By Ekene Onu
Let me not lie, I too have succumbed to the lure of the designer bag. The luxurious material, the stylish hardware and most of all, the strategic branding that has caused us to believe that when we carry a bag like that then suddenly we are somebody!
Now I don’t own that many of these bags and most that I own were picked up at outlets on sale or clearance, but a little while back I noticed that my mind had decided to upgrade without consulting me. All of the supple leather on the sale rack looked unappetizing but the new higher dollar ones in the store seemed to call my name. It found ways to justify it. After all, aren’t you supposedly successful, well this is what successful people wear or are you a really failure masquerading as a professional? The magazines and media seemed to say the same things. In my favorite magazines the bag du jour would be some thousand dollar item favored by Angelina Jolie or Halle berry, and the glossy pages would whet my appetite. I would look at these women in all their fabulousity and somehow I would think just for a moment that if I had that same bag, then even though my thighs weren’t slimmer and my bank account was leaner, I too would be somebody.
So finally I crossed over to the other side. Away from the sale rack, to lighted shelves and locked glass. “That one please” I steadied myself for sticker shock. “I deserve it” I said to myself “I too am fabulous”. I felt both excited and sick at the same time as I handed over my card. Bile rose up and my heart took the opportunity to speak “Who are you really? What does this say about you? Sure it’s a pretty piece of workmanship, but are you at the level when you truly afford it? The women who you see on the magazines make millions of dollars!” I caressed my brown bag and I willed it to shut up. I walked through the shiny store and looked women in the eye. Don’t get it twisted, I am a shiny girl too.
Maybe it’s the Nigerian in me.
Nigerian women are among the most fashionable women in the world. The society women are constantly focusing on their wardrobe. Do you have the latest French lace, the new kind of aso-oke? Have you seen the new season of Chanel, or the hottest it bag?
The pressures some women face in today’s society trying to fit in to this fashion oriented climate that is enough to intimidate even the toughest of us; Simply put – in Nigeria, Fashion is war!
I’ll never forget an experience I had when I visited Lagos one Christmas period. I had decided to have my nails done at an upscale nail salon in Victoria Island. When I walked in, I was struck by how well put together the clientele were. In every seat, there was a very chic woman, whether she was tall or short, fat or thin, short do or unbeweaveable. They looked fabulous and they had one other thing in common – The status handbag. Next to every woman, there in a chair,sat a purse that cost almost as much as one terms school fees at an expensive private school. They went by different names…Gucci, Vuitton, Prada and more. Each woman held it proudly.
As I later learned the status bag was also used as an entrance to a certain level of society, at least on a superficial level. There were some people who before they dealt with you, they looked you up and down to determine if you were on their level. Shirt – Next? Hmm, jeans – true religion, check, Shoes – can’t tell, bag – Jimmy choo, ding, ding, ding we have a winner, cue automated voice, “you may now be admitted into the world of Nigerian VIPs”
Maybe it’s because I am now older.
Like most women, I have had my issues with self esteem. Still do, kind of. But as I get older I notice my focus has changed. I still love the luxe and sharpness of certain bags because after all, style is style and while I still rock my shiny purchases. I have pledged not to fall into the trap of consumerism again. I have style but I can express it for a reasonable price.
A bag no matter how fine and how coveted cannot take the place of self esteem. No matter how many people look at you when you walk by, what really matters is how you see yourself when you are stripped bare. No matter how many people compliment you and think that you are a baller because you can afford that level of bag, what really matters is where you truly are financially. No matter how many people think you are somebody when they see your expensive leather, what really matters is who you think you are. What would happen if suddenly you lost everything? Not so far fetched. Believe me, it has happened to many people just like us. In true fact, many of us are living financial lifestyles that place us on the edge. One strong wind and we may all fall like dominoes. What happens then? When you will not have all the trappings of wealth to self medicate. When you cannot wrap your anxiety up in a damn it bag and convince the world that you are someone…what happens when you are forced to give all that up? I know you might be thinking, that can never be me…perhaps…but many a person has compromised themselves terribly trying to make sure that they never lose their money just so they don’t lose their status.
The question is this. Do you know that you are somebody already? I finally figured that out. I am not by any means a blueprint for perfection but I am somebody, and a beautiful one at that.
Let me tell you about an experience I had. I was invited by a book club group in Lagos to come and do a reading of my book “The Mrs Club” so I went. Now I thought I was kind of prepared because I grew up in Lagos, I now what Lagos girls are like…fierce! Also take note that the book club met in a place called posh café…never a more apt name for this group of women. Fierce and fabulous I tell you. They were exquisitely coiffed and attired. The leader was a vision of fashion. Right down to her quirky eyeglasses. I on the other hand, was in a pair jeans and a shirt. I knew something had shifted in me during that experience. When I walked in, I saw one or two raised eyebrows among the mostly smiling faces. I imagined the inner dialogue “This can’t be her” and I smiled because finally my inner dialogue said simply and confidently “Yes it is me”.
I started to read and I did me. I enjoyed myself and the time spent with these young, fab chicks. Now needless to say, there were many status bags in that room. I mean I told you, we were at posh café!
However the question I have for my young fashionistas, is the same one that I have for myself and you. Do you own the bag, or does the bag own you?
I know, I know….Be fine or die!
Be well. Be happy.
Ekene Onu is a thirty something writer who was raised in Nigeria and currently resides in Atlanta Georgia. She is the author of fabulous chick lit bestseller, The Mrs. Club