts, which in my opinion is ineffective if not counterproductive.

Here’s an embarrassing but probably common example:

I own tons of books, and many of them are unread. I love reading and want to finish all the books in my library, but the rate of my buying books is grossly larger than my rate of reading them. Of course, this is normal, but does that make it okay? Last year I must have bought more than 30 books, but I only read 22!

I justified this habit because most of the books I bought were second-hand, from library sales, independent bookshops, and thrift stores. I didn’t spend as much money as I would have in Barnes &Noble, and I was supporting good causes with my dollar vote, but I still feel guilty for it. Why?

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Basically I wanted to be Belle

Because when I was making these purchases, I wasn’t thinking about the present. I wasn’t thinking about the dozens of books I already have that are still unread.

Instead, I was acting on this fear that I would run out of things to read, or that I would never have access to these certain books ever again.

Realizing this FOMO of material objects has helped me acknowledge one of the reasons why I buy things. I buy hoards of books because I’m afraid that I’ll want to read them one day but I won’t be able to find them. I buy souvenirs during trips because I’m afraid I won’t otherwise be able to capture the experience and emotions of a certain place if I don’t buy something to remind me.

I’m launching a Shopping Ban this year to confront this FOMO, this fear that my life and experiences are meaningless without the material totems I have assigned them to. I’m also doing this challenge to address my long, complicated relationship with having and spending money, which I will discuss on a later post.

For now, here are my personalized rules for my Shopping Ban in 2020:

Things I’m Allowed to Buy:

  1. Substantial Food – groceries
    • I’m challenging myself to prepare most of my meals at home
      • Only allowing myself (1) takeout lunch and (1) takeout dinner every week
  2. Toiletries – bath products and skincare that are already part of my routine (NO buying new products unless I have run out)
  3. Experiences – events, travels, concerts, etc. that I’m interested in

Things I’m Not Allowed to Buy:

  1. Social Snacks- this is food/drinks that I feel the need to buy in order to be with friends (going out for coffee/drinks/lunch)
    • During my Shopping Ban, I’m no longer going out to cafes or coffee shops just to socialize
    • Exception is beer tasting (I like beer)
  2. Clothes – no brainer. I have enough!
  3. Makeup – Don’t wear it much, but I have enough for when I do want to jazz up my face
  4. BOOKS – probably the hardest category
    • My challenge is to only read the books I already own
    • For books that I don’t own and am dying to read, I’ll make use of my library and the Libby app to borrow them
  5. Home decor – any seasonal decorations or otherwise practically useless tchotchkes

So there are my rules for 2020!

I’ll be checking in on my progress/thoughts/failures/ruminations throughout this year, but reach out in the comments if you have any specific questions for me to address.

Are you doing any special challenges or detoxes this year? What are your goals for 2020?

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I’m ready – to NOT shop!

More Info:

On Mental Health as a Filipino-American

I was inspired/#triggered to write this from this article that addresses toxic behaviors in Filipino culture. In it, Abby Pasion revisits her childhood as a young Filipino American and discusses the all-too-familiar family gathering with the infinite trays of food, ear-shattering karaoke, and unwarranted comments about bodies, accomplishments, etc.

Pasion talks about the pain that accompanied the eating and the laughter during these parties, as they were often places of “judgement, drama, and toxic social behaviors like child bragging and comparing, body-shaming, gossip, and even subtle public ridicule.”

As someone who grew up as the fat kid, this really hit home. It brought back memories of making my plate, finding a place to sit to enjoy my food, then being bombarded with comments about my weight.
“Oh my god, look at how much you’re eating, why don’t you just drink water!”
“O, you better run on the treadmill tonight, ha?”
“Your face is so pretty, anak. Why don’t you go on diet? Sayang naman, eh?”
And while I know these came from a place of love, I have to admit that they hurt and enraged me.

I think the most painful part of it all was that I didn’t allow myself to cry or show that I was hurt. Because I deserved and needed these comments, right? I was fat and it was unhealthy, so why would I be upset about the truth? I learned early on that the best way to react was to either not react at all, or to retaliate with a joke. One of the things that came from being a fat kid was the need for a sense of humor and fast wit. I could never speak back to my elders and tell them they were wrong for saying these things, but I could grow a thick skin and deflect. Laughter is the best medicine, but it became my vice and addiction when I used it as a means of numbing the emotions that I should have been processing and expressing.

When I was about 9-years-old, there was an instance where a family member learned how much I weighed. Being embarrassed, I asked them not to tell anyone. This was something personal to me and something I knew was wrong and ugly about myself. So when the person told all our friends and family about it the next Sunday at church, it felt like someone had stripped me naked and left me standing in front of an audience while they laughed at all my rolls and imperfections. I was devastated, but I couldn’t show it. Because if there’s anything worse than standing naked in front of a laughing audience, it’s crying while standing naked in front of a laughing audience.

It took a long time and a lot of reflection for me to get over my fear of treadmills and diets and health discussions, because in the back of my mind I always equated them with being publicly humiliated and ridiculed. I regret to say that it wasn’t until I had a boyfriend who loved me for all of me that I started to become truly okay with my body and understand that self-love went beyond posting selfies and face masks, rather it also encompassed taking care of my emotional and physical health.

With the recent birth of my nephew came the new generation in my family, and I find myself stressing about what kind of aunt and role model I want to be for him. While I do want to uphold Filipino traditions and culture, I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that family is a social hierarchy with children on the bottom. I want him to not fear social gatherings like I did as a kid, and I want him to be comfortable enough to speak up if I do or say anything wrong.

My brothers and I have discussed this and a big word we throw around is “ego.” While I do think that may be a part of the problem, I think the issue goes deeper than personal ego or self-esteem. Being an elder in a culture that values cohesive extended family structures means having taken the brunt of the hierarchy as a kid and young adult. My parents’ generation in my family are wonderful people and have raised my generation to be successful, so a part of their grasp to the hierarchy and archaic traditions could be that it worked for them, so why not us?

What I appreciate about Pasion’s article is that she doesn’t simply blame the older generation, making sure to point out that “it is easy to label the elders as the villains of this story. Taking a moment to challenge that and to look at the larger picture of toxic Filipino culture, there’s really an intergenerational conversation that needs to take place.” I was angry for a long time at my parents and aunts and uncles without analyzing where their behavior came from and what it probably was like for them when they were my age. As I’ve grown older, it’s become more clear to me that the hurtful comments and the toxic behavior were reiterations of what they must have experienced as children. I believe now more than ever that these expressions of “tough love” are not only rooted in good intentions, but that they also provide a window into truly understanding why and how this became part of our culture. And understanding that and starting conversations to fix it is the first step.

I must admit that although I know this first step, it’s still difficult as hell to approach the wheel, let alone try to break it. Confrontation has always been terrifying for me, even more so with the people I love and respect. But isn’t that a part of growing up? Understanding that although some things have been in place for a long time, they aren’t necessarily always right?

An emerging conversation amongst Filipinos is the topic of mental health. Pasion refers to a 2015 study finding that while “Filipino Americans have some of the highest rates of depression among Asian Americans, Filipino Americans also seek mental health treatment at some of the lowest rates.” During a family conversation about depression and anxiety, a family member expressed confusion at the apparent rise of mental health issues in my generation. “We never had depression,” they exclaimed, “but we had less money and things than you guys do. Why would you feel depressed?” A big consensus was that our generation does not pray enough (another issue for another day), but one of the glaring reasons as to why our generation seems to be more depressed and anxious is that we and the society we live in are more open about it. My grandma and grandpa were very loving parents and grandparents, but I’m sure if anyone had come to them and told them they were having panic attacks, they would have pointed them to the nearest Santo Nino and Mary statue with a rosary in hand.

So who can blame my parents and aunts and uncles for not completely understanding mental health issues and how to help?

Throughout high school, I suffered from frequent panic attacks. With how comfortable my life was and how many resources I had at my disposal, I didn’t understand why I had them and felt frustrated at myself for being weak and sensitive. It wasn’t until I started seeing a counselor during my freshman year of college that I started to work through why I was having these feelings and what I could do to address and fix them (it wasn’t prayer).

One of the most difficult conversations I had with my counselor was about the root of my anxieties, where she focused on my relationship with my family. I was defensive at first, because I didn’t want to victimize myself and in turn make them villains. But through long discussions and a lot of work she helped me understand that it wasn’t that simple, and that I needed to learn how to maintain these vital relationships while also distancing myself from toxic and unwanted behavior. The solution we came up with was moving out from my parents’ house while remaining relatively nearby, because until then I was either living under their roof or studying abroad on another continent. She pointed out that my relationship with my parents had only ever seen 2 extremities, which could have been the reason why I didn’t have the tools to confront my feelings about it. I either felt suffocated by them, or was too far away to process them.

So here I am: 23-years-old living about an hour away, a daughter, sister, cousin, and auntie. I can happily say that over the years I’ve worked on my response to my anxieties (whether about my family or work or a sudden change of plans that I wasn’t ready for), and I’ve definitely progressed in how I process and express myself. My family has had its ups and downs but I see my siblings and cousins being more outspoken about their beliefs and the beginnings of what look like open conversations with the older generation. It’s hard work and I don’t see it becoming any easier any time soon, but I have hope that love (and tigas ng ulo) will help us follow through.

Breaking Up with Makeup

There was a moment in my life where I never let the sunshine touch my skin. Before I stepped out into the world, I needed to paint over my acne scars, flick a wing at the edge of my eyes, and color in where the hallows of my cheeks should be. I played with pinks and reds and purples and spent unfathomable amounts of time and money on figuring out how to look flawless, chiseled, highlighted in order to make myself feel powerful, fierce, capable, beautiful.

For a bit of context, I spent most of middle school looking like this:

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I was in the midst of the existential turmoil that comes with puberty, and looked up to  punk icons like Sioxsie Sioux and Brody Dalle, thence the awful haircut that definitely broke my mom’s heart. There were many instances where it was me versus the daughter she had imagined: a daughter who would have had long hair and worn clothes besides her brothers’ band t-shirts and the godforsaken Jack Skellington hoodie I refused to take off. I remember crying one evening before church because my mom insisted I wear a green and yellow floral top; we begged each other without much avail to understand the opposite sides of that blouse. On another instance, she confided in me the painful embarrassment she went through over how I looked, all because someone had mistakenly referred to me as her son. This was also the time where I was beginning to explore my sexuality and gender identity: I started researching about the LGBTQ community and came to realize that not only was I queer, I didn’t really identify with the standards placed onto women. I wasn’t beautiful or feminine and didn’t want to waste my time on striving to be either of those. As the sole girl in a litter of 4 rowdy kids, I had abandoned my Barbies in 3rd grade and turned to WWE, Tekken, basketball, and all other things that frustrated the hell out of my mom and dad. So I abandoned society’s preset principles of femininity  and embraced the fact that I just happened to look like a pudgy teenage boy. But freeing myself of these expectations didn’t make me happy — quite contrarily I was still miserable about being ugly even though I had already accepted it as my fate.

The melancholy of middle school began to wear off towards the end of 8th grade. My friends and I, the Nerd Cave Crew, shunned the idea that girls had to be petite and cute and have shiny long hair while we proudly rocked our completely-punk-and-NO-my-mom-did-NOT-buy-this-from-Hot-Topic identities. I comforted myself from the fact that I was not conventionally attractive by completely disregarding society’s expectations of attractiveness, but I still avoided mirrors and stooped my head in social situations in the hopes that I would not be seen.

The first time I remember actually studying my face and seeing that it really wasn’t that bad was the night of the 8th grade formal dance.  Having no makeup of my own, I used one of my mom’s Estee Lauder palettes and swiped a pale glittery purple on my eyelids, then smudged a bit of eyeliner on my lower lashes just like the girl on YouTube showed me. After applying mascara and curling my eyelashes with the terrifying metal contraption, I looked in the mirror and saw a girl. It was the first time my Nerd Cave friends saw me in a dress or wearing makeup, and the first time in my teenage years that I felt pretty. I couldn’t help but feel a bit more human because I finally resembled what I assumed society, my mom and dad, what the world expected from me.

At first makeup was liberating because it gave me control over how I could look like. I was never the pretty girl, so to finally have these tools to emulate some sort of beauty felt like finally grabbing hold of mjolnir after a long battle where I had been fighting naked and vulnerable.

I began buying my own makeup and religiously watching beauty videos on YouTube during my freshman year of high school. I experimented with eyeshadows and lipsticks, developed a detailed face routine with foundation, contour, and blush, and perfected the art that is winged eyeliner. High school was pretty fun for me: I still wasn’t skinny or as pretty as the other girls but every morning I sat in front of the mirror and studied the canvass of my face, thinking Yeah, I can work with this.

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Of course, plastering one’s face every single day with cheap foundation and powders in the throes of puberty is going to be rough on anyone’s pores. My skin had never been the greatest, but throughout high school and my freshman year of college it was constantly a cycle of covering up those swelling, pus-filled bumps on my face, scraping off the makeup at the end of the day with expensive acne-fighting products and desperate hopes, then finding new inflamed bumps the very next morning. Makeup was my tool to feel human and deserving of social interaction, but what good is hammering a few nails on a wall with no foundation?

Studying abroad in high school and college did wonders for my self-esteem because I had proved to myself that I was smart and brave enough to explore the word. I lived in cities I had never even dreamed of visiting, and met and befriended people of different walks of life. But being the teenager that I was, neither intelligence nor courage sufficed. I still felt like the one in the friend group who had to be funny and outrageous to make up for what I lacked in looks. Looking back now, I can’t help but regret all the time, money, and space I wasted lugging around my makeup to different parts of the world. I would wake up in my dorm at school or whatever hostel we were staying in and rush to the bathroom to put on my face. Without the comfort of foundation, contour, and eyeliner I didn’t want others to see me, see the red mountains lining my jaw, the bulging lack-of-cheekbone, and the short and straight eyelashes that left my eyes dull.

It was after I had dropped out of NYU, started working at Starbucks while finishing school online at Arizona State, and discovered my love for the outdoors that my relationship with makeup began crumbling. At first it was sheer laziness — the early mornings and 6-8 hours of steaming milk and pouring espresso shots just didn’t seem to call for any makeup.

Then, seeing my bare face on a daily basis began to desensitize me to the insecurities I had garnered over the course of puberty and my young adult life. I found that the shape of my eyes were actually quite pretty, and that I do indeed have cheek bones. My features are not as sharp or defined as others’, but why do they have to be? After years of abusing it with pore-clogging concealers and powders, and harsh chemicals to negate the effects of the former, I began taking better care of my skin and body. In turn it thanked me by clearing up the acne that had riddled my face and self-esteem for so many years — the less makeup I wore, the more beautiful I realized I actually am.

20190317_150436So here I am at 23, with a full-time “big girl job” at an office and a dream to travel the world while helping others while I do it. One of the ways I want to help you is to open up a discussion about makeup and insecurities. Sure, makeup can be used as a medium for self-expression and empowerment. AOC’s iconic red lip and hoops are a way of paying homage to her Bronx background and a big “Fuck you” to those who don’t think fashionable or pretty can exist alongside intelligent and strong. Frida Kahlo was known to  accentuate her unibrow and facial hair despite the ridiculous expectations that women should not grow hair anywhere besides where society has deemed appropriate. Drag queens bake and highlight and carve out impeccable eyebrows while questioning gender identities that are forced upon us by social norms. These are just a few examples of how makeup is freeing and empowering.

But when it becomes the crutch upon which one desperately leans in order to feel worthy to face the world, I’m afraid it’s the makeup that is wearing you.

I was a bit afraid of going to work without makeup, terrified that people would think I don’t take myself seriously or care how I present myself. While I do reject what society says how I should dress/act/feel/speak as a woman, I also care deeply about the image of myself that I put out into the world. But I can paint myself just as well and even better with words, action, and work as with some blush or eyeliner. So I am dumping you, makeup. As the title suggests, this is my official breakup letter.

Dear Makeup,

We have had a long and complicated relationship over the past few years. I discovered you when I was young and quite vulnerable, and you embraced me with open arms and showed a side of me I had never thought to look for. Thank you for helping me find and accept my femininity, and thank you for being on fleek for so many years.

Having said this, there were parts of our journey that weren’t so great. I spent so much time and resources on you, time and resources that could have gone to things that make me feel happier. I missed out on precious sleep and countless breakfasts because I was so dedicated to you and thought you were the only thing that could help me face this world.

What I have come to realize is that I simply don’t need you anymore. I can’t say I’m sorry that I’m ending it like this, so I just want to you to know that we’ll still be friends. There are still weddings and parties in the future where I might reach for you, but only because I want you. Not because I need you.

So thanks again for making me look skinnier when I thought that was an important thing to strive for, thanks for making me feel powerful when I wore red or purple lipstick, and thanks for the fierceness I found with winged eyeliner. I am so grateful you helped me find these things, but I am beginning to realize that I can feel powerful, fierce, strong, capable, and beautiful without you.

All my love,

Dina Klarisse