As many of us know, clothing is our primary medium of self-expression. If we didn’t constantly tell the world who we are through our clothing, we would have no identity at all.
Of course, defining ourselves and placing ourselves into rigid social categories based on the clothing we wear, the stickers on our laptops, and pins on our backpacks is a crucial process. Our focus on identity and the recognition of that identity by others is essential to our emotional well-being.
Bethany Roberts, an SIS and Art double major, knows this feeling all too well; on October 5, 2017, Roberts lost her jean jacket.
When asked for her comment on this unfortunate event, Roberts tearfully responded, “It’s like no one knows who I am anymore. If my clothing doesn’t tell everyone around me that I’m unique and weird, how will they know that I’m unique and weird?”
Although Roberts has many other articles of clothing that communicate to the world that she is a unique counterculture individual, this jean jacket was her favorite means of communication. “I feel so vulnerable without my jean jacket. I might have to dye my hair just to make sure other people know that I listen to Halsey and I have a Tumblr following.”
This crisis may prompt us to reflect on the current state of affairs as young people. Do we care too much about others’ perceptions of us?
Are we all chasing the ideal of being different, unique, and original in the exact same way, thereby making us all carbon copies of one another while deluding ourselves into thinking we’re being nonconformist?
Have we become caricatures of the various social categories we claim not to care about? Are the categories we place ourselves in tired and unoriginal?
Is our generation’s obsession with defining ourselves to display our self-perception to the world toxic?
Does our pathological need for an audience create an obstacle for self-actualization?
Robertson doesn’t think so. “I think our compulsive need to define ourselves is actually very healthy. Our identities must be projected onto society and validated by others who are exactly like us in order to keep the debilitating existential dread at bay.”
Maybe Robertson is right. Maybe we are all unique and different. The way we choose to express ourselves is totally original and not in any way a desperate attempt to solidify our identities by defining them in terms of socially-constructed categories.
Personally, I just hope to God I never lose my hiking boots that I wear everywhere (except while actually hiking), because I need people to know that I'm outdoorsy and fun.
Can we ever escape from the weight of other people’s perceptions of us? We have to dress some way, after all, and why not choose clothing that we feel expresses who we are? Maybe it's not this deep. Idk.