“Be HAPPY!” “Think kind.” “PosiTIVE!” “Mindfulness.” “Stay happy!” “Keep smiling.”
Am I being bombarded with texts from someone who mistakenly thinks they are a friend of mine? Emailed by some extra-persistent, extra-tiresome manifestation of the wellness industry? Have I joined the wrong WhatsApp group by accident?
No. These are the messages that greeted me when I embarked on what I had foolishly assumed would be the relatively simple task of buying some summer pyjamas and a few new T-shirts, to deal with the heatwave and give me an excuse to get out of my box-room hell-study and spend an hour in air-conditioned shops.
They are written – in various curly fonts, often sparkly, often decorated with stars, sometimes hearts and in one particularly painful case, a unicorn – across about 15% of clothes for women. This is only a rough estimate because I collapsed quickly to the floor, bleeding from my eyes, but the exact proportion need not concern us. The ‘for women’ part should. Partly because I suspect it will only be worse in the ‘for girls’ sections of these various emporia, and partly because SHUT UP.
I’ve never been catcalled too much when going about my daily business – I’ve always been not quite attractive enough to make the conventional moronic cut.
But I’ve always, thanks to a face that at rest looks like it’s just on its way to or from a kitten funeral, had to run the public gauntlet of exhortations to “Cheer up!” and “Smile!” I’ve never acquiesced – though occasionally I have laughed hysterically at the thought of doing so, which has confused us all – but I never thought I’d have to fight against my clothes too.
These are messages that tell us what the ‘acceptable’ moods are. That remind and encourage us to act one way rather than another. ‘Us’ being GROWN-ASS WOMEN. Who just want to buy a cotton T-shirt that goes with everything (and – practical point – don’t want a swathe of plasticky lettering ruining the entire point of natural fibre frigging clothing, whatever it says). Who do not want to be told – particularly as they look out onto a burning world in which children live in cages in the richest nation on Earth – to Stay Positive! Be Happy! Especially as we’ve just elected (if that’s the word for the results of a vote cast by under 93,000 people out of a national population of 66 million) a bin bag full of self-serving yoghurt as prime minister. Who do not want – on top of all the patronising bosses, mansplainers and systemic biases against the idea that we are fully functioning adults – to be infantilised at every sartorial turn. For it to be suggested in any way that mindfulness and a chirpy attitude will be enough to see us through the current storm is just plain wrong.
Gazing at the slogans made me realise how pernicious the teaching of acceptable attitudes is. How relentless the urging to make our emotions small, manageable and pleasing to others. And, by extension, how important it must be to society that we are constantly discouraged from feeling, voicing or owning our anger and any other negative emotions that may occasionally make themselves felt in our lady brains, hearts and souls.
Gosh, listen to little me! Don’t I sound cross?! It must be the heat. And the prime minister. And the lack of therapeutic nightwear. I should have bought the positivity PJs after all.