I planned to write this piece for my column on Psychology Today, but unfortunately for PT Magazine, there is no (negative) psychology to be spoken of.
I’d already had the idea for this article in mind when Sarah Fader – CEO of Stigma Fighters and VP of Marketing for OCH – and I decided that when she arrived in Los Angeles we would go to Rodeo Drive in our pajamas. She also has a Psychology Today column and we thought, well, they will definitely stigmatize us because we are more comfortable in our pajamas than we are in real clothes or because we are not rich enough. Or simply, because we are crazy enough to go to Rodeo Drive in our pajamas.
But that’s not what happened.
We were excited when we turned onto Rodeo. The streets were lined with white buildings, embellished by silver letters glistening in the sunlight that read things like Chanel, Gucci, and Ralph Lauren. My love for fashion started with my grandmother at a very early age, and my heart started pumping as soon as I could see it. My grandmother has always given me the most beautiful dresses as gifts for birthdays and Christmas and as a result I have studied runway fashion for most of my life, in secret, of course, because I’m afraid to admit that I’m ashamed of my body. (How could you be? You have the perfect body? I can hear it already.) The truth is that I have been referred to as an anorexic skinny bitch for longer than I can remember. But you can find me in a friend’s office from time to time watching the Paris show while browsing Christian Louboutin’s website, listening to my friend’s stories of Paris in the seventies when he worked in the fashion industry. The real fashion industry, not the Instagram one.
Our friends, along with Sarah, hadn’t come to Rodeo Drive dressed in their pajamas like I had, so of course they changed on the sidewalk. (What other logical thing could a girl do?) Sarah was blocked by the car, but one of our friends was not, so we blocked her as best we could with our bodies. But I’m a skinny bitch. So blocking her with our bodies was not really blocking her at all.
“I’m sorry, sir!” she declared at a youngish man walking by as she stood there in her blue bra.
“I’m not complaining,” he said, smirking, and we all proceeded to laugh for at least twelve minutes.
We walked up the sidewalk in our pajamas, past Starbucks and Chanel, and stopped at Guess. Sarah and one of our friends had the brilliant idea to ask the employee greeting customers what store it was, and let hilarity ensue when the employee replied “Guess,” and the result caused laughs for more than twelve minutes. There were several “skits” like this, as we called them, but I will let Sarah tell you more about that. Aside from the humor aspects of this day trip, I really wanted to see how I would be treated based on my bedroom attire alone, and it was enlightening. Unbeknownst to my friends, I did actually want to look at the clothing too, even though I couldn’t ever come close to affording a $1,200 pair of pants. Even though I live here, I’d never been to Rodeo Drive before.
I walked into a store that was connected to some fragrance store (definitely not Bath and Body Works) – I don’t remember what it was called – with some ballroom dresses that were sure to weigh more than I did. I didn’t try any of them on due to the one fitting room being occupied – it was a very small space – but I would have died to try on just one. The woman greeted me like she might greet anyone else and told me to let her know if I saw something I liked. To be honest, I thought she would take one look at my sweat pants and call the police, but she didn’t do anything like that.
During one of Sarah’s skits, I was admiring a cashmere sweater in Ralph Lauren, and it fell right off the hanger and onto the floor. I felt awful because it was white and most likely expensive. I attempted to put it back on the hanger but it fell down a second time. A woman, dressed to the hilt, as my mother would say (whatever that means), came over with a smile.
“Oh my goodness, not again,” she said. “This sweater just does not want to be on a hanger.”
“I’m so sorry about that,” I told her.
“Don’t be. It happens every day.”
I smiled back at her. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Would you like to see anything else?”
It took me a long time to answer as I stared at her perfect hair. She reminded me of my grandmother. Sarah and our two other friends were waiting for me outside. “No, thank you. That will be all.”
I thought for sure, like in Pretty Woman, I would be shunned for my sweats and Nikes. Granted I did not look like a prostitute, but I also did not, and will not ever, look like I can afford anything in any store on that street. Yet, everyone I came in contact with on Rodeo Drive treated me with respect and kindness.
It goes to show that some things are exaggerated. Mostly by Hollywood and the media. But there are other things, sometimes. Even mental illness or motherhood can be exaggerated or manipulated into something it’s not. Though I’m glad I went to see for myself — go to the spot as it says in my company’s philosophy – I feel pretty stupid that I have allowed myself to think that just because people are rich means they are assholes. That’s like saying just because people are schizophrenic they are murderers.
There is stigma everywhere, and we perpetuate it ourselves. The only way to stop it is to look inwardly, admit we are part of the problem, and take the steps to learn from our mistakes so that we can grow not only as human beings but so we can grow as a society and a community for each other.
Mental Health Awareness Month isn’t just about mental health. It’s about people making promises to be good to each other, and that’s all there is.
A Bestselling Author, NPO VP, and Psychology Today columnist from Burbank, California, Allie Burke writes books she can’t find in the bookstore. Having been recognized as writing a “kickass book that defies the genre it’s in”, Allie writes with a prose that has been labeled poetic and ethereal.
Her life is a beautiful disaster, flowered with the harrowing existence of inherited eccentricity, a murderous family history, a faithful literature addiction, and the intricate darkness of true love. These are the enchanting experiences that inspire Allie’s fairytales.
Allie has been featured in Refinery29 and Women’s Health Magazine.