The Shopping Myth



I quite like Magnums. Yum, chocolate and ice cream, and sometimes those fancy-arsed ones with the caramel. But then I’ll eat anything that stands still long enough, so maybe I’m not the best judge.
The reason I bring up magnums, though, is sadly not to talk about food. It is to talk about advertising. Most specifically, this Magnum advert. You’ll have seen – woman with implausibly good hair eats an ice cream. And it grows back! Like magic! Every woman’s ultimate fantasy – the never ending ice cream! Obvs that is the ultimate fantasy, and not that one with the Nobel Literature prize, but I digress.
So, implausible hair woman (who I shall name IHW from now on) duly rings all of her friends to come and see this ultimate fantasy. And this is where my beef really kicks in. All the women she rings stop what they are doing and come running across a European city (in my head it’s Italy, but I’ve just made that up).
And what are most of these women doing? Shopping. Ok, there is the mandatory token woman in a boardroom (though she is the only woman in there, so in a way it’s representative), but other than that, and one having lunch with a man, it’s shopping. From extraneous detail, we can gather that this is around lunchtime on a weekday. And of the women featured, one has a job.
This is totally ridiculous. There are several aspects of this. Firstly, if I do a cross section of the women I know, on any given weekday around lunchtime, this is what they are doing:

Teaching maths
Being a solicitor
Managing contracts
Conducting market research
Being a CEO
Raising children (personally, I’m unclear what this entails. From what I’ve picked up it involves hostile working conditions and heavy lifting).
Being a graphic designer
Being an estate agent


That was just the first eight women that popped into my head. I’ve thought about it more, and there is only one woman I know who may be shopping on a weekday, and she’s retired.
So we’ve established that women on any given weekday are unlikely to be shopping. But my beef with this goes further. I have a secret – a truth – that many, many women will agree with me on – but that still manages to be totally ignored by main stream media, women’s life style magazines and most of the world.

Shopping is rubbish.

Well, at least clothes shopping is. It’s really, really crap. It’s tiring. There are loads and loads of people trying to do the same thing simultaneously, which makes both me and them irritable. It takes loads of time. It costs loads of money. And if you’re shopping on a Saturday (likely), then you have to contend with sulky Saturday staff, who would much prefer to be off drinking cider and trying to snog their other, sulky, cider drinking contemporaries. And, worst of all, you have to keep taking your clothes off for very little reward. If you look at ROI, you see how bad a deal shopping is. You’re happy with maybe one in ten items you try on - on a good day, maybe one in five. But those stats aint great. If shopping were a sexual partner, you’d have sacked them off ages ago, cos only hitting the spot one time in ten is not exactly worth the ground work.

So why is this a thing that Magnum – and, to be fair, most of the world – think women enjoy? I’m not talking about having new clothes, or fashion, because those are entirely different issues. What I am referring to is specifically shopping as a leisure activity.
For the modern woman, the notion of “shopping” as a hobby is imprinted early. Groups of young girls descend upon town centres across the land. Most are not actually buying things (I certainly wasn’t, I hadn’t got any money), but they are trooping from shop to shop in gangs, supposedly learning the ways of womanhood by pretending to be women, and doing what women do (i.e. shop).

It didn’t kick in for me until much later that I don’t actually enjoy it. Not alone – where I end up frustrated and, in one memorable incident, borderline psychotic, when confronted with the endless rails of clothes. Certainly not with groups – for me this usually descends into going to the pub after we all realise that we’re not going to get anything done, as we all take too long to do everything as a group, and anyway it’s been about 12 hours since we had a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, so we’d best get to the nearest bar.

But there is a conundrum here. Because the undeniable truth is that women do shop. Thousands turn out, each week, to slog through the rails, queue for the changing rooms, strip down to their skin under the burning lights behind flimsy curtains. So, why?

I cannot help but think it has to do with the constant tide of extortions we have to buy stuff. Have you read a women’s lifestyle magazine lately? Not a fashion magazine, but a magazine that is appealing to women’s whole lives. Before you even get to the magazine content, it’s about 50% adverts in any case. I actually find myself reading the adverts as opposed to the editorial half the time (though this is because I bloody hate women’s magazines). Then once you do get stuck into the content, it’s all just stuff to buy. Endless, endless amounts of stuff. Often with the on-trend print of the season (Aztec, anyone?).

Add this to the equally relentless focus on women’s appearance, and of course you end up traipsing round trying to find a dress that doesn’t make you want to decapitate all the mannequins and send them gift wrapped to clothes designers and shop owners. Social occasions demand so much more from us. You can’t very well turn up to two weddings where there’s even the slightest chance of guest cross over wearing the same dress. A bloke wearing the same suit is fine, expected almost. I recently read an article about trying to avoid ever being tagged on facebook in the same outfit twice – with dire social repercussions hinted at (cough Cosmo cough- Ed)

Research shows that though we are wealthier, and have way more stuff, these days, we aren’t actually happier. And we know this. We know that having stuff does not make us more content, make our lives more worthwhile, or make us better people. But it’s too hard a myth to resist, especially when the voices of the media keep telling us that it’s true.
So it’s no bloody wonder we’re all out there trying to buy our way to acceptance. Acceptance from Grazia. From “other women” (usually terrifying, “perfect” proto-women of our own imagination that always have nice nails and never stand over the sink picking bits of cooked cheese off a casserole dish before the water reaches it). From society. And, most worryingly, from ourselves.

And whilst the things I’ve listed about shopping are mostly trivial, there can be serious consequences for those who get stuck into the shopping cycle. We all know someone who just cannot seem to stop. Maybe they get a rush from new purchases. Maybe they really believe that an alligator print mini skirt will really make them happy, that this time it will work. I’ve heard of women who call their credit card limits as “targets”. Debt is a difficult to dig out of, and is a very real consequence for some who just can’t put down the plastic.
So this is me saying, once and for all, no. I will shop when I need to, I will enjoy having new clothes, I will even brave Debenhams on a Saturday afternoon. But no more of this idea that all women “love shopping”. For me, it’s up there with the cupcake fallacy, the period misconception and the rose wine canard. It’s just not true.

My final observation from the Magnum advert. I actually think their marketers might be missing a trick, because in a recent survey*, it seems men actually quick fancy a Magnum as well. Maybe they can pair off their “women shopping” advert with a “man doing DIY” cliché twin? Just a thought. 

*When I say “survey”, I mean I asked some men I know.


- LF