Friday, January 31, 2014

The Exoskeleton

Second post in which I abuse an invertebrate metaphor in order to comment upon a problem young women face today. Beware.


I've gotten out of the habit of caring about how I look. In my underclassman years, my appearance preoccupied me--I could spend hours in a clothing store, looking at various garments, trying them on and then discarding them for minor reasons, and then feeling pangs of regret as I walked away from the rack. I contemplated experimenting with cosmetics.

If you're expecting this to end with a revelation on how appearance doesn't matter, then...well, no.

I went shopping with my sister recently, and was struck by how easily she was able to find clothes that suited her both functionally and aesthetically. While I browsed the same racks of clothing, picked things out mostly at random, and ended up walking out of the store with nothing but two black belts almost identical to the ones I already have.

I must admit, I felt envious.


In Zoobiquity Barbara Natterson-Horowitz mentions how shopping satisfies our hunting urges. We search for something that we need or want, find it, and then feel happy.

In a blog post called What I've Learned, Theodora Goss also addresses why acquisition satisfies us:
10. You can buy happiness, but it’s called something else.

You can’t actually buy happiness, but you can in fact buy something that makes you happy. The trick is, that thing has to make you more the person you want to be. That’s what makes you happy, not the thing itself. /*emphasis mine*/ Some time ago, I bought an adorable pair of pixie boots at Goodwill. They were $10 (the price is still on the bottom of the boot, in silver marker). They would not have made me happy if they had been too expensive, because that would have gone against my idea of myself -- as someone who does not spend a great deal of money on clothes, but is nevertheless more chic than many people who do. Every time I wear those boots, I feel as though I’m dancing along the streets, as though I’m some sort of urban princess. They make me happy, because they allow me to be the person I want to be. Another thing that makes me happy? Buying plane tickets. So you can in fact buy happiness, but it’s called “pixie boots” or “plane tickets” or “dark chocolate.” If you’re unhappy, buying a little bit of happiness is not such as bad idea.

I notice that even though she talks about "buying" happiness, what she's really saying is that we feel happy when we use the things we buy. The above quote complements the zoobiquitous connection--getting stuff makes us happy because, well, we got stuff. But for that stuff to continue making us happy, we have to use it.


Appearance is important. How you look affects how people (including yourself) perceive you. At the risk of treading outside my comfort zone (because heavens forbid that I take risks) and sounding like a social justice blogger, teenagers--particularly teenage girls--get constant flak for being superficial and overconcerned with clothing/style, while also getting judged for those exact things.

In response to those pressures, a lot of people, including me, go reactionary turtle (I do that a lot). Fine, we decide: I won't care about how I look. I will wear my band jacket and oversize t-shirts and the knockoff Converse I got in China and I'll look unprofessional, but I'm a high school student so it doesn't matter.

I am always comfortable, and I don't have to worry about how I look. Those are the pros. But the con is that I'm missing out on a format in which to experiment with how I present myself.

As I type, I can feel myself rolling my eyes at myself. What, you mean you're going to start caring about how you look now? You're going to go back to the 15-year-old self who could waste ten minutes deciding which jacket to wear and then another five going between scarves because she wanted to look pretty? (The answer is no. Sophomore year: never again.)

Iterative processes win (see evolution). Sometime during junior year I decided to stop caring, and edited my closet to, essentially, remove anything not of a neutral color. That's worked for the past year.

But I am a senior now, and I'll be going off to college in the fall. I remember reading a list post on things to remember in college, and somewhere in the mix was: don't wear anything that has your high school's insignia/name on it. It may be comfortable, but that's the problem--it indicates insecurity and clinginess toward the past.

I'm going to wear my band jackets until the weather prohibits them. I'm not going to go on massive shopping sprees, and I'm not going to spend hours hunting for a collared shirt that I can actually pull off. I'm probably not going to experiment with makeup either, since I wouldn't want to get used to seeing myself prettified and then feel dissatisfied with my regular face.*

But I'm thinking that, since I spend plenty of time thinking about who I am/could be, it may well behoove me to consider what kind of appearance I'd need in order to project who that is to the outside world. The exoskeleton helps invertebrates protect themselves, and could in that sense be seen as a mask. Yet it is a mask completely integrated into the animal's identity.

I'm going to stop before my metaphor breaks entirely. TL;DR: Use clothes that make you the you you want to be.


*NB: from Goss's post Being Photogenic:
(Oh, and by the way, any male readers who feel like telling me, at this point, that they prefer women without makeup? I don’t wear makeup for you. Both men and women have been wearing makeup since this thing we call civilization started. We wear it because we’re human, and like to play. Not wearing or liking makeup is perfectly fine, but doesn’t get you a moral cookie.)

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