Repurposed Final Draft
What we wear on our body defines the public’s perception of who we are as human beings, and I’m consumed with the idea of having a positive visual presentation. Clothing can have the power to distinguish the wearer from others, and to be the object of attention that others do not receive. Maybe one looks inspiring or stands out in a crowd—pleasure is obtained from this person because he or she is memorable.
For a moment you thought about this person’s clothing in a positive and longing way. Perhaps you are envious. Through your thoughts and positive compliments, this person has gained a sort of power over you. For me, when I see someone well dressed according to my own ideas of fashion, I look up to them and sometimes even feel intimidated. I want to be like this person, I want their clothes, and I want other people to want what I have. Some may not perceive or notice the body and fashion in this particular way. Personally, the desire to obtain the “power of appearance” has been a constant driving force in my life. Over time this desire has developed and contorted; leading me to do unspeakable things.
I never was a fashionable child. My idea of clothes shopping was sitting down with my mother and selecting obnoxiously colored fleece pullovers and cotton stretch pants from the seasonal Lands’ End catalog. My appearance wasn’t an issue to me at the time, and in turn, I wasn’t the most popular girl in school. I had my first realization that clothes affected others opinions of me when my best friend from down the street switched schools and began attending my elementary. For a second grader, she was fashionable. She wore Limited Too’s pricey sequined dresses and skirts, and sported Lisa Frank folders and pens. Other girls were envious of her, and all the boys wanted to be her friend. Jealous of her popularity, I insisted to my mother that I needed an article of clothing from the Limited Too. She took me there, and I left with a single shirt; the price tags didn’t agree with my mother’s checkbook. This began the long and consistent battle I have struggled with for almost my entire life: my attempts to gain the power of confidence and acceptance through how I physically appear to others.
To feel accepted or looked highly upon can be a difficult achievement, especially at a young age. We all want to love ourselves and sometimes I found that the only way I could begin to do so was through the approval of my peers. This was no healthy way of thinking and because of it my confidence level was very low. I would constantly imagine all the negative thoughts students would be thinking about me as I walked though the halls; so I hung my head forward staring at the floor and kept as silent as possible in classes. I don’t fully understand why I’m hypersensitive about others’ thoughts and opinions. It seemed as though I was the only one thinking and behaving this way, making me even less confident. My parent’s income was below the level of the “well dressed popular kids” and my social environment put an emphasis on appearance. Materials on the body are what they see and these shells undermine what goes on underneath. Personality is lost and substituted by tangible objects. The best moments at school were the days right after my birthday or Christmas; when I would have something new I could wear or show off. Being complimented and having something worth complimenting boosted my confidence level exponentially. Suddenly I was a goddess flowing through the halls, chatting and swooping in on familiar faces, no longer ashamed or hidden. Unfortunately moments like these were scarce, they would wear off after a few days, even hours. I needed to find a way to bypass this roadblock.
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My heart is skipping beats; hammering into my chest as if to escape. I’m carrying a purse that was lighter a few moments ago. In fact, it was nearly empty when I walked into the department store. Just a few things: maybe some gum and my cell phone. My girlfriend is in arm’s reach, parallel to me as we walk through the aisles. She turns to me, making eye contact and nodding. Her eyes are slits of snakes. She hisses “Good luck” to me before disappearing behind the sea of clothing racks. I take a long and deep breath, inhaling as if it were my last, as my eyes narrow to match hers. I scan the ceiling for those little black bubbles, as they scan for people like me who want to pop them. They’re like bottled bubbles blown from a child if they got stuck to the ceiling and turned black. No longer transparent or friendly, no, now they hunt for snakes like me.
I coil around a large rack near the back of the store, plucking at hangers but not really looking. My large purse hangs on my forearm as I pretend to be interested in price tags. Suddenly my phone begins to ring, so I open my bag to retrieve it. As I rummage for my phone, I let loose my grip in my left coat sleeve, and a few items fall out of it and into the remaining space in my bag. I then reach for my phone, bringing it out and closing my bag immediately after. A girl who is shopping nearby glances inquisitively over at my ringing phone. I hold it up and turn off the alarm I had set for this exact moment, acting like it was an unwanted call. She returns to her shopping, and my lips curl to a smile. I’m such an actress, I think to myself as I begin walking to the exit. My pace quickens and my heart follows—eyes resting upon the door and the real world beyond it. Only one last move in the game, and it’s through the two shields that rest on either side of the stores entrance. The stationary police, whose sirens go off when laws are broken. I smile at the woman folding clothes at the front of the store, she tells me to have a good day. I take another breath, head spinning, blood pumping, adrenaline rush, explosion. It takes all my might to slither through the doors, but I make it. No alarms. A flooding rush of relief scales down my body. I am free. I turn to the girl inside the store and say: “You too!” and I bolt for the getaway car.
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This was not the first time I pulled off shoplifting. I had accomplished it many times. I was a master. My accomplice and I would attack stores with our cleverly found loopholes and escape with all their treasure. We would cut off security tags that warned the detectors by the doors using small sewing scissors brought in our bags. We would hide away in dressing rooms, hiding away clothes the clerks would never notice peaking out from under our coats.
To us it seemed reasonable; why the need to work just to pay for overpriced items from stores that make too much money? We deserve this stuff. We are good people to those around us, so why shouldn’t we get rewarded for our efforts? I reasoned with it in every way possible way, excused it from its unrighteousness and made myself believe I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It wasn’t wrong that I was leaving a store with a pair of shoes, three shirts, sunglasses, underwear, and pockets full of jingling jewelry. No, this was okay. After I began stealing it was impossible to stop. At first it was just to have clothes for others to be jealous of, to gain the power of appearance and appreciation by cheating the system. But then the action of theft became the addiction. I thrived on getting away with something I knew was wrong. Like children giggling to themselves after climbing on top of the cupboard to obtain the out-of-reach cookies. Always inventing new ways and methods of getting hands on their sugary prize. Unfortunately, mother eventually realizes the missing cookies, and you’re caught.
My wrist is becoming irritated by the metal cuff. It’s choking my hand, turning it pale and lifeless. My entire body is lifeless. I’m staring at the plastic cage in front of me, uncomfortably squashed in a plastic seat with no cushion. They don’t want me feeling comfortable. This was not a comfortable place. Chained to me was my friend’s wrist. She was yanking mine around as she shakily tapped the buttons on her phone, texting a warning to her family. I was mad. We had been so stupid, so careless. Some of our close friends had heard about our feats, our successful stories of getting away. They came with us on this particular day, which was the mistake. They wanted things for their approaching vacation; useless things like tanning lotion and tooth brushes. Why did I agree to do this for them? We all went into the store together, and they carelessly stuffed my bag with fruit rollups and cheap sunglasses, all in plain view of the public eye. I’m sure we attracted attention quickly. We were loud, they were excited. Somewhere back in the hardware section, I spotted him. He wore a baseball hat with a brim curved around his eyes, and he was older. In his fifties, maybe. I caught his eye and he quickly turned away and pretended to be interested in some shovels. It didn’t sit well with me. I shooed my friends out of the aisle and they understood, one dropped an empty granola bar box on the floor. Evidence.
We all made it outside the store and I took in a fresh breath of air. Seconds later six men dressed in serious colors surrounded my friend and me. My other friends were not included inside of this circle; they were not the ones carrying bags stuffed full of useless unpaid for products. They had used me and now I was caught. The fresh air I had inhaled became stale and sour in my lungs. I couldn’t breathe. The men took ahold of our arm’s and dragged us back into the store. Leading us to a secluded room towards the back. Inside the room they took our bags, and dumped out their contents. Apparently I had $63.95 worth of items in my bag and my accomplice had around the same. The man in the baseball hat was there, revealing that he was a secret shopper and had watched the crime commence. Dammit. I tuned out the rest of what they said, too concerned with what was to come. My parents finding out what I had done, what they would think of me. Would I go to jail? Probably not. Hopefully not. I was being led to the police car, where I remained. Waiting for my punishment, staring at the plastic cage in front of me. Numb.
I could bore you with the remaining details of the day, but it went how you would picture it: I went to the police station, where I was locked in a cell for several hours with nothing but a ticking clock. I was questioned and told I would be given a court date. Released, I returned home to my parents, where I explained what happened. However, my story was a stretch from the truth. They thought I had never stolen before, that this was the first time. My friend told her parents that I was the one who told her to steal; apparently I forced her to do it. This was the end of our friendship, her parents hated me after her story was told. I didn’t get in much trouble from my family. They were troubled. Concerned. I had convinced them it was a one-time stupid teenage decision and they bought it. I didn’t buy it. Several months later I received a court date, after the trial I received six months probation, from which I was released four months early. One of the requirements for completing probation was to visit a prison for a tour. A “This is what you could be like” show and tell from police officers and prison maintenance men. At the time it scared me, but in the back of my head I thought: “Next time I won’t get caught”.
I didn’t steal for some time after I was arrested. The thought of being in that car, chained together, didn’t seem worth the risk. I knew if I ever got caught again it wouldn’t end with a slap on the wrist, so the idea was put to the back of my head. Hibernating. I bought a smaller purse, so I wasn’t tempted to fill the empty space. I stayed away from stores, no desire at all to venture in. Like most occurrences and happenings, this one began to dwindle with time. I eventually forgot the negative impact getting caught had on my life. I eventually forgot that I could get in serious trouble. I eventually forgot about my smaller purse and started believing the larger one suited me more. Something in me didn’t feel whole anymore, I missed the excitement. I needed it. I started stealing again; just small things that no one would miss. One or two small things, just like how I started in the first place. I knew it was wrong this time around, but again I slowly talked myself into thinking it was okay. I wouldn’t mess up this time, I thought. I wouldn’t get caught.
It started with a trip to Ohio with my boyfriend and his family. It was summertime; time to have fun and let loose. I was on vacation, after all. What is it about vacations that make you so carefree? My boyfriend didn’t want to go shopping so his younger sister came with me instead. We walked the streets of the outdoor mall and she questioned me about the first time I got caught shoplifting. Her older brother had told her about it. Figures. I told her the story, and somewhat shamefully told her that I had started doing it again. Her eyes lit up, “Do you think you could get me a few things?” she asked. Wanting to impress her, I agreed. The next twenty minutes flew by me like a gust of wind, knocking me down and dragging me across the ground. My bag was filled, I was on my way out, when a large man in a black baseball cap pulled me back, shoving his badge in my face. I was taken to a back room with my boyfriend’s sister, and lectured by one of the female employees. I tuned out her lecture. His sister cried. Back in the jail cell, hours passed. Fingerprinted. Picked up by my boyfriend’s mother, who wasn’t mad. She thought it was funny but I didn’t think it was, I was ready to go home.
After I returned from the Ohio trip my life crumbled before me. It was evident to my parents that I had a serious problem. They had noticed my closet growing and noticed me using the big bag. My dad would sit in his office, elbows on the table, his forehead resting in his palms. How could his innocent daughter have this strange addiction? How could he help me? My mother bought me several books, all from acclaimed writers who had their own issues with shoplifting, all these people who wanted to share their stories. I skimmed a few of them, but put them down. I didn’t want to think I had a problem. There were nights where I would lay awake replaying the scenario in my head, except it wouldn’t be the same. When it got to the scene where I was caught, I would fall through the floors of the building, sinking and disappearing. Traveling back through time, changing what I had done. Evading the memory that made my stomach churn. I wasn’t happy. I opened my closet one evening and stared gloomily at all the clothes that were not legally mine. I began pulling out clothes on hangers, clothes folded in drawers, everything that wasn’t supposed to be there. A huge pile of assorted things began developing on the floor in my room as hangers surrounded the space around me. I turned toward my bed thinking I would sit there and look at the horrifying mess, but instead my foot got caught in a hanger. I toppled down into the heap. Reality.
I lie there for some time. I was no longer thinking about how mad I was or how I wish I hadn’t gotten caught. Instead I thought about how shoplifting changed me as a person. During those times I was active I became numb whenever I wasn’t in a store. Alive and excited only while I was gathering. Walking out those doors ended up giving me a source of power similar to the power I received while wearing the clothing, except stronger. It was addictive. Ashamed of how I had let myself get to this point, I finally accepted that this part of me had to change.
While I laid in the mountain of stolen clothing I recalled the very first time I was caught shoplifting. I was seven years old. My mother took me to Field’s Fabrics, and I was glued to her side. I peered at an older girl, maybe eleven or twelve, approach a sales rack with various colored string lined up on it. She picked up a few colors, turned, smiled at me, and walked back to join her mother. I left my own mothers shadow to approach the same string the girl had been looking at. I don’t remember why, but I picked up a pinkish color of string and hid it in my orange Lands’ End coat pocket. After returning home I pulled out the string in my living room to inspect. My mother noticed, realized where it had come from, and drove me back to the fabric store. She pulled me through the doors, where I was to return the string to the manager. Lecturing me all the way. I was reminded of this memory as I sat there on my floor surrounded by all of the clothes. A strong hearted person would’ve taken these clothes back to the stores they came from, but I couldn’t imagine doing so. There were too many, and I was too ashamed. Instead I bundled them up in garbage bags, shuffled them to my car, and drove them to Goodwill. Saying goodbye.
There are moments now where I still get the itch, however, I know if I begin to scratch it will only spread. An incurable chicken pox. Moments when I’m alone by the dressing rooms−small jewelry in hand−I still think about easy it would be. When walking into stores I feel the eyes of security cameras. I avoid looking up, but I know they’re watching my every step. My mind whirls with tactics, so deeply programmed into my thoughts. Anxiety hits me frequently while shopping, especially when I’m alone. I start to feel as if everyone is watching me, as if they know what I’ve done. As if they know what I’m thinking.
I still feel the same way about clothing and its effects on the human mind; the power it may give to a person. I’ve found different ways of achieving this power. I’ve taken interest in wearable art and textile design, centering my drive towards creating instead of getting myself into trouble. I mostly shop online now and I find that I get almost the same rush from buying expensive clothes that I once did getting them for free. While I still don’t believe my mind is in a perfect place, I find comfort knowing I’ve found replacements for my shoplifting desires. While I’m ashamed this part of me happened, I find comfort in knowing that it’s over, and I’m moving forward.
1. Simmel, Georg, and Kurt H. Wolff. The Sociology of Georg Simmel;. [United States]: Nabu Public Domain Reprints, 2012. 388-400. Print.
Sociologist Georg Simmel discusses in his essay titled “Adornment” that pleasing becomes a form of power: distinguishing the self from others, and to be the object of attention that others do not receive. The meaning of adornment, or how we dress ourselves, intertwines with this idea of wanting to please our peers; maybe one looks inspiring or stands out in a crowd — pleasure is obtained from this person because he or she is memorable. This is important in the context of my essay because I believe it to be one of the direct connections that led me to shoplifting. It intertwines with the desire for beauty, and the addiction of shoplifting.
2. Shulman, Terrence Daryl. Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction & Recovery. Haverford, PA: Infinity.com, 2004. Print.
According to the statistics in this book, most people who shoplift do so not out of economic need or greed but in response to pressures and emotional issues in their lives. “Something for Nothing” is a disease that affects millions. Whether this is a particularly American phenomenon begs to be studied but this problem pervades the planet. This is the book that my mother gave me after my second time being caught for shoplifting – at the time I hated the book. I couldn’t take it seriously, because I didn’t honestly think I had a problem. Looking back to the book now, I believe it has some interesting ideas that relate to my situation.
3. Shulman, Terrence. “Shoplifting Addiction and Kleptomania Cs and Shoplifters Anonymous on Oprah with Terrence Shulman.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Sept. 2004. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.
This is an interview with Terrence Shulman on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2004. In this video, Oprah does not understand how shoplifting can be an addiction. It isn’t similar to gambling, drinking, drugs, in her opinion. She doesn’t understand if people have entitlement issues, why they are taking “useless things”. Then, some clips play from a shoplifting recovery group, and we find from the speakers that many people have this addiction. It’s interesting to me that some people do not understand how someone can become addicted to shoplifting. Most think it’s something you can just “get over”, but it’s not always the case. It makes me think of an old friend who is now serving time in prison for being in the possession of heroin. She’s suffering from an addiction and clearly needs help, yet they lock her away and give her exposure to all the other criminals and drug addicts in prison. It’s a stretch of an idea, but it makes me wonder if prosecuting people who have strong addictions to something is not the best way of dealing with the situation.
4. Anonymous. “Shoplifting Techniques.” Web blog post. Graffiti Guide. Blogger.com, n.d. Web. <http://graffitiguide.blogspot.com/2009/05/shoplifting-techniques.html>.
This is a blog post by an anonymous blogger that talks about the different methods of shoplifting. I’m wondering what the bloggers intent was with this post – does he or she shoplift? or just want to share some of the methods as information? Anyhow, I never had an “instructional booklet” for learning the methods I know, but these examples are very accurate to how I thought and acted during this time. It’s scary to me that this information is so readily available online. I remember reading a blog post some time ago that had very specific steps and tips for breaking into cars at night and stealing from them – and what to do if you were caught in the act. What the hell is going on here? I had my car broken into earlier this year and nearly everything important I owned was stolen from me (computer, camera, money, phone), this was a realization for me that there are others out there stealing in greater quantities than I have done in the past. There are others who directly steal from people, not just stores.
5. “Genesis 3.” The Holy Bible: New International Version. Colorado Springs, CO: International Bible Society, 1984. N. pag. Print.
I’ve never read the bible, but I’m aware of some of the stories – Genesis 3 came to mind while writing this essay. Eve was tricked into eating the forbidden fruit by the serpent, and was punished for her actions by God. In my essay I portray myself as a snake, which is made out to be a “devilish” creature that cannot be trusted.