Written by Kasi Martin of The Peahen
The moment I knew I’d gone too far: I was blatantly excluded from a Target trip.
I was wrapping up a standard fare lunch with my girl friends and someone mentioned checking out the C9 special on running gear after. Normally, I’d expect clamors from the gang to join. Instead, there was stifled excitement and dashing eye signals. You know them. They summon you to check your phone under the table.
Finally, someone said it, “Kasi, we know you won’t step foot in Target.”
First, let me say I don’t think my friends were purposefully trying to exclude me. I just think they didn’t want a carping critic in tow while they were hunting for deals on sports bras.
In the moment, I wanted to level the playing field “Hey, gals, I still buy my undies at Target.” [Really: Please don’t exclude me….you don’t have to know they’re 100% organic!]. But this clamoring to save face, especially among friends, felt like a cop-out.
Three years ago, I started making serious changes in my life when I began covering ethical fashion. I stopped buying fast fashion outright and trained myself to budget for nicer, well-made items from bands I knew and trusted. I advocated for industry reform by planning local events. Heck, I even flew across the globe to give a lecture about sustainable fashion.
I didn’t want to downplay this work just to fit in with my friends. And I shouldn’t have to, but I’m also cognizant that ethical fashion, and conscious living in general, can come across as snooty and elitist [my friends at StyleWise, Life+Style+Justice have explored this topic at length].
So here’s the dilemma: how do I reconcile my habits and work with the real world so I can stay approachable and, in turn, make ethical fashion more palatable?
That, and I still want to get invited to Target!
Perfectionism in overdrive
Answering this question was simple. The execution is where it got tough. For me, it meant getting to the root of my perfectionism. I realized had to turn inward to do work before I could fight the bigger, systemic issues in fashion.
For starters, I had to dig deeper than my newfound ‘ethical living habits’ because my brand of perfectionism was firmly rooted in my DNA.
Staying in to practice Duolingo on a weekend. Learning how to reach ‘flow state’ to optimize my mental acuity. These straight-edge pursuits were my idea of a paradise. So naturally, I latched onto a field driven by purist values.
But the perfectionism that drew me to ethical fashion was ultimately set into overdrive by it.
With promises like, “create a capsule wardrobe, free the landfills,” “cut out polyester, save the oceans from microplastics,” I was like a qualitarian on an intermittent fast.
Getting honest about the pressure
But what seemed like an ideal field, spiraled into one filled with intense pressure. Human rights violations, water pollution, massive carbon footprints, animal cruelty. No matter how many articles I wrote or microphones I got behind, the list kept growing.
Couple that with the glossy facade required to be an ‘influencer’’ and my life became a painful cocktail of perfection. Some days I cracked. My Instagram would go unattended to because I craved deeper work. Instead, I was holed up in my apartment doing the exact opposite of what I was saying – binging trash TV.
I needed this moment with my friends to realize my approach wasn’t working with the outside world either.
I needed to hear it was okay to feel overwhelmed, okay to take breaks, and, most importantly, okay to fess up to it all! By making myself seem too perfect, I was turning them away. And I imagine my readers were feeling the same way.
Preservation over perfectionism
To move past my perfectionism, I’ve learned to talk more candidly about my faults. People like to see hurdles and human foibles, especially in a field like ethics where the pressure to reform is high. The bond of mutual struggle keeps us going.
So in addition to my research and opinion pieces, I’ve been focusing more on my own experience. And that means admitting when I go to Target with my friends.
The fact is, I need to be accepted in society in addition to doing ethical work. No matter what the world tells me, I can have both. I deserve both And so do you.
To succeed as ethical consumers we, first, have to be complete humans. That means choosing to find a middle ground that allows for self-preservation instead of forced perfectionism.
Come back next week when Kasi will share five things helped her move past perfectionism.
Tell us in the comments, have you struggled with perfectionism in ethical living?
Kasi is a fashion writer and founder of The Peahen, a site dedicated to ethical fashion for the mainstream consumers. She’s a fierce questioner and advocate for brands with a conscience. Sign up for her emails.