When I was in middle school, we went around in class discussion, each answering with our favourite song. These things always made me anxious. I’d fidget in my chair uncomfortably, desperately trying to think of something I could say. When it came round to me, I quickly blurted out a song title I had heard my friends playing loads recently. I didn’t really know much about it though. It definitely wasn’t my favourite song. I’m not sure I even liked it.
So why did I say that? And where was my sense of identity?
In retrospect I can understand why. Being put on the spot like that, all eyes burning through you, judging. I wanted to seem valid. I wanted people to agree with me. It was the only thing that mattered to me – to seem ‘normal’.
And surely there’s nothing more ‘normal’ than naming a song title currently number 1 in the charts. I mean it’s in the top spot for a reason, right? Everyone is buying it, everyone is playing it. It’s ‘approved’. So no one that day could have teased me and told me my taste in music was ‘weird’. It couldn’t possibly be weird because everyone else liked it too.
This is something I have become increasingly aware of as I’ve grown up. The need to ‘fit in’. It seems we are being told by the media around us what to like, and what not to like. The worst part is that most of the time we are completely oblivious to the fact that we are being sucked in by it. Unaware that our likes and interests are carved out of current worldwide trends.
For example, I once suggested watching a film to a friend. It was something I really liked and was pretty sure would be up to her tastes too. This, however, got turned down, when she saw that the ratings weren’t incredibly high. “That’s a rubbish film, though.” She said, very assuredly. Online reviews and ratings had decided her own opinion on the film before she’d seen it. Before she’d even read the synopsis or watched the trailer.
It’s like one long, tiresome game of ‘follow the leader’, only no one seems to be sure of what they’re actually following, or why. As long as they are a part of this chain, it doesn’t matter.
As Virginia Woolf writes in ‘Moments of Being: Autobiographical writings’:
“I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream.”
Our own identities are held in place by this huge stream known as society. Our individuality is deflected by it. And still we cannot describe or define what society actually is. It all seems a mighty stranger to us. We are a stranger to ourselves.
Celebrities in media set the ideal appearance. Songs at number one set the example of what we should be jamming out to. Films and TV shows with the highest ratings will inevitably rank highest in our personal opinions too. It seems an abundance of people, whether knowingly or not, seem to live by these guidelines.
This can only lead to two conclusions; either everybody has the same likes, interests and identities, or people are too shy to allow their own personalities to have the front seat.
I feel uncomfortable to think of the former conclusion to be true. I believe everyone is their own individual, with their different tastes and interests. The latter conclusion, however, I can understand. It is difficult to be our own identity when society and media seem to overpower us with its own macro yet mechanically constructed one.
We will carefully construct who we are online, perfecting what we want people to see and leaving out our real opinions and personalities. Just like when I wanted validation and approval from my classmates at school, so do most people today. We feel like our audience is judging our every move, or online post. We desire to feel like we’re within the biggest trend or fan club – that sense of involvement. It’s a comforting feeling when people agree with us. It is no wonder why people want to follow the biggest trend, or absorb the most popular opinion.
But what about our own identities?
We cannot be our own identity while bouncing off everyone else’s opinions. We cannot be our own identity if we follow everyone else’s interests.
Humans construct and shape the world today. If everyone walked around with cloned identities, regurgitating identical opinions they heard on the latest headline, this world would be a pretty dull and predictable one. We all have the ability to speak aloud; to think our own thoughts; to pursue our own interests. We need to use those abilities to uncover ourselves, our passions. It’s what will give you an understanding of yourself. It’s what will give you that motivation and power to get up in the morning.
I started to tear away at my shell when I was in high school. At GCSE, I really enjoyed the books that we read and decided to read more on my own. Back then, of course, reading was deemed ‘nerdy’ by the majority of my year group. Probably because films and pop culture portrayed it that way. I got a few laughs from the ‘popular’ kids; I was teased by my friends. But after a while it stopped becoming an insult to me. I started to accept and appreciate who I was and the hobbies I had, regardless of what it was made to look like by the media.
That identity I had started to form was what led me to where I am today. If I hadn’t of stepped out of that young girl who desperately tried to copy everyone else’s taste in music for ‘approval’, I’d probably be doing something completely different with my life right now. Something that doesn’t rise any passion within me.
If I have any good advice to give, it would be this: Be assertive; be confident; and don’t let the media manipulate you.
Be assertive because no one opinion is any more important than your own. To be your own individual, you must be able to form your own opinion that’s true to who you are and the values you have. Speak those opinions. Listen to other people carefully, but don’t let anyone else’s thoughts belittle your own.
Be confident because only you know what’s best for yourself. If a hobby looks interesting, try it. If you like the look and fit of an outfit, wear it. Don’t refrain from opportunities just because your friends aren’t doing it, or for the fear of how it may look on you. Building self-confidence inevitably helps build who you are as a person.
Don’t let the media manipulate you. Don’t follow a fashion trend just because Vogue recommended it. Don’t conclude a film is great because it gained a whopping 5* rating. A magazine could publish an article on a come-to-life teddy bear starting a zombie apocalypse and many people would automatically believe it. Don’t judge something based on what you read or hear.
So far, I have only found some of my identity. I have views, ones I have formed myself – although I’m still sometimes afraid to speak them for fear of judgement. I love reading books, especially the classics. I am a feminist. I love theatre. Just to name a few things I have discovered about myself. Throughout my life, I will continue to form my identity and gain confidence in showing it.