Our Chief Article Writer Brittany Sutcliffe shares her thoughts on identity.
“Describe yourself”. “Well, at the moment I have pink hair, but I have blue eyes-”, “No no, your personality”. One of the reasons I love my course so much (complete cheeseball, soz) is because my lectures address societal confusion and at the very least, allow a level of personal questioning to go away with and think about (big up Andy and Annabelle). Recently, we had one on identity, that it’s something conditional and subject to change. We know you can’t determine someone by their race, gender, age because they’re factors that are only visually informative and each person can still think independently to act against the stereotypes created by those features. We are never just one thing and we can never be categorised. On one hand, that’s fab because no one wants a bad label on them without a good label. On the other, we’re at a crisis where this idea about identity suggests there’s no point handing out labels in the first place. Who are we?
“You are as many different people as you know”.
When I’m looking out from the top of the bus and I see a stranger tuck hair behind their ear, I mimic it without consciously realising. When you yawn, I yawn. Even typing the word “yawn” makes me yawn. I used to keep notebooks about anything and everything and when they took up too much space, I typed bits of them up. I found said bits from my first notebook in my first year of Sixth form and inside was something I’m at peak embarrassment over. Now, I’m trying not to be too harsh on myself here because Sixth form was the first time I didn’t have to wear a uniform and I was particularly image-conscious where I’d never thought to dress for the teenage vessel I had. However, now that my course teaches me about artists who explore the endless flaws in society, I’m haunted by the fact I felt the need to write a list of clothes I wanted to own.
Fitted shirts. Cable knit sweaters. Loafers, vintage jeans, Doc Martens, skater skirts, bomber jackets. All things I planned on buying with my part-time wages. To spend my money on dressing like people I’d seen because I looked at them and thought something positive of them and therefore wanted to project that opinion onto myself. As if by wearing what they wore, I’d adopt their mannerisms in some way. I can guarantee my mum treasured at least five items of the types I’ve already listed because high street stores have been there and done that several times over, resurrecting the same trends in different shades in the hopes of a new fad for a someone like me to make a list out of and go out and get. The goal? To feel like a new person, I’d assume.
I went shopping in Oxford Circus’ TopShop very recently and I just couldn’t get into it. My eyes hurt from squinting across rows and rows and rows of racks. There’s nothing wrong with wearing what you like (or even to a certain degree, wanting to look like someone else) but for me, there was an unhealthy link with being unhappy with who I was and spending money on clothes as if that would “fix” me somehow. Retail therapy is all well and good but since I was 16 and working in a luxury outlet, my wages were rendered useless because they circulated within that same retail park. I never made any savings. I never had financial goals. I never wanted to drive because I never had the money to even consider it nor the motivation to save for it, not when a monthly shopping trip would temporarily lift the mood. The only savings I’ve ever had in my life and I’m making them now, at university, where I’m drowning myself in debt.
It’s painful, it really is. I’m disappointed with myself but the only thing I can be is thankful. A) There were very few big consequences to that mindset because B) I’m old enough to spot it and deal with it, as opposed to sweeping it under a carpet along with all the money I can’t get back. The fact that you can walk into a store and buy an entirely new persona astounds me. It does work because otherwise, you wouldn’t feel better afterwards. It’s almost a placebo for your personality and for a little bit, you walk with pride.
The end game to this kind of thinking only goes one way. The truth is, our identity is interpretative. There’s no moment of absolute truth. What someone thinks of you today may well be invalid by tomorrow. We’ll continue to grow and change and we’ll want to visually associate ourselves with different people and places for different reasons. Our image provides us with the temporary comfort of avoiding a complete and utter existential crisis. For this, I can sleep soundly knowing that’s all shopping needs to be.
Words by Brittany Sutcliffe, Illustrations by Alda Lilja