Monday, February 11, 2013

Two Scraps of Fabric

So I don't do a lot of self-disclosure on this blog, but I'm about to share something that is (oddly) a little embarrassing to me.

Awhile ago I bought a swimsuit that I really liked. I can't remember how much it cost exactly, but I know it was a splurge for me - maybe a little over $100? It was a cute turquoise and white striped bikini that was a bit "smaller" than I would typically buy. As in, it didn't cover as much of my bum as I would have liked and came down much lower on my tummy than even some pairs of underwear I own. But I looked damn good in it. I began to realize that part of why I looked better in it was actually because it had less fabric. Less places to cut in, less things to pooch out, and more just me being me, with no restriction. Ha. I mean, come on, I was a size Small, I might as well enjoy it, right?? Anyhow, then a sad thing happened. You see, I don't take very good care of my things and I carelessly threw the suit in the wash. Bad move. The turquoise somehow bled into the white, leaving the white stripes looking an odd yellowy-pee color. Yuck. I tried to fix it, but nothing worked.

Fast-forward to yesterday. I was laying in bed with my husband in a decadent mid-afternoon nap, and we were talking about our trip to Mexico (my favorite subject nowadays) and he said, "You remember that blue and white swimsuit? Do you still have it? Are you sure it's ruined? Can't you just wear it as is?"

Ensue minor meltdown from me.

After I calmed down from mourning the pee-yellow and turquoise swimsuit, he said, "Ok, so why don't you just find out what brand it was and then order another one?"

Yes, I had actually saved the swimsuit in hopes that it would repair itself magically in my underwear drawer.

So I hopped out of bed, grabbed the suit (which my husband was secretly hoping I would put on, just for a trip down memory lane) and logged onto the website. BAM! I realized that this suit was an EXPENSIVE suit! With the cheapest swimsuits coming in around $200 and the more expensive around $375. Shit. But still, my husband whispered, "Buy one."

So what do you think I did? I bought one. This one. Navy blue and white stripes, to commemorate the original.

So far so good, right? Maybe. Did anyone of you click on that link and check out the price on that tiny little swimsuit? Yeahhhhh. Not only that, but to get it in time for our trip in three days, I had to go for over night delivery. And so now we arrive at the point in my story where I admit something "embarrassing."

We can afford that suit. We can afford it because, well, we have money. Why do we have money? Because I worked my ass off in graduate school to get my doctorate and now I have a decent paying job. But mostly, we have money because my husband is amazing, brilliant and successful. A year ago, he started his own company which has taken off and he is doing really well. So, really, we can afford to have that swimsuit overnighted to us just so I can feel good on our beach vacation.

You may wonder why that is a problem? Well, to me, having money comes with some amount of guilt. Both my husband and I grew up what could be classified as "poor." Growing up in rural Montana, a lot of kids grow up that way. It's just little turning down the heat at night, wearing the same pair of jeans that aren't "cool" and so you get made fun of, not asking for things that you want... Basically, "Do we have enough money?" was just always in the back of my mind.

But now, living in Los Angeles, a world of extremes, I realize that growing up poor in Montana is nothing like growing up poor in city. I mean, we may have been living below the poverty line, but we had 3 acres and horses in our back pasture. We had a three bedroom home with a view of the mountains. Here, entire families live in one room. And, for the most part, the families I work with live in these conditions. Conditions where my client may have to go to the hospital because a bite from a rat got infected on her leg. And then, just four miles away, there is Rodeo Drive. So yeah, the land of extremes.

What does all of this have to do with me and my little swimsuit? I guess I was just struck by how much my world has changed. Even in the last four years, we have literally jumped some tax brackets. And I realize, that in the world we live in (LA), we are not "rich" by any means. But through my eyes, through the world I grew up in, I fell like we are. To bring this full circle, this new life brings with it guilt for me. For one, I look at my clients and the lives they live. But even closer to home, I look at my own family, who still struggles financially and it just feels weird...... to not have to worry about whether we can pay rent each month.

My husband (and most anyone I talk to) tells me that we've earned it and we don't need to feel guilty. And I know that he is right, but I can't help feeling a bit shocked when I think about how much I spent on two tiny scraps of fabric.


  1. Oh this is so interesting to me, we are fairly broke by LA standards, since I can't work and we only have one income, but the disparity between have and have nots is amazing.

    We can afford our rent, healthcare and the occasional night out, but that feels like such a lot compared to so many. Living on the west side makes the scism seem all the wider. The poverty here is heartbreaking.

    Never feel guilty about treating yourself. You have earned that bikini. I used to break expensive purchases into hours worked- I found it eased the guilt!

  2. Oh this kind of stuff is hard. For the record we also put off the heating at night, and when I was a student I made a point of leaving the heating off during the whole winter... and survied by being covered in blankets. Those years taught me to be frugal.

    Anyhow, noticing these differences, these extremes is difficult to navigate, because I did not choose where I was born, and sure I have studied hard, and I work hard, and I try to do my best, but I have been very very lucky in many many ways.

    Sometimes I read travel blogs and I see 25 year olds that stay at super luxurious hotels all the time. And I think.... even if we had the money (I mean I guess we could eventually decide to spend money on fancy accomodation), we just don't get the point.
    It's not about the money that much (though my belly hurts just to think about it), as about what we need (and how I would feel guilty spending so much in something that *to me* seems frivolous). When we travel, we need a safe, clean place to stay, comfortable preferably, and well communicated. So why pay 1000 EUR per night at some villa? I don't get it, but I guess, to each their own.

    Anyhow.... you earned that bikini :) so don't feel bad about it. I would be worried if you would be getting stuff you don't need and won't use just for the fun of it... but you are actually going on a vacation and it makes you feel good. That's important. And you study and work hard. And you are conscious about the people around you.

    BTW Montana sounds dreamy, with mountain views, lots of land and horses in your backyard. I really think that we should probably go back to where we worked for our food, by which I mean, we grew it ourselves. Or maybe I just kind of want to be a farmer.

  3. Great post!

  4. Privilege shouldn't make you feel guilty; it should make you feel aware. And you do.
    Re-label your guilt as awareness and do something if you don't already to help less fortunate people. You'll feel better and it will really make a difference.

    Enjoy your well-deserved and earned bikini. And Mexico!

  5. Just the fact that you are aware of how lucky you are, and that you appreciate what you have is a good thing. I'm sure some people (lots of people) would have bought that bikini without a second thought. After working in Mozambique, I came back to my life in Canada with a lot of the same internal struggles. I've decided that I can't change my standard of living because of world poverty, but I can always do my part.

  6. Thank you all for your comments! I am so proud to be surrounded by such thoughtful people. And thanks for reassuring me I deserve that bikini ;) I better look damn good in it!

    I responded to your comments in my next post, because I couldn't condense my thoughts into a small enough comment-response.

    But Amanda, since I didn't answer you about Montana, I will just say you should visit it someday! Northwestern Montana - Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park. Unreal pretty. Can't believe I grew up there. And yes, I think that is part of what I like about owning horses. You feel more connected to the land - repairing fences, hefting hay bales, shoveling shit. Well, you know. It's more real.


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