Is there a self without an other?
by Marielle Nicol
The other day I got to thinking about the phrase ‘dressing for oneself’. Usually it denotes a degree of disregard for the opinions of others concerning one’s clothing. This can often be beneficial if not healthy. Without it, one might suppress a voice inside requesting to be heard. A potential case study for this theory could be entitled Marielle in Grade 9 at public school. I had a pair of bright pink rubber boots, and the kind of love that existed between us can be found only in the novels of Nicholas Sparks. However, it was a nervous, forbidden love which one is prone to at the age of 12 ー is it right that I love these this much? It doesn’t appear that everyone else loves pink rubber boots, does that mean I shouldn’t? How do I fit in here? Who am I? The fear of what people would think kept my love for my rubber boots confined to the safety of my room. Had I been dressing for myself, I would have strut my stuff on a +30 day in July with a clear forecast not batting an eyelash. How fabulous!
One day I decided to engage this recklessness. I wore my rubber boots to school. Alas, Exhibit A is cruel: a classmate exclaims in shock, ‘Well that’s one way to get attention!” I was mortified. ‘I’m not wearing them for attention!’, I told myself. My beloveds were relegated to the basement by 3:45 that afternoon, never to be worn again.
What others think was important to me and remains important to me now. It seems to me that we can only know ourselves through the other. Darkness is only known from the absence of light, joy from the absence of sadness. What we know about ourselves is informed by the people we are surrounded by; where we converge, where we differ. I know myself in relation to you, as related to you. If this is true, is dressing completely void of the opinions and influences of others possible?
Let’s look to trends, an apt place to look when pondering the influence of other people’s stylistic inclinations on our own. One day, the only thing you see is chokers and everyone starts saying ‘thot’, a word I still don’t understand. You might vehemently reject it all at first. And yet, if you’re anything like me, as in quite insecure and easily influenced, it’s usually not too long before you’ve caved. What other people like and dislike has huge effects on what we think. And so again I wonder: is dressing for oneself ever really possible?
I think it’s important to distinguish the above analysis of the phrase from its practical working out in real time. With regard to the latter, of course wear what you want and be happy. If it makes you feel great and ready to tackle this crazy thing called life, wear it! Another important distinction is between the kinds of people we might be influenced by: the nebulous mass of unidentified strangers who might judge your vast inner library by the cover a single preliminary pamphlet and those close to us whose opinions we genuinely value. If it’s the former, forget ‘em. If it’s the latter, maybe listen, maybe don’t! However, in both cases, for better or for worse, it would appear that human beings intrinsically value the opinions of others. Aren’t we social animals? I wonder… was I just wearing those boots for attention?