When it comes to sustainability, what do the following click-bait headlines have in common:
- “5 Minimalist Fashion Mistakes”
- “The Ethical Clothing List – ”
- “Things you Should Watch Out for when buying organic clothing”
Other than being some of the most repinned articles on Pinterest when it comes to sustainable fashion, they are all shame-based.
What is Shame?
Shame is an elusive emotion that is not well recognized. I’ve struggled with recognizing it in my actions as well. Recognizing and working through shame opened my eyes to how pervasive it is in our everyday lives.
While guilt is sometimes confused with shame, they are very different. Guilt is usually self-imposed based on your own code of morals and ethics. When you do something that you feel is wrong, you are likely to feel guilt. When you do something that other people feel is wrong, you are likely to feel shame.
The two often overlap because your moral code of ethics lines up with other people’s moral code of ethics. Though we are all different people, and we don’t all believe the same things. When there are excessive expectations from others, they can sometimes overshadow your own expectations… and that’s when shame takes over.
When external motivations become shame-based motivations, we usually face trouble. You can alleviate shame through humility and self-acceptance of your own moral code. No one else is going to do it for you, after all.
How is Shame being used in Sustainable Fashion?
In the realm of sustainability, climate change, and ethical clothing, there is a lot of persuasion at play. In order to change the opinions of others, to sell a product on your Instagram, write an affiliate article to sell a cute outfit, we are constantly trying to persuade.
However, unless you went through the extensive study on the art of persuasion, you may not be even aware how your actions may be ineffective. Think of being given a pen when you don’t know how to write. You’re just going to make scribbles on a page.
From a psychological perspective: when it comes to persuasion and motivation, inexperience has us essentially “say what we know.” If you are a shame-based person (which most of us still are) and don’t understand that there is a better way to do things, you are going to most likely express persuasion through shame.
Being a fashion blogger sounds glamorous, and attracts people from all over the world. It sounds easy until you sit down to do it right. It’s time-consuming, tedious, and so saturated, you are very likely to fail. Shortcuts make it easier, and you keep going.
Emotion-based articles are more likely to get clicks, not determining if they are good or bad. Without the proper discipline, shame-based articles are an easy short-cut to get more clicks. Though, it’s only a short fix.
When you overcome the shame, you overcome the motivation
In the long run, shame-based articles and click-bait titles are counterproductive because they are connected to motivation. Shame is relatively easy to overcome with a healthy dollop of self-respect and self-efficacy. Once the shame is alleviated, so is the motivation. Thus, the persuasion fails.
It associates good habits with negative feelings
When you associate good habits with negative feelings, a cognitive dissonance occurs and you become likely to reject the good habits because you want to reject the negative feelings. That’s why shaming people into recycling or doing their homework has the opposite effect. You can try a little reverse psychology, but it’s still shame-based and won’t work in the long run.
There are better ways to motivate good habits
To be more sustainable, we need more long-run solutions. Positivity is a great motivator for long-term results… even if it doesn’t feel like that in the moment.
People have to work through their own emotions. As time goes on, if good habits are associated with a positive light, people trying to become more positive will pick up the good habits. That’s why we see so many “feel good” commercials around organic food companies. If you’re in the market for good food, you are going to want to go to the place that is super positive. You associate good food with happiness.
I want to get to the point where sustainable fashion isn’t even a thing anymore. Why? Because it will just be referred to as “fashion.” This isn’t going to happen if we keep shaming ourselves to believe in something.
Sustainability is all about the long run. The long run won’t be motivated by shame, but by thoughtful, well-motivated actions. In the end, true motivation is what wins.