As with any addiction, babywearing begins as a need. The need to wear your baby close for comfort, for convenience, for work, for whatever. Inherently, wearing is a fantastic, necessary thing. However, somewhere along the line for a lot of people it becomes something else.
Post baby, a mother or caregiver is at one of their weakest places emotionally–I don’t know the science, but there’s something going on hormonally. I had this intense inner desire to be some kind of Martha Stewart/Donna Reed crossbred supermom, which filled me with an amazing amount of sanctimony and self righteousness. I also had an enormous fear of failure and zero self confidence, self image. I knew who I was without children, but I was completely void as a human being as soon as those babies came out. It’s like with each child more and more of myself was birthed out, leaving a shell who mindlessly picked up toys, washed dishes, and perpetually changed clothes from the washer to the dryer. I was desperate to feel like a worthwhile human being on my own merit. I needed something to connect me to who I was and who I was going to be when this marathon of early parenthood is over. I wanted something beautiful that would erase in my mind the spit-up covered t shirt and the 3 day old pajamas I hadn’t changed out of yet. Some mothers get super into cloth diapers, some swaddle blankets, but I was immediately hooked on woven wraps. (See, even there: Hooked)
Addiction (for me, in this instance) worked by taking a need and distorting it. The need I had was to be hands free and able to parent 4 kids simultaneously. Woven wraps, carriers, etc. filled that need. It also treated all that stuff I just talked about too, so two birds/one stone, right? Plus, it’s for the baby too, so you can totally justify spending $50-$2,000 on one because it’s not just for you. And, of course, there are so many different fiber types that are perfect for different lifestyles, so I can justify that. Oh, and there are 6-8 different sizes and each size has different carries, so I can justify having one in each size because they all serve different purposes. See, in 5 sentences I have traveled from a need to wear to a rationalization and justification for at least 6-8 wraps of varying fiber content. Doing the math: each wrap of varying fiber is between $120-$400, so in 5 sentences I went from a minimum of $50 to a minimum of $720 (for 6 wraps), which isn’t even accurate because length equals more money, so it’s always likely going to be more than that. Where I am from, that is a ton of money to spend on anything for any reason–even the baby I was just using as a justification.
So how did we get here? Well, I’ll tell you how I got there. I do not have a local wearing group, so I rely solely on an internet community to learn, grow, buy/sell/trade, discuss, share pictures, etc. This community, for me, exists on TheBabywearer, instagram, and Facebook. Facebook is my primary source for community and the community is huge. There are general education and wearing groups, there are wrap specific general education groups, brand specific chatter pages (which also often have specific design chatter groups and separate international chatter groups), buy/sell/trade groups, off topic chatter groups, high end chatter groups, dip groups, handwoven groups, color specific geekery groups, fiber specific geekery groups, length specific chatter/education groups, traveling specific groups, culturally specific groups, groups for addressing issues within the community, secret groups, even groups to help you stop buying wraps. The list goes on and on.
The first thing I discovered when I joined was the language. Wearing, especially with woven wraps, has a specific jargon that includes acronyms and code words that are necessary to have at least a working knowledge of in order to participate effectively. There are many places that have resources on the vocabulary of wearing, so I will not be making an exhaustive list here. There are quite a few, however, that give a snapshot or glimpse into the world of wearing as it relates to addiction.
ISO/DISO: In search of or desperately in search of.
Score: to get an invoice for a wrap or carrier, to purchase a wrap or carrier through stocking, etc.
Stash: a collection of wraps/carriers
Stash Shot: a picture of a collection
Dip: a ticket to a lottery for a typically high end wrap/carrier
Flipping/Flipper: the act (or person committing the act) of buying a product at cost and inflating the price to exploit the market
So, after joining all the groups and learning the language, I found myself buying my first wrap. It took me ages to decide which one, to save the money, to convince myself that it was worth it and necessary. It was exciting. Giving my paypal, getting the invoice, sharing my excitement in the relevant chatter groups with the acquaintances I had made, waiting for the mailman, opening and smelling that first wrap, wrapping my baby, taking pictures to share with everyone, and feeling all that excitement and attention. I finally felt that I was accepted and belonged somewhere. However, that rush quickly fades. Other people came along with newer releases and in crept that self doubt–they’re tired of seeing me with this same old wrap. I can’t do that carry because my wrap isn’t the right size. Everyone else has a bunch of wraps..maybe I need just one more. That was the beginning for me. No other purchases after that first one took as much thought, consideration, saving, convincing.
I had created within myself a need secondary to the primary need. I needed the community because it made me feel connected to other people. I needed to feel like a worthwhile human being–not mother necessarily. It became my mission to learn every carry, every fiber, try every brand. I created that need and a goal in order to justify and rationalize the behaviors I engaged in: lying to my spouse, hiding purchases, reverse funding, being glued to facebook, opening a credit account. Hell, I even started this blog as a means to justify my behavior. I thought “well, if I write a blog, start reviewing wraps, create a youtube channel, then it’ll totally balance out the scale…” which translates into “If I look like I’m busy and functional, then maybe I won’t have to stop. I won’t get yelled at.”
All of this didn’t happen in a vacuum. I take responsibility for my own issues. I feel it’s important at this point to examine how the community reinforces, encourages, and fuels addiction culture. Wrap companies are in the business to sell wraps. They are selling a luxury version of a functional necessity. In order to continue manufacturing and selling wraps, they need to create a need beyond that functional necessity whether it’s a new blend, new fiber, new weave, new design, new color, new something. Often, creating a new colorway is enough because there are fans who are compelled to collect every color of a certain design. There are fans who are compelled to own every white wrap created.
Chatter groups are an extension of the brand whether or not they are officially affiliated. They are groups run by fans mostly who actively engage, for free, in the collection, history, and geekery of the brands products. It’s also a place where people who like a brand can all hang out together and talk about different wraps/designs/blends. Most brands have “ambassadors” or testers who are selected based on a variety of factors to help (read: influence) wearers find the brand through reviews, “spamming” in shared spaces, and suggesting it in education threads. Testers and ambassadors are free advertisers who work with payment in the form of stalk free passes (oh look, another word), free wraps, etc. However, it’s worth noting that the money a tester or ambassador must pay out of pocket in the form of shipping wraps, laundering when necessary, traveling, writing is far more than the cost of a typical woven wrap or the promise of not having to wake up at 3am in order to be gifted with an invoice of several hundred dollars. Additionally, chatter groups are often used to hype up releases for wraps, sell older releases, and/or trade. They are usually filled with a mixture of very intense fans, those new to the brand, and those new to the community. The balance of these three groups is important for the health of the group because without new members flowing in the resale value goes down, the hype is noticeable and over inflated, and the brand dies. As with any other luxury item, the higher the original cost, the more intense the symptoms, justifications, hype is and the more secretive that community will be.
Addiction permeates every part of a person’s life. It has it’s own culture, language, rites and rituals. It creates bonds between people who may have never been connected otherwise, it exists to fill a need that gets warped and twisted over time, it alienates family and outside of culture friends, it causes the addict to do things they otherwise wouldn’t and then use the need as a justification. It also can cause the addict to form strong attachments to the people, places, and things within the culture. Those attachments are loopholes that will cause the addict to rationalize a continued presence within the culture despite attempts to remain abstinent or leave.
SO, WHAT DO I DO? (disclosure: these are just my suggestions and not like “the answer”)
Well, acknowledging that there is a problem community wide is probably a good starting place. If we decide, as a community, that we are worth saving, then it will take the whole of the community to move. This would be a colossal cultural shift.
- Make general education groups popular again. Chatter groups are great for the history and geekery within the brand, but when the majority of wearers are constantly being subjected to releases, hype, resale it creates or feeds that internal need to fill that hole.
- Force testers/ambassadors to state their affiliations in any comment or post that is about a wrap from the company they represent.
- Remove the “stash shot” threads from your posting habit. I don’t think a rule against them will be helpful. The turnover rate of the community is so high that if we all decide here and now to stop posting these, then the next generation will never know that they were a thing.
- Make a commitment to not encourage buying wraps. Stop yourself from telling new wearers that cotton isn’t supportive for toddlers for instance, or that certain wraps are great for “beginners” and thereby insinuating that more wraps=legitimacy.
- Refocus on education. Rebuild groups around carries and community and the functionality of wearing in your everyday life. Babywearing is a functional necessity. It makes our lives easier, it isn’t our life.
- If you have friends in the community, then make a committment to look out for them. They are your friends. If your best friend in real life was spending 18 hours a day browsing facebook on their phone, then would you say something?