Lessons from a Shopaholic—The Power of Symbol

Yesterday, in order to “relax” I decided to watch a movie. I had the house pretty much to myself, so I decided to watch something I normally wouldn’t choose….a chick flick. I watch crime shows and military documentaries and most of the movies I like involve some kind of autopsy or explosion. But, I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and channel that inner Girlie Side.

Okay, those of you who know me and are gigging, stop it.

I decided to watch “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” I think that it is good for writers to stretch, to read books and watch movies we normally wouldn’t choose. I believe we see with new eyes. This movie actually had a tremendous lesson about the power of symbols that I get to share with you guys today.

Rebecca Bloomwood (protag) is a shopaholic who has been funding her addiction with plastic. She has managed to keep afloat by juggling cards and paying the minimums giving just enough wiggle room to keep shopping. Her phone rings off the hook; dozens of collection agencies all trying to nail down Rebecca to settle her debt. She manages okay, until the inciting incident. She loses her job and must find a new one so she can still scrape by enough to fund her obsession…shopping.

On her way to interview for her dream job, Rebecca is distracted by a sale. She finds a beautiful designer green scarf. Various debacles ensue and Rebecca does find a job, but instead of landing the job writing for the fashion magazine as she’d intended, irony steps in and this young woman who is running from debt collectors lands a job as a columnist giving financial advice. She knows she shouldn’t have this job (that she is a fraud), but she needs it to pay her credit cards and finance her shopping (more irony). Out of guilt, she asks that she be able to have a mystery identity and her by-line be The Girl in the Green Scarf. The movie is really cute and fun mind candy with an adorable and likable flawed protagonist.

But, what caught my attention was the green scarf. To me, it was a fantastic representation of Rebecca’s journey…her connection with money. In the beginning the green scarf was a symbol of her problem–MONEY, or rather her mishandling of money. She is obsessed with shopping and buying more stuff and is in a very dysfunctional relationship with money. When she buys the scarf she has to use nine different credit cards, putting $20 on one $10 on another $5 on another. The scene where she purchases the scarf is hysterical.

Yet, when she lands the job at Successful Saving Magazine she has to hide behind her green scarf. Ahhhhh. Another use of symbol. She was bankrupting herself trying to look rich instead of facing her fears. By living in her fear, she looked rich, but was desperately poor. When hired to work at a financial magazine, Rebecca is forced into a position to have to understand and face her fears…her relationship with money. Why was shopping such an emotional experience? To her, expensive things held an almost magical power. This “power” was an artificial feeling she was seeking at the expense of what was real—love, family, friends. There was an artificial attachment to “things,” and thus it never lasted and therefore had to be fed and fed and fed. Rebecca owned stuff she didn’t even remember buying. Why? Because her relationship with money was a superficial fix trying to patch a much deeper problem that needed to be resolved.

By the end of her journey, Rebecca now has healed. She is no longer afraid and hiding in stores when she should be living life. She is no longer using shopping and using “things” as paltry substitutions for the deeper relationships in life—with her parents, her friends, and the love interest. She now has perspective and the attachment to the green scarf has changed. It is a symbol of love and good fortune and holds genuine sentimental attachment.

I thought the scarf was a brilliant use of symbol. Scarves are beautiful, wonderful, stylish. They can make us look fabulous. So can money. Scarves also are functional. They can keep us warm. Money is practical as well.

But, if we aren’t careful, a scarf can strangle us and be our undoing. So can money.

What are some great symbols in books or movies that you can think of? Maybe we will get to see an old movie with new eyes.

I want to hear your comments, and to prove it…

Leave a comment and I will put your name in for a drawing, and you can win an autographed copy of my book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I’m going to gather all comments until Halloween and then the winner will be announced November 1st. Trackbacks count as an entry, so you can double your chances to win by leaving a comment and then linking to any of my blogs.

Happy writing!

Until next time…


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  1. The symbol that immediately leaps to mind is the little girl in the red coat at the end of Schindler’s List. The boldness of the red is impossible to ignore in a movie filmed in black and white. Like the Holocaust, it cannot pass unseen, unless one willfully ignores it.

    1. Oooh good one! Thanks, scooter for contributing, :D.

    • Chris Narbone on October 18, 2010 at 5:29 pm
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    This might be obvious but still a pretty powerful example. The “ring” from Lord of the Rings. I don’t think there’s enough space in the text box to examine the symbolism, but it’s a great example of a symbol both in movies and books.

  2. The one that comes to mind for me is a man and his car. It’s not as apparent in the USA as it was in Germany, where we lived for several years. In Germany (and many EU countries) you can finance your vehicle for 8-12 years if you wish. That way you can buy twice the car than you could otherwise afford.

    A man (in many cases) is completely define by the car that he drives, and in Germany the ‘Love’ pecking order is always: Car, significant other, home and job. If married it is: Wife (50-50), Car, job, and home.


    • CMStewart on October 18, 2010 at 5:36 pm
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    In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Uncle Rico’s van / mobile home. It, like Rico, is an obnoxious, laughable, regressive symbol. Kind of in-your-face and pitiable at the same time.

  3. The blue vase from “Under the Tuscan Sun.” It’s one of the only things she takes with her from her old home into her new life. It pops up several times and there are several things implied in the scenes but the most powerful moment with the vase is when she lashes out an breaks it. It shatters into a million pieces and it visually marks a turning point for her.

    Also the faucet in the hallway (?) of her new house. At first no matter how she turns the knob no water will come out. It’s dried up — kind of like she is. Along the way she is fixing up the house (and herself) and the faucet starts dripping (I think about the time that she starts writing again). She finds it curious, but just hangs a bucket under it. But the end of the movie the faucet is bursting with watter in the hallway. About the time she is rather bursting with life again.

    One thing about that faucet I don’t understand though — how did they get it to stop shooting out water? No matter what it symbolizes gushing water in the hallway really seems like a nuisance.


    1. I actually have that movie around here somewhere and I haven’t watched it. I’ll have to kind it now. Thanks!

  4. In Susan Wittig Albert’s book series about protag. China Bayle, the reader comes to understand that Susan uses herbs as a symbol for both good and evil in equal proportions. Albert goes so far as to use the primary herbal symbol in the title of each book. The mystery series uses each subsequent herbal symbol to follow the definitional growth of the main character as well as to symbolize the negative use/connotation of the plant involved.

    The reader learns about something real while also watching the strands of spider silk that tie together chatacters, events, and conclusions. This is a marvelously relaxing way to be shown moral plays that are the proof of the old adage that there is nothing as complex as something very simple.


    1. Claudette, if your books are half as well written and pretty as this comment, sign me up, :D. I will have to look up that series now. Thanks!

    • Ginger Calem on October 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm
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    I think Harry Potter’s scar is a symbol throughout the entire series for a myriad of things. It makes him stand out and be different whether he wants it or not. It took away his anonymity. It’s a sign that he’s linked with Voldermort. The pain in his scar was a sign of bad, lack thereof likely meant good. It was an opening to his soul and something he needed to learn to control. Even at the very end of the series, his scar is the last thing mentioned, that he touched it and noted that it hadn’t pained him in 19 (I think) years and that “…all was good.” 🙂

  5. Ok, I’m confessing to a love of that movie, first of all. I’m not ashamed. Ok now symbols-signs and symbols are how our intuition speaks to us. We all have our favorite numbers, and when we see them we know it’s good! Eat, Love, Pray used the Mala beads and the number 108 and had 108 very short (Which I think worked well for her) chapters. The beads symbolized her search for the spiritual aspects of her Journey. I’m glad you brought this up. When writing, one should be concious to use signs and symbols. It adds depth to the plot!

    • Terrell Mims on October 19, 2010 at 12:57 am
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    In Munich, the moment when the blood mixes with the milk. It symbolizes the loss of purity, since milk and blood together is not kosher.

  6. Reading your blog reminds me of the Scarlet Letter. The letter A changed its meaning from something terrible to something great. Ironically, the people were the ones that put meaning into it.

  7. I wanted to tell you that I was sucked into watching this movie yesterday after reading your blog. I LOVED it. I’m glad to have you point out the deeper meanings behind the scarf, because I was way too busy just enjoying the wacky girly fun.

    1. LOL…it was really a cute movie. And I had resolved to just “watch and have fun” but the green scarf was just too good to ignore.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. 😀

  8. Hi Kristen,

    Can’t think of a book or movie at 5:30 in the morning. But, I have a symbol, make-up. I refuse to go out of the house without it. Been that way since Jr. High. Family and friends say that’s my symbol. Hiding behind the make-up, never letting people see the real me. Now, at this stage of my life, you damn straight no one is going to see my brown spot, lines and countless flaws. Without my symbol of a most perfect face, I would be lost, confused and ashamed. It’s like a drug. I have to have it. Can’t go into Rite Aid without buying one item for my face. So, with that said, symbols can come in any shape, form or color.

    Happy writing,
    The Make-Up Queen

  9. Kristen and all the others who will now watch this movie – read the book instead! It’s so much better than the movie, and the great things about the movie – the flawed protagonist, the symbolism, the super-cute and also imperfect love interest – all came from the book.

    • Caryn on November 3, 2010 at 11:39 pm
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    I can see where the film moved away from the book but it’s obvious why, as books don’t use visuals the same way. But it was still as scarf (with a made-up designer — I looked it up). You make me want to see the film now.

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