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Sub-Cultured

“The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

When I studied for my sociology A Level our teacher always used to say that if we were to dress, for just one day, in a completely different style to what we used to then we would experience the world differently. And that the difference would most likely be negative. Especially if the way we dressed was outside the norm for whatever social situation we were in, for example, if we turned up for class dressed to take part in a wedding.

I took no more notice of this than I needed to pass the exam, until a few years later, when my friend Nigella threw a ‘Freaks and Geeks’ themed birthday party, and everybody dressed up either as a geek, or someone who’d be considered a bit strange. I went as a goth. Or at least someone doing some kind of an impression of a goth.

Now it occurs to me that you, my dear reader, might be a goth. Or friends with a goth. Or related to a goth. Or just generally concerned at the implication that I think that goths are freaks. I don’t think that at all. Not at all. It’s just that it sort of fit in with the theme, and I already had most of the clothes that I needed to make the costume. And I was young, and I just didn’t think about it, okay?

Anyway, this was back when I’d just started working, and way before I had PTSD. I’d started with the major depression, for which I was self-medicating, and drunk pretty much all the time, but that’s not really relevant to this story.

Back then the world was a wonderfully warm and welcoming place. When I smiled at people, they always smiled back. Strangers carried my heavy bags for me on trains, randomly bought me lunch and cocktails, and just generally wanted to be my friend. Until the night of this party.

Now don’t get me wrong, it was an excellent party – or night out would probably be a better description – Nigella’s shindigs always are. But I noticed a really dramatic difference in the way the general public, all the other people who were out that night, but not out with us, responded to me.

While I was dressed as a goth nobody who I smiled at smiled back at me. They either averted their eyes or glared. And not a single person who wasn’t a part of our group said even so much as a word to me, even when I just tried to make small talk at the bar, or in the line for the ladies’.

I heard people walking passed us say disparaging things about goths, either to their friends or just under their breathe.

And I realised that the world, or at the very least Manchester, is not a very great place to be a goth. It’s no wonder so many people who are goths seem to have such low self-esteem.

I’ve had similar, albeit less extreme, experiences as I’ve gone through a myriad of drastic changes in my hair colour.

When I became a platinum blonde I got way, way more attention from men than I had before – although the majority of it was of the kind that no self-respecting woman would ever welcome. Other women seemed less inclined to to be friendly towards me. And a lot of people, on being told that I worked as an engineering insurance underwriter, thought that I was joking.

I’m not really sure why, it’s not as if it’s funny.

Then when I dyed my hair post box red, I ended up speaking to a lot more arty-types. I was chatted up by a lot more women. And the staff on the Urban Decay counter always, always wanted to do my make up for me.

Now, you might be wondering why I’m telling all this. What, you might be asking is the point I’m trying to make.

I’m not entirely sure that I have one really.

Except. I have a friend, who has a friend. This friend is very pretty. And where ever she goes people, mostly male people, try to speak to her; even when she’s clearly just trying to read her book on the bus. And when she responds by telling them that she’d really rather not engage in conversation, because she’s just minding her own business, reading a book on the bus, they think badly of her. And tell her she’s stuck up.

Now, around the time that I stopped finding the world a warm and welcoming place, I stopped being willing to talk to strangers as well. In fact for a good chunk of last year I’d have a panic attack if a stranger tried to speak to me. Most of those people will have decided that I was a freak.

Because we make assumptions about people. We judge their actions and reactions based upon our own understanding of the world. Which is gleaned mostly from the way that we ourselves have experienced it.

And yet most of us have such little understanding of how dramatically different our own experience of the world could be from someone who’s only difference from ourselves is something as minor as their hair colour. Never mind from someone who belongs to a completely different culture or sub-culture. Or who has a disability or mental illness.

So I think what I’m trying to say is that we should all just remember to cut each other a bit more slack, really.

 

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19 thoughts on “Sub-Cultured

  1. This is really true. I also find I behave differently when I’m wearing a suit, gothy or bookseller casual. I’m most comfortable when I’m casual goth and although it’s frowned on in work, it’s now looked over because I am most happy in myself and that come across in my attitude and ability to be less stressed, depressed and coping with life. Plus the customers love me more because I love them more because I love me more. Be comfortable in your own style. Faking it doesn’t always make it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great thought provoking post as always! 🙂
    I am Asian by appearance and I face stereotypes just because of that!! I try to avoid Hello Kitty, prim and proper dresses with cute little white collars and things that label me as a “foreigner” in my own country (Australia).
    In the past I became disillusioned when I had predominantly blonde hair – from the back I was a sexy, white female of 21 and from the front, oh, whoops. It’s just an Asian girl. Turn around and go home, boys.
    Sure filtered out the racists, though!!!
    Once in my teens, I dressed as a goth for a Halloween party. Even though it was a HALLOWEEN party, the parents of the host looked at me like I was a dark, nasty piece of work! I felt judged ALL NIGHT!
    Now I dress as a stay at home mum – not something I ever thought would happen, but I have to be practical. I wear skirts and shorts of a practical length and necklines that are comfy and can’t be pulled back easily by toddler’s hands. Yet, when I go out with friends (and have babysitting), I probably look like I’m not a mum (still young enough to pull it off – just). People do treat you differently, depending on what image you put out on a given day. Sometimes this is fascinating to me, and other times this makes me feel a bit “ick” about how quickly we judge a book by its cover.

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  3. Pingback: Another new year… | Logan Lo

  4. It really is a interesting experience when you change you “look”. I think my most dramatic was when I had dreadlocks for four years. I felt like a fish in a bowl being looked at 24-7.

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    • Really? I’d never thought about it like that. I look at a lot people because of their hair, usually because I think it looks and I’m envious. It’s only just occurred to me that they don’t necessarily know that, and that even if they did, they might rather not be noticed.

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  5. I tend to attract the wrong sorts of people when I am out in public. The people with heart wrenching stories that they just have to tell someone, the men that believe that I’m not 25 and think they are striking up conversation with a teenager, the women that just want to tell their latest problems to…I don’t dress provocatively or homely. I’m just myself. I live in a very Caucasian region, so being half black often sets me apart as a unicorn. I figure I’m the sort of person that people don’t typically see, so even in lacking something worthy of merit to say, they speak to me anyway.

    I often wonder what it is like to be dressed a different way and go out and face the world that way. Then, I remember I am a nanny and there are days that I go grocery shopping after a makeover from the five year old. And I have to remember that people already think I’m a lot more bizarre than is normal.

    I don’t tend to regard anyone else with hostility, though. On a whole I enjoy people. Unless they are drunk people making passes at me. Inebriated people who need alcohol as courage to talk to me, disconcert me. But, on a whole I don’t think anyone’s dress is really offensive to me. I might not necessarily agree that the dress is appropriate for the given situation, but I desire to know the heart of people, not just their outsides.

    Wonderful post.

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    • “Sets me apart as a unicorn”, I like that phrase. I don’t like so much that people bother you, but I like the thought of you being a unicorn.

      It’s a compliment to you in a way as well, even if it is annoying. Those people who want to tell you their problems are obviously sensing that you’re a kind and caring person.

      And you’ve reminded me what it’s going to be like living in China, in a city which doesn’t have much in the way of tourism. I’ve had a lot of attention when I’ve visited before. People staring at me, and wanting to talk to me, or have their picture taken with me. But I actually hadn’t given any thought at all to the idea that it’s going to be like that all the time.

      I’m glad you liked the post 🙂

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      • The unicorn business initially started as a joke between friends. Then I realized that it was really a mentality that people have. A considerable amount of people treat me differently because I am the minority. My life started out surrounded by Caucasians and it has been the norm for me considering I’m biracial and have lived in Suburbia Midwest. But being set apart from other people often makes me more likely to be a target for people to open in unique and beautiful ways to me. Though it proves to be a rather persistent annoyance, I do treasure the secrets of strangers.

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  6. Thanks for the post 🙂 I really think everyone should give everyone a bit of a break. (myself included!) And you know what happens over time too? Many people who aren’t given a break turn around and get sour about it and then it’s just this terrible cycle.

    Man I need to lighten up.

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    • Yeah, it really helped me see how some people end up thinking that the world is just plain mean, and then don’t see why they should bother being nice to anyone else.

      On a completely unrelated note, I love your Twitter handle!

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      • I’ve really been trying to re-vamp my way of thinking. Hopefully it will come in time, as it’s really difficult to try and be upbeat and nice to everyone when people are so quick to judge you.

        PS. Thanks 🙂 Twitter is just too much fun. I wish I had a horse. If I did, he’d be really cute, and probably eat ice cream too (my instagram: myhorseeatsicecream) hehehe 🙂

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        • I think everybody makes judgments to some extent, I don’t think it’s completely avoidable. The key is just to be aware that you’re doing it, and make sure that you aren’t treating anybody unfairly as a result.

          Now I want a cute, ice cream eating horse.

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