A journey to self discovery. By Jordan White
In the pursuit of self-expression I have been called a whore, a prostitute, silly, unladylike, and distracting. To my knowledge I have never sold my body for money so “prostitute” hardly seems appropriate. As for the rest of those delightful terms, you can be the judge. The only thing I know for certain is that all of those terrible things were said out of reaction to my style; clothing, piercings, accessories, hair, anything that did not fit the mold. Throughout my life, it has never been people’s distaste for my love of fashion that upsets me (though I can admit there have been some serious fashion faux pas along the way). What I found so unnerving was the sense of entitlement in their statements. When someone feels like they have the right to tell you how to present yourself, its uncomfortable; but more than that it invasive and rude. For those of us that find release through style a certain amount of pushback has come to be expected. There is no way to forget hurtful words but if that is the price of flair then I say, bring it on. I’ll take my happiness and self-expression; the haters can have the rest.
It was hard growing up in a community of mind-numbing homogeneity. I constantly felt stifled and misunderstood. If I’m being honest though, the misunderstood thing was partly because I was a teenager. No one is immune from raging hormones, unfortunately. The area of Kentucky I grew up in was largely Catholic, White, middle-class families who came from immigrant backgrounds dwelled in the farmland and suburbia that rested across the state line of Cincinnati. Everyone knew everyone and, more importantly, everyone knew your parents. That is to say that misunderstood or not, there wasn’t much acceptance of anyone who stood out from the crowd. I played around with my style in high school but twelve years of private schooling is not about to let anyone embrace one’s inner Lady Gaga in the hallways.
To be clear, I was not unhappy. I had good friends, a beautiful home, many opportunities; it just lacked the enrichment of diversity and personal expression. As a person that now values all of those things deeply, it was a difficult time to be forming my own identity. There was a part of me that wanted to scream out loud from the frustration; to dye my hair orange and gather the misfits for a societal uprising (like I said, teenage hormones). More powerful than that urge, however, was the part of me that did not want to be different. Different, after all, had never been my intention. It was the freedom to be self-expressive and to dress how I pleased without comments or stares - that was the true desire. My wish never became more apparent, though, than when I graduated high school and began the next chapter of my life.
When I left for college, I finally began to explore what self-expression really meant to me. For the first time in my life, I was free to assert my identity through fashion, unapologetically. It was magical. Truly, I was addicted. This was a time of uninhibited growth for me. I was exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking, traveled to countless countries and finally saw that there was so much more to identity and self-expression than I had been led to believe.
When I was a junior in college, I spent five months abroad in Spain. Halfway through my stay, I decided to get my septum pierced. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there is nothing more terrifying than navigating a body alteration in a foreign language. Why does everything seem possible when you’re an exchange student? Anyways, I survived the experience and loved my new piercing. There was only one catch, I was terrified to tell my family. The day my mom found out was the last time I spoke to her during my trip, aside from a few curt emails. She was in total shock over what I had done. Utterly convinced that I had ruined my life and horrified by what people would think, I was told I was destroying my reputation. As it turns out, half a world away is not far enough from the judgement of neighbors.
When I finally came home she told me I was not welcome inside until I removed my piercing. At first I was heartbroken, and then the anger set it. It was the first time in my life that I was demanded to conform, and then threatened when I refused. I rejected the ultimatum. After years of half-heartedly trying to hide how much I loved fashion and alternative beauty, I finally decided to drop the act. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. It was like that little hole from my piercing opened a secret door to my identity. After just a few days being stateside, I moved everything I owned out of my childhood home. It was time to stop apologizing for who I was.
A few months later I began plans for a new venture, a life and style blog. My passion for self-expression was something I no longer wanted to hide or tame. There were some who belittled my choice, chastising me for putting fashion over reality, as if I was doing something unforgivable. More often than not, though, others welcomed my new found happiness. For every person who told me my piercing made me look ugly, there were five more who said that my style inspired them. Even my grandparents, the most unlikely of all to accept this change (they call my septum piercing a nose ornament and it’s adorable), never faltered in their support. Shortly after this debacle, I fell in love. Truly, madly, deeply in love with someone who has never been ashamed of who I am. A person who laughs when my lavender lipstick rubs off on their lips; a person who understands that I wear makeup because it’s an art form, not because I want to hide myself; a person who loves that my favorite color is black and that I own enough chokers to put the 90’s to shame. This love and support bled into my style. Now, I feel uninhibited by the pressures of a uniform society. Now, more than ever, I know that life is for the bold.
Don’t be fooled, I am no poster child for self-expression. There are still aspects of my individuality that I choose to tame. What really matters, though, is that I am no longer willing to apologize for loving myself or my unique style. There are so many people who find joy and release in fashion and I happen to be one of them. It is a beautiful thing that we live in a society where individuality, no matter what form it takes, can be respected. So here is to the geeks and freaks, the weirdos and the witches. Here is to the stylish and daring, the artists and boundary-pushers. May your creativity and passion bleed into the world and create a society of acceptance and love.