Surrendered to Fashion
By Carly, age 16, Ohio
High school is the time and place for the evolution for teenagers. I started off freshman year as clueless as the rest of my loud and rather annoying classmates. I tried to mold myself to fit in, or at least feel like I fit in. The hallways are always lined with American Eagle insignia and the clamor of bickering teens. I did not fit in right from the get go. What is so appealing about a polo shirt? I was flooded with thoughts of confusion. What could possibly be wrong with me? I'm not allowed to be happy because I'm strange? Because I doubt the holy polo of mainstream teenager-dom?
I've always been different, ever since I could dress myself. I would mismatch my jumpers and pick out random colors of tights. It came to the point though where I was pushed to the walls to be nothing more than a flower upon them. I tried to repress my oddities. My spirit was crushed by the unrelenting dominance of "the prep".
What I have come to see since my ignorant freshman days is that you cannot measure something if you have the wrong scale. You cannot compare things on completely separate levels and you cannot argue ignorance. You would not compare an apple to a potato, would you?
Whatever self-confidence I used to have has been demolished by our society. We have sold ourselves in ads and been made to feel like we are missing a part of ourselves. What people see on television and in magazines imprints itself into our minds like a parasite. The ads negotiate what forms of femininity are acceptable in society today. "Those that do not fit are excluded or denied." (Budgeon)*
"Plastered all over our tiny universe is the mold of what we are told to be. The air is so thick with it that it's hard to breathe. Teens learn directly from these observations and learn without being aware." (Zollo)** What is propriety? How should I see myself? I want to decide what is right for me. As of right now I would rather be odd and all by myself than be a lemming. I refuse to throw myself off that cliff which is mainstream America. I want to be what I see, not what some person tells me to be. When it comes down to it, I let them think what they want. In the words of the great Marilyn Monroe, "If they care enough to bother with what I do, then I'm already better than them anyway." Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I am my own beholder. Nothing else matters as long as I'm pleased with what's radiating back from the mirror.
Just the other day I broke a mirror. It's alright, I'm not really the superstitious type. Something just soothed me about seeing all the flecks of reflecting glass broken and scattered around me. The heat of anger could no longer be subdued and I felt the daggers inside move to my stinging eyes. Society is mean. Boys are mean. I had a friend, I thought. His laughter was like the plague. He was sweet, but I suppose not so intelligently inclined because the parasitic societal images had gotten to him. Every word rolling off his tongue was a lie. He said he liked me and that I was an amazing person. However, my death sentence came down to the holy polo. Does a polo shirt really make a person that different? No, the truth is it just makes you the same as everyone else. It enlists you into the monotonous zombie army. I guess no one else finds monotony bland. Difference is hard to come by, like snow in Bolivia. Human nature rejects difference, but difference fuels innovation. Without innovation I would be inking a piece of paper in the dark right now. If girls had kept agreeing with mainstream society, we would all still be required to wear skirts.
Today's girls strive for validation. They need this as much as a small child needs another Power Ranger. Oh, yay! I got a new toy, but do I really need this? We are slaves on the auction block, dehumanized and sold back to ourselves. In a Keds shoe ad featured in 2007, the slogan says, "Cool is Knowing Chivalry Isn't Dead".*** They tell the reader exactly what cool is and should be. Also, the advertisers pawn the reference to prey upon a common vulnerability of teens, the want to be cool. "Some of the targets marketers use to prey upon in teens are separation, independence, peer influence, role model influence, the need for control, experimentation, and sex appeal." (Acuff & Reiner)# Society is our master. Society is the drill sergeant mother we never had and never wanted.
I don't require anyone's validation anymore. There came a time sophomore year when I just stopped caring. I spent most of my sophomore year in my empty house. Encephalitis was raging in my brain. After months in the house, the pitter patter of animals across the linoleum, the creaking of the walls, and the shrieking of my own lonely thoughts became increasingly aggravating. The only way to suffocate my mind and all that was around me was with the sweet dissonance of music. I connected with the breakdowns thumping at me from the speakers and the moody, sometimes malicious screaming spoke to me. The dissonance soothed me. Music and its culture became a catalyst in me. It drove for change. It drove for confidence.
I was immersed headfirst into a culture of confidence, fun, creativity, and rebellion. I was evolving, but not like a caterpillar turns to a butterfly (paint on a face of confidence and dress to kill). I evolved from the outside in. I radiated on the outside, and slowly it seeped into my heart, my soul, and my brain. I discovered my niche in perfectly aged chucks and straight leg pants. Going to shows, throwing down in the pits, head banging with the best of 'em, I found myself. Volumize the hair, use paint for eye shadow, and cause seizures with my clothing. My quiet rebellion is being myself in a world of fakes.
Thus far I haven't figured much out. All I know is Carly is quiet, yet crazy. She has random coming out of her eyeballs, and she is confident. She likes techno, screamo, grunge, punk, and other music. It's like I'm meeting a new friend. I have to become reacquainted with myself. Who is that girl in the mirror? With a smile I can now say it is me.
In retrospect my life has been the opposite of Bowling Green, Ohio - it's had plenty of hills. But in all of my confusion I have found a goal. My goal is for one day a world to exist where girls are not judged by body image but by intuition and character. I hope for a day when Miss America is no longer looked upon as a coveted hero. So I say to you, girls, please stop dressing up your Barbies and dress yourselves. I hope girls seek out heroes in doctors, revolutionaries, and authors - people who make a difference in the world, not those who conform to it.
"Why are we sitting and watching I Wanna Be the Galaxy's Best Supernova Diva Star? Dutifully phoning in our votes for the next big thing while we wait on our couches to die. Continue in this so-called democracy and you just may stop thinking for yourself. That's when you are officially dead. But you're not dead yet" (Converse ad)##. The media portrays how we are supposed to be. I want to stand for everything which is not that. Some companies, like Converse, are joining the rebellion as well. I want to stand out and beat normalcy to a pulpy puddle. Odd is the new black.
* Budgeon, S. Fashion magazine advertising: Constructing femininity in the post feminist era. Lisile, IL: Procopian Press, 1994.
** Zollo, P. Getting wiser to teens: More insights into the marketing to teenagers. Ithaca, NY: New Strategist Publications Inc, 2004.
*** The Keds Corporation. Craze Shoes. Seventeen 01 Feb 2008: 18-19.
# Acuff, D.S. & Reiner, R.H. Kiddnapped: How irresponsible marketers are stealing the minds of your children. Chicago: Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005.
## Converse. Pageant. MTV. 27 Jan 2008.