Somewhere between the Russian Orthodox Christmas and the Chinese New Year I made what felt like a life-changing decision: to fast. But it had nothing to do with the Orthodox Church, which does incidentally have four fasting periods in its calendar. Yet my endeavor was of a no less challenging nature. I decided to fast on shopping, for a month.
The goal was to abstain from spending money on the things I didn't desperately need. Or, since that would be nearly everything, to temporarily give up buying things that could possibly wait. Clothes, make-up, gifts for family and friends, and other treats. I wanted to find out if I could resist those impulsive materialistic desires or at least put them on hold. I also wanted to work out why I often waste money rather compulsively and if I could find ways to spend less. Just thinking about the month of shopping celibacy made me feel free and enlightened and superior to all those modern-day consumerists. "Take a break, enjoy what you've got," was my new daily mantra.
Not that I am a shopaholic. I don't belong to that elevated caste of Genuine Women who are willing to sacrifice everything they have for the French-manicured toes of the God of Beauty. These highly devoted (or addictive? Or vain?) creatures would spend most of their salaries on a new pair of Christian Louboutin shoes or a Burberry coat and then skip lunch for weeks. Good for them. I am much more grounded. I don't use credit cards and the last time I borrowed money was about eight years ago when I was buying my apartment.
Still, for me shopping isn't just a hobby, it is a part-time job. For the past five years, I've been lucky enough to travel abroad at least once a month and I’ve learnt to leave at least half of my suitcase empty when packing so I can fill it on the way back. While traveling, I always make shopping my utmost priority. It often comes before cultural, gastronomic and even work prerogatives. Out in the bustling shopping streets of London, New York, Paris or Rome I feel like a hound on a bear hunt. My instincts are raw and senses alert, as if this were my last chance to shop outside of Russia before they close the border forever.
Not to mention my frequent pilgrimages to the beauty parlors of Moscow department stores for lipstick, eye-shadow and perfume. For me these are as essential to my well-being as exercise. A new lipstick or a fragrance gives an instant endorphin boost while it takes many boring hours at the gym to get any visible results.
Call it addiction or insecurity, but shopping in general is vital for us. "I need a constant upgrade so I must buy something for myself on a regular basis," my coworker Anastasiya confessed. This strikingly beautiful 24-year-old could wear drags and look like a goddess, but I still loved what she said. An upgrade. How true. Shopping for girls is like shedding an old skin. We need to constantly change, to keep renewing ourselves and expressing ourselves through the way we look.
"A new dress is a promise of a new life," said Julia, 32, a close friend of mine and a seemingly recovered shopaholic who just a few years ago, before she hit 30 and the economic crisis hit her business and spending habits, used to spend most of what she was earning on clothes.
So, of course, I failed. My fasting hardly lasted 10 days. I didn't even have to go abroad - a mini-sale in our office ruined it all. A colleague of mine, a fashion editor and advanced Fashionista for whom shopping is an art form, was getting rid of her vast designer handbag collection. I fell in love with a burgundy-colored Lanvin clutch... a completely useless accessory, but I just couldn't resist. And why should I after all, I thought. Shopping is pleasurable. And the female nature is more hedonistic than the male. While men are set to see, come and conquer, women are set to see, come and receive. Why suppress the laws of nature?
So now, as I am on the way back from yet another trip contentedly carrying three new dresses, two new pairs of shoes in addition to multiple little gifts for the people I care about, I feel that this little weakness of mine would be the last one I'd give up.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.