Friday, October 22, 2010

Alternative is as Alternative Does

I'm of the opinion that a certain amount of competition is a good thing. Putting children on sports teams allows them to learn how to work with others, the importance of hard work, and the satisfaction of well-deserved victory. Certain schools publicize the rank of their students in order to inspire the lower-ranking students to do better. In the workplace, a bit of competition for raises or promotions is healthy and means that those who get these statuses also gain the respect of those with whom they were competing. While I'm not one for pitting people against each other, I do believe that there are certain times and places in our society where it can be healthy and result in more good than harm.

However, there are some instances when I find competition exceedingly heinous, and one of those is in the world of alternative fashion. I've noticed that groups who have reject social norms and rules seem to instill their own, and instead of encouraging them to be broken, flexed, or experimented with, they're instead defended more staunchly than those of the society they so eschew. Why is this? Maybe it is because, after being raised in a society in which rules and competition are so important, it isn't as easy as we may think to abandon such practices, despite how we may want to.

Of course, when there are rules, there is always going to be those who "do it right" and those who "do it wrong." And of course, within a society, whenever there is someone whom the group is labeling as right or even "perfect" (it's not rare that a lolita be called the "perfect lolita"), there will probably always be as many people patting them on the back as there are people fuming about the attention they are receiving. However, what about the other end of the glittery, pastel rainbow? What about those girls who are not lolita enough, not gyaru enough, not rockabilly enough? What about those alternative society members who are just not alternative enough?

Anyone who follows alternative fashion and lifestyle knows that, just like their mainstream bretheren, trends come and go. As a youth, I remember when seeing someone with a facial piercing was rare, and tattoos or a full head of dyed hair even moreso. Now, since alternative fashion is becoming more common and less alternative, with more pieces of the subculture being accepted into maintsream life - good luck going to a shopping mall and seeing no teenage or college-age girls with their noses pierced or their lower backs tattooed - the alternative must become moreso. The freaky must get freakier. When you can walk into your school's cafeteria and see an employee clipping her pink-streaked bangs out of her hair, that's when you know your aesthetic is becoming more and more vanilla. So what do you do?

I've noticed that most people lash out. Most people will become more extreme: gauges stretching their ears to sizes that will never be shrunk completely; shaving thier heads and dying the buzzed fuzz neon yellow; every bit of exposed skin covered in tattoos, including the face. These people always make me chuckle a little inside. Yes, it is entirely possible that these aesthetics have been hiding under the surface in these individuals, waiting for society to catch up with them so that they could embody their idea of beauty without being burned at the stake for it. Also, of course, some people do just have an innate desire to be different due to an alienated dissatisfaction with modern man. And I will never be one to hate on anyone who tests society's limits and pushes the envelope with every fiber of their being.

But alternative, one must remember, may not imply a relationship with society. An alternative lifestyle could just be personal; a mental one-eighty of an individual's core thoughts and aesthetics. I don't consider my red and blue hair to be extreme, but I do consider it a statement. Having my hair the way it is and wearing lolita is, to me, a delicious idiosyncracy. My roommate, an international student from Beijing, remarked one day on the fact that I liked such old-fashioned, "classic" clothing and yet my hair was so "new;" I told her I find it funny. I love the contrast of ruffles and petticoats with my new-fangled beauty: my tattoo, my piercings, my hair. It makes me happy, it amuses me, and more importantly, it speaks to my soul: my clothing is a celebration of the past, my body is a hopeful prayer for a more accepting future. I hope for a future in which nothing is alternative, nothing is strange or frowned upon. In this way, I am channeling my alternative aesthetics, my alternative lifestyle. I do not look like other people, but at the same time, I am not the same I was two years ago. My creativity was shunned and stamped down upon by my job, my family, and my now-ex-boyfriend, who couldn't bear the idea of loving a woman who wasn't "normal," despite his long black hair and metal music. The difference? He fit his stereotype: therefore, I had to fit mine, too.

Note the wording: his stereotype. I've known metal guys like him, who pierce their ears and listen to men scream for hours on end. I've known "hippies," hair dreadlocked, body unshaven, who share their joints with me and tell me about the universe. I've known lolitas with the tragic pasts of fairytales; acute illness, the death of beloved family members, ghosts in their mirrors, who use the beauty of their clothing to escape to a more innocent childhood they've never actually known. I've known should-be pin-up rockabilly girls with their pin curls and cat eyes and their dreams of muscle cars. Name an alternative stereotype, and I've probably known them. And I've loved them all. I find no problem with stereotypes, but that is what they are: stereotypes. I don't fit their stereotypes. My body is too hairless to be a hippie, yet I will discuss the beauty and love and joy of the universe with the best of them over the best of their stash. And then I am too impure for lolita, hungover and lustful, yet the only time I feel complete is donning my layers of petticoats and sipping tea in a pastel tearoom. There are similarities and there are differences, but the differences are more staggering to followers of these fashions than our similarities. I tend to keep their extent secret; if they knew half the truths about me, they'd tell me I didn't belong.

And why? In my search for the life that is right for me, I have stumbled into an alternative lifestyle. Yet, despite doing only what makes me happy, I'm told time and again, even by those who are closest to me, that I'm "doing it wrong." I'm alternative, but I'm not alternative enough. I'm different, but not different enough. I'm... me, but not me enough? Of course this is idiocy. Alernative is as alternative does, and in my opinion, it is not society's version of normal that this label should be testing but our own. I strive only to find myself, the version of me that is most personally satsifying. The life I chose to lead because of this is what many label "alternative" because it is not the hive-minded life of those who never stray from their course, who never pause to question if that pot they are smoking, that book of poetry they are reading, that latte they're drinking, is personally fulfilling to them. To me, it is not one's appearance or even, to an extent, their lifestyle choices that makes him or her an alternative individual but that idea of never slowing, never stopping, always fighting, always questioning, never accepting life as they know it. The moment you stop questioning is the moment you assimilate.

I was inspired to think about this when a friend scoffed at me for saying I consider dying one's hair "alternative;" a "body modification." I couldn't explain to her that alternative is personal, a personal quest undertaken by those who are fundamentally different from others to express this difference in a way that is personally satisfying to them. Being different shouldn't be a race to do different things first or before everyone else has thought of it or before fashion magazines have told the general populace to do it, like, it, smoke it, wear it. An alternative lifestyle is a journey to leave the bland, gray, unsatisfying daily grind behind and to live the life that you want to live, no matter what any society tells you, be it the New York Times, the Village Voice, or the egl community on livejournal. If you don't like what you're being told, turn the music up in those headphones. If no one is listening, no one will talk. For a better future, shut them out and shut them up.


  1. >For a better future, shut them out and shut them up.

    Gonna carry that phrase with me for a while, awesomeness. I like your other posts too, always, but this was just what I needed to read today :D

  2. "now-ex-boyfriend"? :(

  3. The new "alternative" is to be totally bland and boring, lol.

    I find that whenever you really get to know someone who, to all appearances fits a "stereotype", you'll find that they really don't, and that there's something about them that makes them different, even if they try to hide it.

  4. I´ve been following your blog for quite a while now but the more I read the more I find you likeable, sympathy. Totaly. Cause your speech is similar to my mind.

    I´ve never commented before, but I just needed to say that Iam impressed and really like what you write. Esp. you write about different things, not only frills.

    In the past I found myself in every alternative stereotype. I have been a punk, a visual key member, wannabe steampunk, grunge style and so on. But it didn´t last long. It was just not me. Not 100%. But now I found myself. I do look really oridinary on the outlook but not on the inside. I like things no one would expect from me and often people say: "Why? but you are female and young?" (you do not fit the drawer i wanted to put you in)
    And thats good. I dont want to fit into ONE drawer. I<am many drawers.
    I just like, what I like and I stay for it.

    (And now I excuse myself for my bad english)

  5. Thanks everyone for such interesting comments already! Just popping in here to give an explanation: @Christina- I'm talking about my last boyfriend! No, Stefan and I are still happily together :3 should've clarified!

  6. This article struck home so so SO much, thank you.

    Since graduating college, I've kept my hair "normal" in order to get a "real" job (apparently starting one's own business doesn't count according to my family, though admittedly its not bringing in enough yet so I at least need a "real" job to pay the bills), and purple hair is just alternative enough that employers label you (or assume customers will label you) as a delinquent. Which I don't understand; purple hair dye does not seep into my brain and make me any less smart, any less capable of doing a good job.

  7. This is a really good post. When I was younger I used to worry a lot about not being alternative enough to fit into any kind of 'scene'. I wasn't brave enough to make changes to the way I looked for a long time. Still, I've never dyed my hair dramatically, and I don't have any tattoos or piercings. I'm a bit of a subcultural melting pot, though I lean towards the goth, I dress more mainstream than most. My attitude to life is definitely 'alternative' though!

  8. I liked this post.

    I used to have dreds (also I was vegan and didn't shave for 3 years, followed the rainbow times, very stereotypical). Terrible idea. I like scratching my skull.

    I like listening to dudes scream at each other, mostly Black Flag, and then I eat cream cheese frosting and look at pictures of girls wearing Angelic Pretty. My boyfriend thinks I'm nuts, luckily he still loves me.

    Most often times I notice a persons alternativeness through their personality, dress second. But I'm one of those people, I won't notice what you have on unless I like it for myself. (Yes, I'm a selfish human being... working on that)

    Body mod does get intense, I have a friend with a split cock... it's sort of neat though.

    And... rockabilly girls are hot. :3

    I didn't realize that that was the stereotype for lolita's. I've been suffering from a very atypical version of schizophrenia my whole life, wanted to be a boy for a lot of it, am finally being a girly girl, and am getting better. I suppose in some way I fit this mold. Disease--> partial childhood ---> gender identity issues --> very imaginative (well, that's what I call it).

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I really enjoy the writing you have about yourself. But it maybe because I feel that we share more in common than we should. Only I'm an Aries, triple scorpio and you're a Taurus? Lol.



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