Buzz Bizzinger created a lot of it this week with his tell-all story in the April issue of GQ, a confessional about his shopping and sex addictions. A sportswriter who’s best known for his book Friday Night Lights, subsequently made into a film and a TV series, Bissinger grew up financially privileged, but he was haunted from childhood by the fear that he was not who and what he was supposed to be—in his case, “the eternally preppy boy in the button-down shirt.”
It turns out Bissinger came by his clothing fixation honestly. He recalls his father coveting the trademark Gucci loafers and, after much handwringing, buying a pair. His mother sported the brand’s iconic Jackie O shoulder bag. And Bissinger followed suit at thirteen by making his first Gucci purchase, a wallet. Even as a child, Bissinger associated the sensation of sexiness with clothing, but it didn’t come to dominate his life until forty years later, when three losses coalesced; his wife moved away from New York to take an administrative job at NYU Abu Dhabi, his youngest child left home for college, and he couldn’t find the motivation or the words to produce the pieces he’d contracted to write, fearing that nothing would live up to Friday Night Lights.
Alone, adrift, and repressed, he raged against conformity, boredom, and blandness, and online shopping became the perfect life-raft to keep him from drowning in the day-to-day minutiae he loathed. Coupled with the bricks and mortar of Gucci and The Divine Stylist, his own perfectly attuned personal shopper, “clothing became the stimulation and attention” he desired, the sexual vitality he’d first experienced as a teenager while marching in a Memorial Day in the orange-and-black sculpted jacket and matching tight-fitting pants his father had bought for him. Each new purchase became “an aphrodisiac,” Bissinger writes in GQ, an autoerotic sexual thrill and a diversion from his feelings of unworthiness.
The clothing’s magical effects, however, wore off quickly and necessitated ever-larger and more frequent purchases to maintain his high. Bissinger was convinced that he could stop shopping at anytime he wanted, and even if he couldn’t he rationalized it as a lesser evil; for God’s sake, he thought, it wasn’t mainlining heroin. And besides, he could afford it, he wasn’t hurting anyone, and $638,412.97 was but a small price to pay for what he believed was freedom from the repression of his first fifty-five years. But you can never get enough of what you don’t really need; it’s the emotional baggage that needs unpacking, not the parcels that UPS brings every day.
Buzz’s story came out on the heels of my having seen Harvey Fierstein’s new Broadway play, Kinky Boots, another tell-all story, this one about a family shoe business on the skids that is resurrected when a flamboyant Drag Queen, Lola, whose manliness is never in question, saves the company by taking it in an entirely new direction, designing boots for men with six-inch heels. Seeing these thigh-high boots gushing with all manner of bling, the kinkier, the better, I couldn’t help but compare Bissinger to Lola. Bissinger’s withering negativity, uncertainty about his manhood, and edginess couldn’t be farther removed from Lola’s warm, confident, non-defensive presentation of self.
The GQ story is Bissinger’s attempt to prompt a remission, and perhaps, a transformation to a more confident, Lola-like existence. The more probable outcome is this: by checking himself into a residential treatment center he might, with his drug of choice unavailable, more successfully access the pain of his losses, explore his confusion about his sexual desires, and begin to uncouple the compulsive buying of clothes from the “cinematic excitement of engorging flesh.” It all depends on whether he can give up his self-described “Mr. Big” mentality and find more authentic self-expression, renounce the “futile feeding of the bottomless beast” and trade his sartorial shrink for the psychological kind.
Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence.