The dictionary description of ‘shaming’ is “to cause someone to feel inadequate by outdoing or surpassing them”.
My own experience of eco-shaming is often uncomfortable, always unexpected and usually (in my opinion) unjustified. I find myself feeling harshly judged by off-the-cuff comments about my travel plans, my clothing, and other life choices in a way that suggests I ‘really ought to know better’.
From “I could never eat an avocado” to “almonds take so much water to grow”
Now here’s the thing, I don’t doubt these comments come from a well-meaning place, and other people may indeed make better choices than me about their environmental impact. That’s a given. In any area of life, there will always be someone more invested and indeed someone less invested than me, someone doing ‘better’ or ‘worse’. And the reason I feel confident to bring this up is that my business model is based around community and the planet, and I don’t feel I overly consume. (I could very well be wrong here, and I am prepared to be)
But what interests me is why? Why do we find it necessary to put ourselves above or below each other in scales of imagined worth?
There is a very important question of what we are comparing with what. While you may find my short-haul flight distasteful, you may well have flown ten times as much as me in our lifetimes so far. And while you may not approve of my socks having sequins on, the fact that they were bought from TK Maxx and therefore saved from landfill and that I have worn them only on special occasions over a ten year period may make them less impactful than your annual eco clothes shop buying a whole collection of naturally dyed hemp coordinates.
And isn’t that just the point? These judgments are assumptions made from a standpoint of social class, background, and means. It is perfectly possible to have a ridiculous shopping habit and buy only eco products, but it is still over-consumption. Often those pledging ‘never to fly again’ took a gap year to South America so don’t feel the urge to travel a lot in later life. Whereas others didn’t fly until their thirties.
Certainly, our biggest influence as consumers (and make no doubt, we are all consumers) is where we spend our hard-earned cash.
But is there a bigger question here?
Do we want to live in a society where we are so busy judging each other or justifying ourselves that we miss looking at the bigger picture? Or would be better off each making our own best choices, encouraging others in theirs, and, importantly, holding corporations and governments to account for the global policies responsible for the real global environmental damage which concerns us all?
By arguing amongst ourselves, are we allowing full scale destruction of our one and only home in the name of profit for corporations?
And what are we going to take up instead of shopping and comparison?
How about we swap it out for understanding and connection?
Clare Honeyfield is a yoga teacher, coach, and entrepreneur based in Stroud and working globally to help women creatives overcome procrastination and achieve greatness through the development of self-belief, self-care, and community.