There’s something about being transplanted into a whole new place (especially one as culturally and socially diverse as a college campus) that prompts you to make necessary changes to your life. Maybe the answer to why this is lies in the inherent shock of physically existing somewhere else, or perhaps it’s due to the secondary exposure to new ideas and manifestations of human creativity.
In any case, college has most certainly altered multiple facets of my persona. But probably the most distinguishable change I’ve become aware of is that of my personal style.
Let me explain.
Flashback: some four and half years ago I embarked on the epic, embarrassing journey that is high school. It’s was one sprawling epic fail, at least in my case.
I, a textbook introvert, attended a small private school located less than five minutes from my house. While it boasted beautiful architecture and amazing academic programs, it was a tiny but polarizing microsphere wherein there existed a strict set of guidelines for girls, both of the social and sartorial variety.
Shy as I was, I tried my best to fit the mold, selecting pricey, preppy pieces to match those my peers wore. I admired the mainstream crowd after all, and although I would never in a million years have labeled my high school self as “popular," there was something comforting about being part of the homogeneity, part of the crowd who dressed like the girls do on Tumblr, the crowd who appears to live life in the fast lane, seemingly on the cutting edge of all things related to style and pop culture. I ignored that fact that the flowing sweaters were itchy, that the fluffy Ugg boots were poor choices for someone who loves to walk around and splash in rain puddles and that microscopic destroyed denim shorts hugged my athletic, competitive swimmer’s frame in all the wrong places. I ignored the fact that I would have been happier in an oversized hoodie and comfy sweatpants, in the name of rigid conformity.
My current theory was that in those impressionable days, I aspired so intensely to be popular that sacrificing my own comfort and creative freedom to dress like them, in some indirect way, allowed me to belong in their company. It made me “good” enough, at least on the clothing front, which was one of the qualities in a person that appeared to matter the most. Not only that, but embodying what I thought was mainstream allowed me the reassurance that I would be accepted. Because of my sheltered personality and extreme anxiety, I was somewhat of a pariah. I needed to forge some sort of a link to the people whom I felt gravitated to, and put on a show of confidence externally, to compensate for what attractive qualities I lacked on the inside. In other words, I needed to work twice as hard.
It’s silly, really, as I was unnecessarily living a facade that by no means reflected the way I really felt about my personal identity and sense of style. I had interests that extended beyond the collective culture of my school. I was edgy. I was creative. I was a mad computer scientist, a nerd and a staunch feminist. I was a member of the Ravenclaw house and loved science fiction television and films. I was passionate about environmental science, endangered species and the conservation of our planet’s resources, and, most of all, I wanted to own thousands upon thousands of cats (kidding about it being my most defining quality, but I do want to have lots of cats one day. Completely shameless right now.)
The falseness came to an abrupt end when I got to USC, when I realized how much unnecessary work I was putting into my appearance.
Surrounded by hordes of new, welcoming people, I reconciled with the edge I’ve always had, and began showcasing it to the world. I was no longer living in fear of being rejected or alone. I more or less embraced my “outsider” status, and became the “black sheep” I couldn’t be in high school, recognizing similar qualities in numerous other people on campus, who clearly didn’t care what anyone else thought.
It’s truly a developmental phenomenon. Girls especially, when at high school age, can lack the maturity to really recognize genuine qualities in others, outside of the realm of appearances and superficiality, whether they’ll admit to it or not. When you reach college, the eye rolls, whispered insults and passive aggressive social media references, among other forms of abuse, by and large subside. People honestly don’t care about abusing people in a juvenile fashion anymore. They mostly don’t care what they look like when headed to class, or if they do, they do so for different reasons. There exists no need to prove yourself to anyone, or fit a certain mold. There are simply too many people, too many representations of different cultures and places, for it all to be streamlined into a rigid social construct. And for this, I am grateful.
At present, I wear my Star Wars sweatshirts, cat earrings, and printed harem pants in public with pride, things I never would have had the courage to wear in high school. Heck, I even wear a bathrobe sometimes, when the mornings are especially rough. And no one gives me any trouble for it. It’s great. It’s refreshing. And, most of all, it’s ME.
I don’t need to be a cool kid anymore, because everyone in college is cool.
Lead Image Credit: Paramount Pictures