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The Lure of the Lulu: Navigating Brand Name Obsessions

06/26/2015 10:02 am ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

"Mom, can I get a pair of UGGS? I've never had a pair in my whole life."

Should I alert the media? My daughter has lived nine years without ever slipping her foot into an UGG boot! This is madness!

I am fortunate that I have the financial means to buy my daughter an expensive pair of boots, but should I? Her request for UGGS has hurled me into contemplating a deeper issue.

I live in a ritzy suburb notorious for its massive mansions that grace the shores of Lake Michigan. It has a reputation for being filled with women whose only job is to exercise and balance the weight of their sugar cube sized diamond rings on their delicate manicured fingers. I have largely discovered these stereotypes to be unfounded. I live in a normal-sized house and have formed exceptional friendships with many families in my community.

Where, then, are all the people who give my suburb such a snooty connotation? I found where they were hiding when I hobbled through the doors of a 'Mommy and Me' class in January 2007. I suffered grave complications after my daughter's birth and had spent 218 days in the hospital after her healthy arrival. When I finally returned home, my sister insisted that it would be a good idea for me to do something "normal." I toddled with a walker, had lost all my hair and wore a bandage to conceal the hissing hole in my neck left by my trachea tubing.

As I entered the baby class, I was blinded by diamond rings, bleached white teeth and deep tans. Women were clad in their skin tight yoga outfits that showcased their perfectly sculpted bodies. The babies were dressed to the nines in boutique garbs, their tiny feet were encased with sparkly UGG boots and the girl babies all wore elaborate hair accessories.

Never fear though, I one upped these ladies by making sure my daughter and I had matching hair styles and outfits. We were both nearly bald and dressed in our finest Old Navy sweat suits. For six months, I sat quietly to the side each week while my sister played the role of mommy to my daughter. I imagined how I could participate in the conversations.

When one mom said, "My nanny just flaked on me and now I have to cancel my 4:00 tennis lesson. It's so annoying when this happens!"

My gut reaction was to blurt out, "I know what you mean, when I was in the hospital and my respiratory therapist flaked on me, it was so annoying when I choked on my own mucus and aspirated."

Most of these women would not even engage in eye contact with me. I represented their worst nightmares; imperfections and ugliness. If only I'd had the courage to say, "Hi everyone, I know I look like hell, but it's because I spent seven and a half months in the hospital after my daughter was born. I feel lucky just to be alive and I invite you to get to know me."

Instead, I decided that I would buy myself a North Face jacket and pair of UGG boots. These women would then see I was one of them and acknowledge my existence. Serious negotiations with my frugal husband ensued. I won the hotly contested battle after his business partner told him, "Don't be so cheap! Lisa practically died!"

I shuffled into the next 'Mommy and Me' class in my new uniform. Presto Change-o! Everyone immediately started talking to me and things went swimmingly after that.

Nope. I was still the scary weird lady who did not belong. I vowed to never again subscribe to the preposterous notion that brand names could make me someone I'm not. Nor would I ever attempt to equate my self-worth with material items. I'm not better or worse than anyone else because of what I do or don't wear.

I adhered to my vow until.....
Lululemon yoga pants swept my community by storm. They were everywhere from the grocery store to the carpool line. No matter the body type, everyone looked exquisite in these magical pants. Even my conservative spending husband was encouraging me to buy myself a pair. I couldn't bring myself to spend such a ridiculous amount of money on a pair of yoga pants. Especially because having scleroderma precludes me from doing yoga!

Ultimately, I could not resist the lure of the Lulu. I had to have those pants. With reckless abandon, I bought a pair. Then I bought another and another. It was akin to a crack addiction. I was buying Lululemon pants like the plane was going down. So smooth, so comfy....and my butt...I had an actual butt in these pants! I had never had a butt before.

Okay, so now what do I do about my daughter's plea for UGGS? If I buy them for her, am I teaching her that she needs to look just like everyone else to fit in? Am I sending the message that our self-esteem can be bolstered through clothing, brand names and the accumulation of material possessions?

You're probably thinking I'm insane for putting this much thought into such a trivial matter. I'm debating the purchase of a pair of boots, not buying my kid a small island! My daughter's place in the world will not rest on this single decision.

I think it's great to want nice things or wear name brands, provided we acknowledge that the essence of our being is not determined by material possessions. When I bought the UGG boots and North Face jacket, my self-esteem had disintegrated into near extinction. I had spent the previous seven months fighting for my mere survival. I had missed the first seven months of my daughter's life, lost out on being a mother to my 3- year-old son and my marriage was dissolving before my eyes. I was a shell of my former self and no jacket or boots were going to heal those emotional or physical wounds.

When I bought (and continue to buy) Lululemon pants, it's because I genuinely feel good wearing them. I do not derive my self-respect from my yoga pants nor would I crumble if I didn't have them. I hope that my husband and I are raising our kids to appreciate people for who they are and not how they look, where they live or what they wear. We will continue to raise our kids with good values so that when they venture out in the world, they give credence to what's really important. When they do walk into the "real world," I hope they won't care about the shoes they're wearing.

Disclaimers
These are the imaginary criticisms I hear people thinking as they read this article.

Critic: There is unspeakable suffering going on in every corner of the world. How dare you write an article on such a ridiculous topic! You're the reason the rest of the world hates us!

Me: Hey, back off man. My life isn't all rainbows and lollipops! I know there are far more serious issues to contemplate than UGG boots. The boots are a metaphor...get it?

Critic: Just because people live in a fancy house, wear expensive clothes or have a nanny does not mean they aren't dealing with their own hurdles in life. If you don't want others to judge you, then don't judge others.

Me: I agree! Let's all get together, hold hands,and sing about unicorns.