Up until a year ago this past weekend, I had spent my entire life living in Southern California. All but three of those years, I lived in the more affluent part of Orange County. Aside from some traveling, my view of the world was as I saw it in Orange County or through media outlets. When we moved here to Central Oregon, I entered in to a whole new way of living. The immediate differences I noticed were the quieter surroundings, the slower pace of life, the more modest lifestyle, and the instant sense of community. The latter was such a significant shift from Southern California that both my husband, who was raised in Texas, and I felt that we had entered in to the movies we had watched where everyone welcomes the new neighbors with treats and support. It was a culture shock in many ways for both of us.
It was a refreshing change to see this alternate way of life. It was almost the anti-thesis of Southern California and as much as I love SoCal, we needed out of there. I quickly accepted the new way of life, but had not fully acclimated after our first six months. It was around that time, that we took our first trip back to visit loved ones in SoCal. I, of course, noticed the increase in traffic, lights, crowds, and buildings upon my return, but that was about the extent of it. I imagine I was still equal parts SoCal and Central Oregon at that point. Last week, we took our second trip back to SoCal and it had an entirely different affect on me. This time I could not get over all of the styles and bombardment of materialism being thrown at me.
Perhaps it’s because I had just seen the second installment of the Hunger Games Series, Catching Fire, but I liken SoCal to The Capitol and Central Oregon to District 12. For those who have read the series, I realize this is an extreme analogy. For those that have not read the series or seen the movies, the basic idea is that The Capitol is an assault on your senses, unless you live there and know no different. Everything is over the top in The Capitol, particularly the fashion scene and gluttony.
When we first drove in to SoCal during this past trip, I was kind of excited to see all the shopping options and I had already planned out most of our must-have eating stops. None of those eating spots left me disappointed. I’m already craving some of those places and we haven’t even been home a week. However, the fashion scene and shops were overwhelming to me. The mall was the worst of them all. Every store had it’s own storefront theme. While some of the stores had a classy touch, many of them were flaunting sexy, loud, dark, mysterious, and cutting edge without me even having to walk in. It made me truly sad for the youth that had to innocently walk through the mall and fight off the barrage of sensory overload that tells them what they should and ought to be and have. I’m a grown woman and I find it hard to fight off the urge to want and desire all these things that I never even thought of owning previously. What are we doing to our kids and our society when we try to sensationalize every aspect of the day? Media is no longer the only culprit.
The mall was the most offensive to my senses, but I had noticed it the very first night in town when I went to the movies with my girlfriends. A lot of people, mostly women, were dressed in such a way that seemed uncomfortable and unnecessary. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have pride in how we present ourselves. There is a lot to be said about putting on that one outfit that makes you feel prettier (or more handsome) than usual. I think it’s the fact that it seems like a requirement to “fit in” in SoCal that irritates me. I felt this underlying pressure to be more than I am while I was there. Not in the sense of living up to my personal expectations of myself, but rather living up to other’s expectations of me. It was disheartening, honestly.
Small towns have their drawbacks, don’t get me wrong. We don’t have the luxury of walking in to a Toys-R-Us to do our kids’ Christmas shopping, our Target is more of a quasi-Target, major sporting events and the theater are not easily accessible, and more people seem to know your business before you’ve told them. But, I feel healthier living a slower paced life here with less pressures upon myself. The part that makes me the saddest is that I had no idea how many pressures were being placed on me by the environment that I was living in until I left it, was released from it, and had to re-enter it. I worry about those that are not prepared emotionally to fight off the subconscious urge to “keep up” and “fit in.”
Obviously, we cannot escape the world around us and we cannot all move to a small town. But I hope we don’t desensitize ourselves so much that we lose sight of what really matters. More importantly, I hope we teach our children that fashion and fame do not matter. Easier said than done, especially when the pressures are coming from all sides. Maybe a good approach is to compare and contrast with other areas that you travel to with your kids. Ask them what they notice is different between wherever you live and the place you’re visiting and get their opinions of what way of life seems healthier.
I’ve joked since I moved to Central Oregon that we’re two decades behind here as it pertains to music, trends, and the like. But if the direction we’re going in as a society is as showy and loud as I witnessed in the mall in SoCal, I’ll gladly stay behind the times and raise my kids to become old-fashioned. I don’t want them to think they have to be flashy to be seen and loud to be heard. I sure hope I can prepare them to appreciate the positive difference they can make in this world by being their truest selves and not falling prey to the matters of materialism.