Trying Too Hard

nuclear redAll you goth and alternative lovers out there, have you ever been told you’re “trying too hard”? I’ve been asked that a few times over the years, and it recently came up again. On Facebook, that bastion of meaningful conversation. :-/ To be fair, the conversation wasn’t totally useless. But there were the comments I’ve heard time and time again: “those people think fashion is a substitute for personality,” “they’re trying too hard to be different,” “they talk about individuality but they all look the same as each other.”

Back in my babybat days I took this stuff seriously. I worried that I was just trading in one conformity for another, I worried that I was trying too hard to be unique, I worried I wasn’t deep enough or cool enough to pull off alternative fashion. Like you have to earn the right to have purple hair or black jeans. The older I get, though, the less I worry about any of that and the more confident I get that I like what I like and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I made peace with the fact that we all strike our own balance between fitting in and standing out. I accepted the fact that by mainstream standards goths aren’t that cool anyway, so not being “cool enough to be a real goth” is the stupidest thing I could possibly worry about. I realized I was never trying at all to be unique, I just was a little different from most people I knew. Even when I tried to look like everyone else and act like everyone else in this super conservative Trump state, people could sense there was something different. And not one of my friends or neighbors was surprised when I went back to black.* The only one my “normal” act was fooling was me.

Funny thing is, the older I get the more I realize how much effort it takes to look exactly like everyone else. Constant diets and hair and manicures and makeup and shopping and microblading and cosmetic surgery all too look exactly like everyone else. I’ve always had “normal” friends who spent an hour or more curling their hair and putting on their “no makeup” makeup, who agonized over which color of boring sweater and skinny jeans to buy. (Or, now that I’m a suburban housewife, which expensive yoga pants to pretend you work out in.)

I spend a lot less time and money on my nuclear red hair and color coordinated (black and red) outfits. I spend a lot less effort just being myself than they spend being “normal,” and I seem a lot happier doing it. I’m amazed that I ever believed for one second that I was the one trying too hard.

If “normal” is who you are then do it. Love it and be happy. I have an evil twin (not literally, but we share our first name and a whole lot else) who looks like a stereotypical suburban mom. Why? Because she’s too busy being an awesome jazz musician to worry about what she’s wearing. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s who you are. But putting yourself through the wringer just to fit in with a bunch of other superficial, insecure barbie dolls? If you’re doing that, please don’t tell me I’m trying too hard. I’m just trying to be happy with who I am, and you can never try too hard at that. **

*Not one was surprised, but a whole lot of them vaguely disapproved and/or pray for my soul to this day. So it goes, so it goes.

**This rant has been mostly fueled by my kids’ fall school break and a tad too much vodka and coke. I promise, though, that I think the same things when I’m stone cold sober. In fact, I think the same things better and more clearly when I’m sober, I’m just usually too busy to write them down. 🙂

Day 28: An Outfit I’m Ashamed Of?

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high school

I can’t think of one outfit I’m ashamed of or embarrassed by. I guess some people look back at old photos with a “what was I thinking?!!?!” attitude and some goth and alternative types are a bit embarrassed by their more “normal” pictures, but I don’t feel that way at all.

I, like most people, was really insecure about my looks when I was younger. I worried a lot that I wasn’t thin enough, not cool enough, didn’t fit in, didn’t stand out, whatever. I grew up before digital cameras so I don’t have a ton of pictures of those days, but when I look back now I wonder what I was so insecure about. I would still wear some of those outfits.

Since I don’t have any shame shots to post, I thought I’d show you

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college–I’m in the middle

what I looked like before I got so old and fat. Again, I came up before digital cameras, so these are pictures of actual photos I keep in a box in my basement. Apologies for the quality; these were the best I could do.

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I look like a hippie in this one. See my gothy looking friend? She’s all conservative and boring now. So sad.
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I kind of miss that jacket. And the hat. And my old Docs.

Demon Fear

exorcistWhen I was a little kid, Satan was everywhere. Back in the ’80s, religious Americans saw Evil everywhere. Hidden messages on heavy metal albums led kids to Satanism. Dungeons & Dragons led kids to Satanism. Everyone had a friend-of-a-friend haunted by a ouija board. According to many conservatives, Satanic cults were everywhere preying on children, tearing apart the very fabric of society. And that’s just scratching the surface of ’80s paranoia. I haven’t even mentioned the Cold War or the many stories (many untrue) about razor blades and poison hidden in Halloween treats. It was a wild time.

Compared to a lot of middle Americans my parents were pretty sensible. My dad was a huge Tolkien fan so he rightly saw D&D as harmless fantasy instead of a portal to Satan, and while our parents didn’t like most of our music and fashion choices they didn’t put a lot of limits on us. They were (and still are) devoutly religious, though, and they more or less believed in a real Satanic force that could haunt and possess people. “Personal experiences” of possession and haunting floated around our congregation.* pinhead

No wonder I turned out the way I did–I grew up in a world full of demons and ghosts and monsters. I was always fascinated but I didn’t always love them. For a long time I was terrified. If those things were real, they were more powerful than I could imagine and I would be at their mercy. It was only near the end of high school, once I was pretty sure Satan wasn’t hiding in my closet, that I let myself really explore the world of horror.

All that demon fear gave me a late start on the road to where I am today, but it also gave me a deeper and different knowledge of darkness and a better understanding of those who fear it. I may not have been goth from the cradle, but I grew up in a gothic world.

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*I grew up Mormon. Not mainstream Christian, but Christian enough to fear Satan. Mormons don’t practice exorcism in any official way, but they would perform special prayers to bless and heal you if you were afflicted by Satan. I’m sure this still happens occasionally in the church but possession stories became more rare once the ’80s panics died down.