When expensive brands provide affirmation for the poor

2013-09-12 16:49

Earlier today when I was deep in thoughts strategising on how to make House Tswelopele—a campus residence I preside over—one of the most respected at the University of the Free State, I was taken away to a different direction of thinking.

This sudden thought-transition threw me into an intensive monologue on why poor people (myself included) tend to be the ones spending too much on expensive brands than other economic classes.

In my thought processes I was not justifying, mortifying or scape-goating, but genuinely trying to put together the available resources of reason to answer the question: Is there a relationship between the need for affirmation on one hand, and expensive clothing on the other, particularly in the context of poor people?

The result of that conversation with the inner being gave birth to the claim that when one is poor, branded clothing becomes the source of affirmation.

If there is one thing that poverty does to a person, and which we need to acknowledge, is that it strips such a person of his/her dignity and self-confidence.

For example, when you stay in a shack that is not electrified, go to bed in an empty stomach, and cannot afford most basic necessities, then you are in a state where you may lose the pride to live. From a personal account, I know that there have been moments in my life when I’d feel like hiding in the small shack my mother ‘owned’. This was not necessarily because I lacked confidence, but due to a dearth of any substantive matter upon which my esteem would be instituted.

All aspects that generally make up healthy human experiences were weakened by poverty.

Self-image, self-perception, self-confidence, and other personal attributes anticipated from a human being risk being damaged by poor circumstances—a negative outlook on the ‘self’ as well as other matters of life is likely to be developed.

There is a link between the possession of accessories and self-confidence among the poor.

The emergence of izikhothani—young people that spend money on highly expensive clothes and then brag about the clothing’s costs—carried with it more stories than one, but we seem to have focused on the ‘lack of direction’ tale, without seeking to make sense of other contributing psychological factors ( But we can’t blame ourselves for that because what’s there to want to discover?) Our cognitive schemata didn’t provide space for the argument of expression when we approached the issue.

Well, to those who have direct or indirect references to township life, have you ever wondered why it is mostly the poor who are into luxurious brands?

Have you ever questioned the speed with which poor people fall into marketing communication messages that promise them status and affirmation in society?

Why do we still have teenagers that commit suicide when parents cannot afford that specific brand of shoes?

Summarily, why do we think the less privileged always aspire to appear privileged, even if it means channelling their obviously scarce resources into that ideal image of privilege?

In most cases, young people who come from a financially well-off background don’t need expensive materials to be affirmed. They grow up knowing that they are worth it, and that there are many factors that define them, other than mere clothing. Those factors may include education, language proficiency, a secured future and affordability of most items.

If clothing matters, it is fundamentally for the basic purpose of covering up the body.

But for poor young people in township, most of the springs of self-confidence mentioned in the above argument aren’t present. And due to the strong need for affirmation and recognition, most underprivileged youths then resort to clothing as a means of self- and township-confirmation. Since there is nothing of importance in their lives (apart from the fact that they still breathe, of course), these young people exalt clothing as the symbol of style and value.

Often times, it is mostly poor prospective university students who tend to be worried about what they will wear at varsity, because to them their luxurious labels will give them respect and recognition. They don’t want it to be obvious that they are from poor backgrounds. Expensive items become the basis of confidence. After all, how else will they be convinced they are recognised, and not judged on their backgrounds?

It is important to note that this is not at all a race issue, although someone out there can skilfully twist it around. It is in fact a class issue. Unlike the higher economic classes, the lower class do not have a wider array of resources to feel important.  Consequently, they look for alternative ways to create and express their pride. They explore various avenues of attention.

They want something great to be said about them, especially because nothing good has ever been said about them before.

That is why some of our brothers unreasonably buy flamboyant cars, while their parents continue to live in shacks or mud houses.

Those brothers want immediate attention. They want respect, recognition, and confirmation, even if it means being heavily indebted.

Stupid and irrational as it is, but to the poor (myself included), expensive clothing gives self-assurance.

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