Monday, 8 February 2016

Life as an Ex-Goth; or, 12 Ways to Survive a Subcultural Identity Crisis

I have mentioned on numerous occasions the time in my life I think of as the Flailing Years, when I moved from being an enthusiastic-if-slightly-clueless Goth girl to, well, whatever it is I am today. With hindsight, progressing from one style and sense of identity to another is not, in the grand scheme of things, a very big deal. At the time, it was, for various reasons, petrifying and somewhat hideous. Mistakes were made; money squandered; even the most patient loved ones grew tired of hearing me wail 'I don't know who I am any mooooooore!', not least because the only advice they could give ('Just wear what you want!') seemed to fall on deaf ears. (You can't just wear what you want when you haven't the foggiest idea what you want in the first place!)

I don't know whether or not anyone else shifting between styles has found themselves tripped up by an all-or-nothing approach to things like I did; or has stayed up into the wee hours endlessly trying to dissect - both out loud and in journals - what the hell kind of person they actually, deep down, really wanted to be. But I'm assuming that there are more of us out there! And for those people, having flailed my way through the deepest depths of self-absorption, frustration and confusion, I can now present a few tips that helped, at least for me - stuff I wish someone had said to me at the time. I'm sure a lot of this will sound really obvious to other people, but it wasn't to me!

This is also a last, personal catharsis - with this post, I put the introspective self-obsession of the Flailing Years far, far behind me, where it can stay.

  1. I cringe, now, to think of the amount of money I frittered away in a panicked search for a new identity. (I think THIS is pretty, therefore it is something I like, therefore I must HAVE it.) Guess what? You can't buy a new you. What will actually happen, if you're much like me, is that you'll end up with a pile of extremely strange clothes - none of which go together, most likely - and in a year's time you'll end up getting rid of half of it whilst wondering why you didn't buy a new computer game or a weekend away instead. During that year, you will become increasingly stressed that none of these purchases actually made you feel any better, and go on to feel thoroughly suffocated by the amount of random, unwearable stuff you now have. So first and foremost, limit your clothing purchases. If your wardrobe fills you with unhappiness and lingering dread, then OK, go out and buy a few things that you could stand to wear right now. But other than that, put down the credit card. 
  2. Instead of buying beautiful clothes that you will look at in awe and never, ever wear, spend the money on something better. Better, you ask? What's better? Something that's meaningful to you. What are your passions? Your hobbies? Get a new book or a new moisturiser or cactus or pair of headphones. Take a trip somewhere, to a gig or a new gallery. Get away from thinking about style and subcultures for a bit. If you really, really don't know what's important to you right now, go basic. Take yourself to see a film. Buy yourself a coffee or a box of doughnuts (I have a loose definition of meaningful, all right?!). Why? Because the best way I've found to dig yourself out of a style identity crisis is to get to know yourself better, under the clothes (not like that, you perv).
  3. Stay away from the internet. And stop wandering despairingly around Topshop while you're at it. Oh, the hours I wasted waiting to come across the one person or picture or item that would be The Ultimate Piece Of Inspiration, and make my sense of identity suddenly click into place. I'm not saying you should abandon Tumblr, just limit your usage. 
  4. And maybe start browsing things that are relevant to you as a whole person, not just how you want to look. If you're not as all-or-nothing as I could sometimes be, you might not have jettisoned large chunks of your personality to focus more on fashion. But if you have, now's a good time to start gathering them back in. In other words, if there's ever a time when looking into a fandom is a good idea, it's now.
  5. Make something. Anything. I literally don't care if you're drawing stickmen. Creation is cathartic, it distracts you from obsessing, and it gives you something better to talk about than your shoe wishlist.
  6. Focus on moments. When I was paying most attention to my appearance, I had a tendency to try to watch myself as if from the outside. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, my attention was on how I looked to others whilst I was doing it, not how it felt from the inside. I'm not saying that it doesn't matter at all how you look. If it's important to you, that's cool. But I don't think that in the short human lifespan, the most important thing should ever be how you looked while you were here. If you can, try to pay attention to what's going on around you, what your senses are telling you, how you feel; not picturing how you look in this particular light or how you're going to write this up for your blog later. Be there for the experience (and if you then realise you don't like where you are, make your excuses and leave).
  7. Think about your values. What's important to you? Feminism? Animal welfare? Politics? Self-expression? Art? Many of the groundbreaking subcultures we know of today came about through a political protest or music genre. As you look deeper into what your values are, you may find one of these movements that speaks to you. Or you may just get to know yourself a bit better, which plays a big part in finding your own style.
  8. What drew you to your starting-point subculture in the first place? Was it just the look? If so, what elements would you want to keep (silhouettes, colour schemes, distressed elements, fabrics etc.)? Were there other factors, like music, art, literature or friendships? Chances are, you can change your style without 'losing' any of those. Think about what drew you in, why you want to change, and what elements from that subculture or style you want to 'keep'. I wrote this post to help me think about what 'spoke' to me from the styles I had an interest in.
  9. Similarly, try to work out what you want from your wardrobe. Be honest with yourself! I had to accept that, though I love fancy looks on other people, my priorities are comfort and freedom of movement, so six-inch-heels and corsets aren't for me - at least not for everyday wear. How do you feel in what you're wearing right now? How would you like to feel? Could there be something you need to accept, or change? It helps to stick to these ideas when you make new purchases - if you know you feel most comfortable in simple, casual clothes, you can buy as many frilly dresses as you want but they'll probably just sit in the wardrobe. If you prefer to wear black but feel like you 'should' try colour - erm, why? They're your clothes; you're the one who has to pay for them, accommodate them and wear them (or not).
  10. Experiment privately. Mistakes will happen. Take photos if you want to remember what you wore or how it made you feel, but wait a while before you post them online or you may cringe later. And we've all had times when you realise halfway through the day that you feel ridiculous in your outfit. Sometimes this will happen and it can't be helped, unless you want to wear the same clothes every day (I practically do, actually). But for important events, try to stick to what you know and what you feel good in, at least until you've got more of a handle on your wardrobe. (And if you do end up realising you looked like a lunatic at X party, try not to stress. Goodness knows, we've all been there. In my case, repeatedly.)
  11. One of the most important things for me, which I have alluded to in several of the other tips here, is to try not to obsess. When I realised that my interests were shifting away from Gothdom, my style then became almost all I could think about. If I wasn't this person any more, then who the hell was I?! Trying to force myself into a new cookie-cutter category - even if I had to make one up myself - so that I could relax became my mission. It was only when I gave up, out of sheer frustration, and resigned myself to wearing pyjamas and nerd T-shirts forever, that things like my values, passions and actual priorities became visible to me again. Be patient with yourself.
  12. Don't beat yourself up. When I was a Goth, I thought I'd be happy dressing that way for my whole life. I loved it. So when I started to feel that it wasn't for me any more, I was upset. I felt irritated with myself for not having enough 'commitment', and tried to stay Goth longer even though I was really starting to feel like I wanted to move on and try other ways of expressing myself. What worked for me in the end was making sure to 'bring with me' the things I had discovered through Goth culture that I still enjoy - music, cool boots, certain films, dark literature and many other things - and also not to dismiss that part of my past. Just because something wasn't permanent doesn't mean it wasn't interesting or fun or exciting at the time, and brushing it off as 'a phase' feels like belittling that part of my past and who I was. I try to look fondly on who I was then and who I am now.
Hopefully none of you guys managed to screw yourself up over comparatively minor things quite as thoroughly as I did, but if you have, I hope something here helps in some way. Good luck on your journey!

12 comments:

  1. All this focus on "finding yourself" in todays society is really obsessive in nature. It's like the whole "meaning of life" thing. You could spend your life trying to find the meaning of life, to the degree that you actually forget to live... "Finding yourself" is similar I think. Identity is a fluid thing, we aren't the exact same person from one moment to the next. I could spend my whole life trying to define who I am, but it's a fools quest in the end. Once I learn who I was I will be someone different. It's not something we can control ourselves and I think we need to give ourself the space to be fluid. Now, I've never slotted neatly into any subculture, societal niche or group and I've long since given up on trying to. I imagine that I would have a different perspective if I ever had belonged in that way. I did spend my early teens trying to look and be normal because of some bullying that I experienced... but since trying to be normal had no effect I grew tired of it and started to experiment. And I haven't really ever stopped since. My personality, my values and my aesthetics are pretty stable now, but I still experiment with my more superficial identity. My style varies wildly from day to day! I embrace any cravings and urges, so I have a magpie sort of wardrobe. Full of pretties with very little to tie them together. I've learned to love that, and to force myself to buy some basics once in a while... I accept that an outfit/a style/an item I once loved is now really ugly to my eyes, and I also accept that tomorrow or a year from now I might fall in love with it again. Clothing and what I wear is important to me, but it's more a question of aesthetic than identity. My style, such as it is, is built from the colors, materials, patterns, textures and shapes that I favor... It isn't really an expression of who I am on the inside, or any other parts of my identity.

    Sorry for the wall of text! ;)

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    1. I agree! I think a lot of my 'problems' stemmed from feeling that I always had to express myself in one single way, that every facet of myself had to somehow be covered by a one-word label. I didn't leave any room for fluidity or change. Learning to be more open to different aspects of myself was hugely liberating.
      I loved reading your comment, although you and I have very different approaches. In fact I think that's partly why I liked reading this so much - it shows immediately and clearly that there's no one right way of being yourself and that what works for one won't work for another. For example, aesthetics are one of the last things I consider when I get dressed; for some reason I find it stressful! I just grab whatever, shove it on and try not to overthink. I like being a bit thoughtless, a bit haphazard. After years of perfectionism and being very high maintenance it feels good to me. And having a magpie wardrobe used to be a huge goal of mine, but when I finally accumulated one I struggled to make wearable outfits >.< if you had to live with my wardrobe, you'd probably be bored to death!
      I admire your willingness to change and experiment, as well as to be patient with yourself. I wish I'd had a similar attitude earlier in life instead of being desperate to conform to something.
      'Once I learn who I was I will be someone different' just became my new motto ;) thank you!

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  2. I have realised my style seems to cycle between Steampunk/Victorian, Faery, Retro... and yet I still manage to have style crises in between! Whyyy!

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    1. If I could answer that, I like to think I'd be raking it in as some sort of lifestyle guru by now >.< At least you know which concepts/aesthetics work for you. It's the floundering bits in between that are less than fun... I have finally reached a stage where I feel like I'm waving not drowning (awful metaphor, sorry!) and I hope you do too!

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  3. I understand all the identity crisis since in my university years I shifted from two really different styles, punk-goth and mori. To understand it better I talked a lot about japanese fashion in that period, but my friends weren't so interested in it. That's the reason I started blogging. I never felt good into a label until I found mori, but now I'm growing out of it too. Luckily it's a less drastic change and I think I'm managing it better both psycologically and aesthetically.

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    1. Glad to hear that a) I am not the only one who found it difficult to accept a shift in style and b) it's going better for you this time around! :) Good luck to you. I'll be interested to see how your style continues to develop!

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  4. Nice post! I tend to do whatever I want, from wearing blue jeans and a slouchy jumper to frilly, drapey mori girl outfits, and I don't care how eclectic my outfit choices are; but it took me a while to get to that point. But I definitely need to take the advice to stop wandering around clothes shops looking for That One Piece that will change my life. ;)

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    1. Thank you! :) It definitely took me a while to get to the I-don't-care point too, but now I'm here it's a great place to be. ;)
      Haha, perhaps the One Piece is out there, but I'm starting to think it probably isn't. Every now and then I think I've found it - and then, three weeks later, I realise I'm out hunting for it again. >.<

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  5. A great post, I can really understand you. I'm also changing from moth to butterfly or something in between from time to time and it feels good. Life is to short to press yourself into a thing that doesn't fit anymore. Have a great week!

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    1. Thank you! Best of luck with your own transformation - you're so right, life IS too short. Hope you have a great week too! :)

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  6. I think those advises help everyone, not just a person in a crisis, even when we think that we are happy we sometimes should sit down, think about ourselves and maybe find something that would make us even happier or make us feel more complete.

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    1. You make a good point! Haha, perhaps if I had taken the time sooner I wouldn't have ended up so confused in the first place :-p

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