I sit, draped over an armchair surrounded by my best friends and come to the conclusion that the height of my New Year’s resolution this year is to dropkick the next person to post an Instagram selfie with the hashtag ‘New Year, New Me’. New Year’s is never a good holiday for me and not just because I am a nostalgic being, who dare not feel any comfort in the snowballing acceleration of time as I come into my final teenage years. The recycled and rejuvenated pressure for self-improvement at the turn of the calendar, now unavoidable with the constant fitness and progress posts on social media never ceases to make me feel like a failure. Scheduled collective movements like this are social cues that come around like clockwork to let us know, just in case we weren’t oh so aware that we are never good enough.
Last year, my resolutions jump-started with the death of David Bowie; an artist I’d fallen in love with age 14 and perhaps the most traditional example of a social revolutionary; a man so bizarre and wonderful that his every move not only disregarded the trends but trailblazer his own. The words of Caitlin Moran resonated most with me, “in 1968 Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him” (10 Things A Girl Should Know). I reaped the stark knowledge that in order to be irreplaceable, to not be interchangeable with anyone else, you must be different. David Bowie took everything that should not have worked, every attribute that critics dubbed undesirable, and created the perfect melting pot of (Ziggy) stardust. With his final action, his final breath, I vowed that I was going to live my life as an individual – I would be the one to decide when I wanted to start any self-correction, not a mere change of the date.
My individuality is something I have spent my life fighting against and despite my big talk, only really began to grow into in the months after leaving school and starting university. I am not going to lie – I doubt the ‘high school’ environment is ever going to be the place where uniqueness thrives. In my experience, it is a box that we are fitted into and if we attempt to creep outside those walls, we are weeded out like poison ivy. In my final years of school I could feel myself outgrowing the mould I’d been placed in; I began casting my eyes skyward and seeing vague embers of hope on the horizon of my peripheral vision. Yet, despite this, in my insecurity, I was still influenced by all those adolescent values; vulnerable and scared of being ridiculed. I longed to stand apart from the crowd, but only saw the potential anguish of standing out like a sore thumb.
I was a being motivated by spite, in a pursuit of becoming that misunderstood Manic Pixie Dream Girl we see in indie films. I began to rebel against teenage convention. My formula? To swim against the tide. If long hair was in, I did a Joan of Arc and chopped my locks to ear length, I stopped wearing foundation in favour of a bare face and ridiculed dieting, all the while cradling the beginnings of an eating disorder. The happiness, the self-satisfaction I’d been reaching for never came and the fundamentals of my discontent have become so evident in hindsight, so blaringly obvious that it shocks me – how the environment I was in stunted me from seeing. The truth is, going against the flow for the point of going against the flow is still to be imprisoned and in acting opposite the crowd it ultimately completely influences all actions.
So, I was back to the drawing board and like any teen movie cliche, my epiphany burst forth at the school dance. I’d concluded that I would go along with everyone else, out of my comfort zone, I lost my fragile, social philosophy and invested in the dress, dyed my skin tangerine, blew out my hair and painted my face. My epiphany was not like all those movies where the nerd reveals she is beautiful and worth romantic pursuit; it was realisation of self-betrayal. Here I was a cheaper, smudged version of everything I’d said I hated with a date I’d accepted out of pity. I gave into the pressure of what was expected of me and in buckling I’d lost my footing.
This is the advice I want to give to you – consider me your big sister, telling you the things I wish I’d known. Female archetypes are non-existent illusions of time old patriarchal nonsense; the sluts, the ingenues, the geeks, the prudes are all two-dimensional, boiled down, simplified characteristics. To be a girl, all you need to do is feel you are a girl. There is no right way to be a woman. The prototypical ‘Cool Girl’ we see in film and tv and porn – the clean shaven, size two babe who naturally has perfect hair and a keen interest in hamburgers and video games – does not exist. Or at least, doesn’t exist on such a basic level. Women, girls, females all are made up of a melting pot of physiognomies; almost as though girls are human beings (!). The hate that I projected towards all those girls who followed all the fashion trends, the girls who panicked when the hairdresser took more than an inch and a half off their waist length hair was evidence that I too was guilty of categorising them into stereotypes. Being outspoken and chaotic or quiet and detached are of equal value; validity lies in the motivation behind actions. The attitude of female competition is so woven into the fabric of our social order that the revolutionary thing to do is to love and respect and give each woman the chance to prove this theory wrong until it’s no longer the default setting of society.
After I stopped criminalising the feminine in others and in myself, the fog began to clear and a distinct ‘self-ness’ emerged from my ashes of despair. What is individuality? Individuality is your gut instinct, without worrying about what anyone else is doing, without being aware of others. The cost? Nothing but the time it takes to think for yourself. It’s easy. It’s selfish. It’s motivated only by love. If you want to lie in bed and read the communist manifesto or if you want to try out blue mascara and glitter eyeliner or if you decide that you only want to listen to psychedelic rock and you do it – that is individuality.
The world outside is a much bigger pond than that insidious institution of school. Like a bath-bomb dropped in a hot tub or toothpaste coming out of the tube, once you are released from your claustrophobic pot you begin to branch out and no longer fit back into the mould you once squeezed yourself into. Slowly and tentatively you stop thinking that everything inside you is worthless. Here’s my advice, if you want to write, write. If you want to take up jogging, do it. If you want to post a selfie on New Year’s ever with the caption, ‘New Year New Me’, I (begrudgingly) give you my blessing. Let no-one tell you an individual thought can’t change a world – everything that has ever existed or happened began with a single idea. Outside the world of high school where everyone cares too much, we all live a selfish little existence and to be yourself, to be brave enough to let the world see your quirks, to be fiercely kind to others doing the same can change the world. To quote George Carlin, “I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so heroic.”