I got my first manicure during the 2016 presidential campaign. I started buying lattes instead of regular drip. “I work hard,” I think to myself. “I deserve a treat once in awhile.”
The more Twitter I read, the more I felt inexorably compelled to return to the nail salon, or pop into Ann Taylor Loft to peruse the sensible blouses. After Election Night—which I spent alone in Tampa, at a bar full of jubilant Trump supporters—my spending habits careened off a cliff. The first sign came the morning after the election, when I paid an extra $200 to bump up my flight out of Orlando, wanting to get as far away from the state of Florida as quickly as possible.
Sixteen months into the Trump administration, I am Marie Kondo’s worst nightmare: I’m embarrassed to say I’ve racked up 995 Sephora points. (Unless you’re interested in getting a sample of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s latest perfume line, the points have as much real-world value as Chuck E. Cheese coupons.)
Mindless consumption has become my first line of resort when coping with stress. If I get a cold, I will go to CVS and buy duplicates of medicine I know I already have at home. At the end of the work day, I crumple onto my couch and open Grubhub, too exhausted to think about making dinner. It doesn’t really matter what the things are that I buy, just the fact that I buy them, as it gives me some semblance of control over my own life. In other words, I’ve become a low-rent Buzz Bissinger.
I wasn’t always such a bougie bitch. Growing up, most of my clothes came from Kohl’s and Old Navy, while the popular girls at my high school in the suburbs of Milwaukee shopped at Abercrombie and American Eagle. I didn’t learn how to do my own makeup until after college. I thought of myself as above such material banalities. Now, when I look around my apartment, I’m startled to see just how much shit I’ve managed to amass over the past two years, in the interest of keeping myself happy and distracted.
It’s not my fault I’m this way. I have good reason to believe the self-care industry writ large has colluded with the Trump administration to extract every cent of disposable income I have.
The self-care industrial complex in 2018 is a thing to behold. There’s a $55 water bottle that tells you when to drink it, a pair of $67 “smart shorts” that measure your waistline, and an infinite number of serums, sprays, oils and creams that claim to restore that youthful glow to your haggard, news-worn face. Instagram ads sell women a dreamy, soft-hued existence full of $9 green juices and hikes through the mountains in your $95 leggings. That doesn’t change the reality that you are desperately scrolling through Instagram in bed at 4am. (A 2017 study ranked Instagram as the worst social media network for mental health.)
It’s all bullshit, but it’s bullshit we continue to buy into in pursuit of temporary sanity. (The fact that I decided to get married this year didn’t help my spending habits, either.) You may be saying to yourself that I’m a slave to my own mindless consumerism, that I use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with unresolved trauma surrounding the 2016 election. To that I say, “Hmm. Doubtful.” If Alex Jones can call David Hogg a Nazi and not get his YouTube channel suspended, then I can blame my careless spending habits on the Trump administration working in concert with the machine elves who run Sephora.
The Trump administration is doing its damnedest to make women miserable, so it makes sense that it might want to enter into a business arrangement with the retailers of America to profit off of that misery. (More women than men indulge in “retail therapy,” after all.) With every overpriced craft cocktail and ill-advised H&M sundress we swipe onto our credit cards, we continue to feed a machine built to keep us quiet and complacent.
It’s not such a leap to say that the self-care industry has capitalized on consumer anxiety during this unsettling moment in American politics. This is how capitalism works: It presents us with buyable solutions to problems we can’t spend our way out of. Buy that Groupon spa package, go to that spin class, treat yourself to some Seamless, and maybe everything will be alright. The real collusion was inside us all along.