On Pretentiousness and Alienation

I woke up this morning to the email of Beth’s new piece, and my mind got flowing about my own experience with appearance over the years. Thinking about my first mohawk, hair dyes, doing my nails, and other things I did to experiment with physical appearance. But then I hit a wall, a realization I had made a bit later in life, that may or not be total bullshit, but seems to true to me. And I decided, I can’t share that realization. One, because it kind of destroyed my life, and wouldn’t want anyone else to feel as such. And two, because I’m still fucking with it. But then I realized, that writing may help fuck with it, so here it goes.

I had always defined authenticity, at least in terms of my own approach to clothing or whatever, as ‘what comes, or feels, natural or good to me’. Basically, don’t try hard, just do what you do. But then I realized that what came natural to me, was simply a product of conditioning to earlier life circumstances. So in following my rules of how to be ‘authentically me’, I was just falling on what I had already learned to be thought of as me. And I was basically setting myself up to only keep experiencing what I already had known, and would view trying new things as pretending, or being pretentious. But then I realized that such behaviour was stagnation. It was giving in to something that already shaped me, relieving me of my own agency in the process, and catering to just re-emulating what I had already done. Such a thing sounds like fucking death when you write it out.

Now some folks may view being pretentious as a bad thing. The word comes from pretending, and as by definition, is ‘attempting to impress by affecting greater importance’, etc etc. Ok. I thought being pretentious was bad, and so drew a line in my theoretical sand to avoid it. Then I read a quote by Brian Eno about, and I can’t remember it exactly, but basically, saying ‘If it’s all costumes, why not pretend?”. And that drives me to the thing I didn’t want to share.

One day, I was studying dramaturgy and realized authenticity doesn’t exist except in the minds of those whom claim it. That authenticity, is just essentially, whether something jives with the way a person’s reality is structured around it. But if they are structured around past experiences, like most socialized beings, and striving for ‘authenticity’, then they are damning themselves to circle what they already know, and what may have more to do with geography and local culture, than anything internally important about themselves. So essentially, when we look for authenticity, we are just circling what we’ve already done, and looking to stay there.

And fuck that. Fuck the hell out of that. That is stagnation. That is intellectual death. That is death to imagination. That is prison for the expansion of one’s understanding of self.

When you realize demographics and geography shape our experiences so much, you realize how much what most of us do is shaped by the forces that shape these elements. So essentially, because a parent worked for a company that was located in X city, because it was convenient for the way that company does business, you will now grow up dressed the way X region dresses, because you did as a kid, and feel that to be ‘authentic’. Fuck that. Fuck the hell out of that.

We need to  not be afraid to be pretentious. It’s all just costuming. And we need to not be afraid to grow. To expand ourselves. While each of us has certain limits in physical, emotional, and mental capabilities, it is sad to think that many of the limits on our behaviours are set by ourselves, out of fear of transgressing or transcending the boundaries of class, status, or other types of positions we feel for ourselves socially and otherwise, out of fear of pretentiousness.

Okay, Back to mohawks.

Now the funniest thing about getting a mohawk when I was a kid, was that I was pushing my experience past where it had been, so I was doing things right, though it was a somewhat socially-acceptable option to choose from, I’ll admit. But it’s interesting that at 14 I was in a place to define that for myself, but when we get older, would view such a change as being inauthentic.

Anyhow. I felt like I was really pushing the boundaries of what I felt was possible for myself. And it was the beginning of experimenting with things to try and find what worked for me. And that was something I had to do a bit through life, because the shit at the mall just doesn’t fucking do it. Hell, the shit most anywhere, vintage shop, nice indie store, doesn’t really fucking do it. It all seemed wrong. A lot of the times in the fit. A lot in the color. A lot in the pattern. I would feel like the clothing had to be in line with my world view. Product of a process, etc. The sociologist C. Wright Mills talked about an alienation that occurs once a person starts examining things, and to me, this alienation extends to products. So, happy shirt? fuck a happy shirt, if it’s a lie. Happy shirt made in a sweatshop? light it on fire. Etc.

So what I concocted was a weird blend of fashion and personal stuff I would do that made life a little more manageable. And it started with a mohawk. One, I liked that my head was shaved, so it was cooling to my head. And two, the bit in the middle made people stay away from me. Perfect. But then I learned that the middle shit also attracted rednecks to call me names, and as I got older and had less weapons, decided to just give up attracting negative attention. The second experiment was probably putting on nail polish, which I really did like. It was girly and made me happy. But it would get fucked up too quick from biting my nails, so eventually I gave up on that. Then I’d wear jewelry, but got allergic to most everything, so nixed that. Then I started getting tattoos, and that was wonderful. I hated my skin. Not because of anything in particular, but just hated looking at my bare arms. So tattoos solved that, and kept people away. win-win. See, tattoos used to draw a backwards attention: Folks saw them, and stayed away. At least for me, though I know women who had exact opposite experience. Nowadays its a thing chefs on TV do, and a conversation piece, and sometimes I wish I owned a laser machine and could take them off, just to avoid that conversation.

I suppose the biggest issue I face now is two fold: a) how the fuck do I express my gender (that of a girl) through clothing and such with my own personal issues and likes in a way that makes me feel good. And b) do what I like without looking like a fucking lifestyle issue of a skate magazine, hot topic, or rock musician. So basically I just give up and wear stupid shit. Because really, I care, but I think the effort to be happy in any meaningful form will require so much examination of why I do not like a thing, that it’s just too exhausting. Of course, if anyone would be willing to help me with this, I’m open for help.

Anyhow, I suppose the takeaway here is: Push yourself. Don’t let others define you. Don’t be afraid to pretend. And have fun with it!


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