I always found it interesting to observe people here in the States, you all certainly are the most beguiling nation of people I have ever encountered.
Since I was a little girl I was always told that America was the place where you could choose to look however you wanted to.
If you wanted to be taller, shorter, have pink hair and 300 piercings, you could do it. If you wanted to dress like a superhero everyday, wear leather dog collars, or have a hundreds of flowers tattooed on your back to go with your hairstyle you could do it.
You could be a caricature, you could be every dream you ever had of yourself.
Yet now, having been here for about two years I see that perhaps individualism is something that they save for the tourist brochures. Not to say that Americans aren’t individuals, they certainly have strong personalities.
But I think the emphasis on determining what made one an individual is now based solely on appearance.
Every time I open up a magazine (lets not name names) I tend to find them marketing one “fashionable” look for the masses, and the masses seem to be following it.
As soon as fashion turns the corner of a street, we all go running after her.
Irregardless of the fact that no one can tell the difference between you and the other twenty people they’ve seen that day.
I always had mixed feelings about using one’s appearance as the sole expression of one’s individuality. It always seemed like such a vapid, shallow way of proving yourself to be a unique individual.
Clothing should be the accessory to your personality, not the definition of your character.
Which is why I am astonished to find that in the land where everything is about the individual, individuals recognize and legitimise themselves by the ability to conform to the definitions of beauty that society has set for them.
It has come to the point that even rebellion itself as become a form of conformity.
Coming from a collective culture, like I do, where being part of the group is a symbol of unification and fulfilment I shouldn’t find conforming to be such a strange thing.
It is, after all, the evidence of a healthy society that rejoices in displaying the unification behind the things that make them the same.
Especially in terms of clothing.
I guess, the only reason it sticks out to me here is because it is the ideology that had been ingrained into me about America since childhood. I guess, I am disappointed. I had expected to come into a society where no one looked anything alike, and I aim to correct that disillusion in my own mind.
I have come to the conclusion that whenever you define yourself by what other people have stipulated, you always end up being a disappointment. Both to yourself and others. You recognize that you are not living your life the way that you envisioned, but merely following a definition.
A definition of what you have been told will make you more attractive, healthier, richer, more fulfilled.
Yet at the end of its just a dress, they are just the same pair of shoes that 50 other girls are wearing. You have not come any closer to manifesting your true self.
Now, don’t send the fashion police after me. The last thing I want is some high class police officers knocking my dorm door down wearing the latest fashions.
I am not opposed to fashion. Its a beautiful thing. I love to have fun with my clothes, and mix and match different things. One of the perks of being in the States is being able to wake up everyday, and be able to find a store where I can find clothes that match up to the way I feel like looking that day.
My only opposition comes when your clothes are the only thing about you that is beautiful. They always say “Wear the clothes, don’t let them wear you,” and to this day I believe those are wise words.
If you like something, wear it even after its gone out of fashion. I’m still wearing the same pair of dungarees that I had when I was 12, and I will always love motorcycle boots cause I recognise its not the clothes that make me.
Its not about conformity or individuality, its about staying true to you.
Philippa Hatendi can be reached at email@example.com.