As a twenty-year-old who is still trying to figure out one’s self, personal identity is of great significance to me. So much so that if you were to offer me $10,000 to be stripped of my freedom to dress however I like and hold my own opinions, I would still opt to be broke and conferring with my friends over a drink or two.
No doubt, growing up in an age when phrases like YOLO and Carpe Diem make up our life mantra, there is an immense pressure placed on us to be exceptional.
As a result, throughout my formative years, I was exhausting tubs of Directions Hair Colour, frequenting gigs, writing Lang Leav-esque poetry and purchasing merchandise from my favourite bands to emphasise and showcase my individuality. I held the belief that if I don’t have an original identity that stands out from the rest, I’m just another one of many average beings who’s mediocre at best.
However, as much as I strive to be a unique individual, I’ve realised that there have been aspects of me that were influenced by the things I consume.
The tattoos that I have etched on my skin are inspired by a Roman à clef book and a song from one of my favourite bands. My then blue hair was a result of worshipping at the altar of emo vocalists such as Hayley Williams and Alex Gaskarth. My style, too, changes on a day-to-day basis depending on who’s my latest style inspiration.
Whether we dare to admit it, we are all just a compilation of everything we’ve ever fixated on – it could be someone’s hair colour on Instagram, an opinionated piece from the deep web, a TV series or even a character from a book.
Take my colleagues for instance. As fans of the police-centred sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I find that many of them adopt the main lead Jake Peralta’s way of dealing with awkward situations, which is the repetitive use of the word “cool” or “no doubt” while nodding with a plastered smile. They identify with the TV series so much that the character’s quirks get incorporated into their personal identity.
The same goes for K-Pop fans, film geeks, fitness enthusiasts and so forth.
After all, parts of our identity can be ascribed to our environment and the content we consume. No one’s identity is free from influence or cultivation. Our environment, upbringing, beliefs and experiences all play a part in creating our identity.
Once upon a time, my friends and I taped up our webcams as a precautionary measure after watching an episode of Black Mirror where the lead character was blackmailed with footage that was obtained after his webcam got hacked. Turns out, almost everyone who watched that episode did the exact same thing.
The fact is you’re not going to be the only one who feels, think or act a certain way.
Even so, we try excruciatingly hard to be unique. We’d willingly trade our $1.60 Kopi bing for $6 Iced Coconut Latte (read: hipsters) and ditch our mama shop flip-flops for Gucci sliders (read: hypebeasts) because we’d much rather disappear off the face of the earth than to be seen as an average individual. Hell, we’d even force-feed ourselves the lovechild of McMuffin and Hotcakes just to ride on the McGriddles hype train and be seen as a #foodie.
I once knew someone, let’s call him Ben, who embodied the average joe stereotype with his H&M clothes, Kopitiam card and his overplayed Top 30 radio hits playlist. Ben was fine with that, that is until the girl he’s interested in commented that he’s too “basic” for her liking. Hurt, he did a 180 and began to splurge on the latest clothes and sneakers and he replaced his mainstream playlist with hip-hop, trance, and underground R&B tunes. Now, his former average joe self-seems like a distant memory, but I can’t help but think that in a way, he fell victim to society’s idealistic belief of us having to be a special individual to make the most out of life.
As much as we’d want to be seen as an original, there’s a fine line between rebelling against the masses for what you stand for and deviating from the norm just because you want to be different from the rest. It’s important that we do not do the latter and end up like another Ben.
It is also unrealistic for us to aspire to be known as the only Priscilla aka Pop Punk Girl With Unorthodox Views or the only Marc aka The Musically Inclined Athlete because there’s bound to be someone out there who’s an exact copy of you. Even our names, an integral part of our identity, are shared with strangers all over the world.
To call yourself a 100% unique individual would be trying to convince yourself that the moon is really following you. So, don’t exhaust yourself in a bid to be known as an original. If you don’t feel the need to replace your entire wardrobe every new year or if you love your mainstream Top 30 songs because that’s just how you roll, then so be it.
It’s your life and you should own it, regardless of what society expects of you.
Also read, The Ugly Truth: Not Everyone Is Beautiful.