By Ingrid Sapona
I’m not a clothes horse. Never have been, never will be.
Maybe that’s why a statistic that I heard earlier this fall left me gobsmacked.
According to the co-founder of Rent the Runway, the average woman (I’m assuming
she’s referring to women in the U.S., but never mind) buys 64 pieces of
clothing a year.
CBS Morning News was profiling the company (RTR, as their
five million members refer to them) and, because I thought I misheard, I hit rewind
on the PVR and re-played it. (I love that my PVR lets me do that with live t.v.!)
Sure enough, I heard right: 64 pieces a year. Well, even if you count each sock
in a pair of socks separately – I don’t come anywhere close to the average. In fact,
I don’t think purchases of clothing by me and my two sisters combined total 64
in a year. (Though our combined total may be close because one sister has a
sock fetish. But even so…)
I had forgotten that story until the other day when I was
chatting with the wife of a friend at a social function. Somehow the conversation
turned to clothes shopping and she enthusiastically mentioned she loves this
one outlet mall. Apparently she always finds great bargains there. As an
example, she mentioned she recently found a pair of Ralph Lauren winter pants and
they were only $22.
She went on to say that she bought six pairs and now she’s “set
for the season”. Though I did my best to expressed approval and admiration for her
bargain hunting acumen, the voice inside my head shouted: “Why on earth do you
need six pair? You’re retired. It’s not like they’re your work uniform. Besides,
what are a washer and dryer for?” Of course, I didn’t say that – I just smiled
and nodded as that RTR average came to mind. Afterward I was thinking about it
and I realized that clearly, though folks like me and my sisters might be bringing
down the average, there are plenty of others bringing it up!
Anyway, this column isn’t about the number of pairs of pants
my friend’s wife bought (or needs), it’s about the use of averages. Though I
realize deriving averages is a pretty standard exercise in many fields, whenever
I hear an average for this or that, my knee jerk reaction is to compare myself
to it. I imagine this goes back to my youth, when school performance was graded
by comparison to some mythical average that was represented by a C.
Part and parcel of my early conditioning around the notion
of “average” was the idea that the goal is to always be above average. Please
don’t misunderstand – my striving for above average grades is not something my
parents are to be blamed for. Far from it. My mother always assured us that all
she ever expected of us was to bring home average grades. Proving mothers can’t
win, I used to get so mad when she didn’t understand my frustration at a B. Her
telling me that a mere C was enough seemed genuinely insulting.
Obviously I’ve been out of school a long time, but I still find
that whenever a news story mentions an average, before I realize I’ve really
processed the topic, I feel a twinge if I’m below that average. So, when I
heard the Rent the Runway figure, even though shopping and new clothes really don’t
matter much to me, my first thought was that there must be something really wrong
with me, as I am woefully below that average.
Fortunately, most of the times when this happens, after
taking a breath, I manage to regain some objectivity. Usually I find that when
I’m nowhere even close to the average, it’s because it’s something that’s
irrelevant to me. In those cases, whether I’m above or below doesn’t matter as
I don’t really care about the spectrum the average is measuring. Mind you, some
days it takes me awhile to come around to that realization.
Gosh, do you suppose this means I have more low self-esteem
days than average?
© 2014 Ingrid Sapona