On the scale of addictive behaviors, Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection and Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series make obsessive shopping seem about as bad of a habit as ordering oat milk lattes every morning—but in reality, it’s a serious affliction that affects one in 20 Americans. The group most likely to develop a shopping dependency? Young women, psychologists at the University of Bergen have found. That’s because addictive shopping behavior typically starts in late adolescence and early adulthood—just when cheap clothing is within financial reach. In the past, most people outgrew their overspending habits as their maturing personal style priced them out of such options. But thanks in big part to the rise of fast fashion, cheap clothing isn’t just for the young—it’s now for everyone.
What that means is that, in addition to millennial and Gen Z women, an increased number of people now see shopping as an accessible way to cope with their feelings around anxiety and depression—or a means of keeping up with the Instagram Joneses: According to the Bergen researchers, extroverted people (think the #OOTD types) face an increased risk of developing disordered shopping habits, too. And like exercise, drugs, or any other form of obsessive behavior, its downsides are decidedly more serious than figuring out how to fit everything in your closet.
A compulsion to shop can lead to consequences ranging from guilt to stress to bankruptcy—and fast fashion’s biggest consumers are among the most susceptible. “Those who become hooked on this behavior are willing to do and pay whatever it takes to purchase what they want,” says psychologist Carolyn Mair, PhD, the author of The Psychology of Fashion. “The shopping and spending activity itself are associated with a feeling of happiness and power, which is immediately, but temporarily, gratifying.” Guilt and remorse may follow, but those feelings typically drive the compulsive shopper back to the store for (quite literal) retail therapy.Up to now, conversations about the consequences of fast fashion have mainly focused on the heavy toll it takes on the environment and on garment workers—those are the big and obvious problems that need to be addressed. But on an individual level, fast fashion can have effects on your brain, your mental health, and your overall well-being. Knowing what they are, and how to respond to them, can make you more than just a better consumer; it can help you actually feel better.
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