Individuality and Self-Expression as a Victim to Fashion
Individuality and self-expression was once highly valued. Today, many people advocate individuality and self-expression in an attempt to prevent individuality from eroding completely. Why though, has individuality become something so endangered that it needs protecting? While there are many factors at play, one of the aspects of society that has led to a loss of individuality is fashion. The media in society promotes fashion trends, with mass advertising presenting ideal fashions to the general public. The influence that celebrities have increases the problem. Fashion companies recognize the potential profits and build on the demand, both by creating fashion items and advertising them to create demand for them. In combination, the public becomes part of a system where they are influenced to accept that is fashionable. Fashion eats away at the minds of the general public, making us feel as if we need to buy to fit in with the populace that surrounds us. Hundreds of thousands of young adults fall into the bottomless pit of lost individualism every day, as their acceptance of fashion trends eats away at individuality and self-expression.
By its very nature, fashion is appearance. What we wear and how we look is what other people see. As fashion trends have increased, fashion has become a reflection of a person's position in society. A woman in a Versace suit will be judged to be more successful and more intelligent than a woman wearing a plain shirt and baggy pants. In part, this perception is related to the role the woman appears to be in. A Versace suit suggests a professional working woman, which in turn suggests success and intelligence. Beyond the role of a woman, fashion trends have gone a step further than just suggesting a person's role. They have gone to a level where just appearing to "be in fashion" suggests that one person is better than the other. Consider the case of two women wearing jeans and a casual shirt. One woman's shirt is plain, the other woman's shirt has a Ralph Lauren logo. The second woman would be judged to be more successful simply because she is wearing a brand that is considered fashionable. Even disregarding brands, a woman wearing this season's latest fashion would be judged more highly than a woman wearing last season's fashion. In all these examples, the clothes that a person wears is a sign of their status. This also applies equally well to men. Damien Cave (197) describes his fifteen-year-old brother Ryan suggesting that he might get a girlfriend if he bought clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch. When questioned about why he wants clothing from that store, Ryan's answer is that "it's just so cool!" (Cave 197). At the same time, Cave notes that it is at least partly about Ryan impressing a girl. By wearing what is considered fashionable, Ryan is creating the image that he is "cool" and therefore worthy of getting the girl. This shows how fashion becomes about image, with people judged simply by whether what they are wearing is considered "in fashion" or "out of fashion." Returning to the subject of individuality, being "in fashion" means fitting in with others and with what is considered the right thing to wear. In this way, being "in fashion" works against individuality. People become focused on being like everyone else, rather than being themselves and this puts an end to self-expression.
Teenagers are so influenced by fashion trends, it's worth considering them specifically. Cave (197) describes Abercrombie and Fitch's clothing as being worn by teenagers "like a uniform." As noted above, wearing the accepted brands is a way for teenagers to be accepted as "cool" or "in." For teenagers, this means that they are accepted by their peers. In this way, teenagers consume fashion out of a fear of rejection and a need for acceptance. The focus for these teenagers is not on what they want to wear or what they like or what is comfortable. Instead, they are focused on what is accepted as being fashionable. This means that they are choosing not be individuals or express themselves, instead opting for fitting in.
This leads to the question of where fashion trends come from. One of the answers is that they come from the companies that are profiting from fashion trends. Cave (199) notes how companies like Abercrombie & Fitch profit from the trends and how the prices are much higher than regular brands. These high prices will be paid because advertising creates a demand for the products. This demand arises simply because they become fashionable items, with people willing to pay higher prices to buy what is fashionable. This is closely related to advertising, which is what is used to communicate to people that a certain brand is fashionable. Cave (199) notes how Abercrombie & Fitch advertises to a teenage market in a way designed to appeal to them. Images of good-looking and popular models define for people what is valued. People watching advertisements or looking at magazine models are given an image of what they should aspire to. Teenagers are especially susceptible to being influenced because they are a stage in their lives where they are deciding who they are and who they should be. The images presented to them by fashion advertisements creates expectations about what is expected of them. Alverez (147) describes this clearly where she refers to herself and her three sisters collecting magazines and studying television to search "for clues on how to look as is we belonged here." To achieve these expectations and be like the perfect people they are seeing, they purchase the clothes being advertised. As a form of mass advertising, this creates a general view of what everyone should be like. With this view, there is little room for people to be individuals or to have their own unique style. In this way, advertising plays a major role in the suppression of individuality and self-expression.
Celebrities are another major influence on fashion. In society, celebrities are generally accepted as the elite. They have achieved succcess, fame, and wealth. Their extravagant lifestyle is something most people desire and so they look up to celebrities and want to be like them. JLo has taken advantage of people's desire to be like her to produce a clothing line. This clothing line is a way for regular people to be like her. Yet while people can buy the fashion and look like JLo, this does not mean that they have actually achieved fame and success. JLo has achieved success because she is being herself, not because she is emulating someone else. In this way, all that people really do is giving up their own individuality to become more like someone else. This goes even further than giving up your individuality because it means that people are actually expressing someone else's individuality.
Individuality is defined by the Webster dictionary as a "total character peculiar to and distinguishing an individual from others" (593). As has been shown, fashion trends do not result in people distinguishing themselves from others. Instead, they result in people conforming with each other and giving up their own individuality to accept what is considered as "fashionable." Pushed by the companies profiting from fashion trends, the media and advertising, and by celebrities, individuality and self-expression becomes increasingly rare. As long as people are following others, how do they become their own person? Individuality is what makes everyone unique. The differences should be celebrated, not suppressed. As something with the potential to express who we are, fashion should allow people to express themselves as individuals, not be something that confines people to conforming.
The Beauty Standard Delivered by Barbie Dolls
The society we live in today is a culture defined by physical perfection. Advertisements in magazines, on television, and on billboards show people how to lose weight or how to improve their appearance in order to gain acceptance from peers. However, images of physical perfection are not confined just to advertisements. For young girls, they are also present in the form of Barbie dolls. Barbie represents beauty, flawlessness, and perfection. Barbie offers young girls an image of what they should look like. Barbie is a pop cultural trend that has influenced generations of young girls throughout the world. However, that influence has not come without a fair share of controversy. Many critics have argued that Barbie dolls have an adverse effect on girls. Two of the common concerns are related to her beauty standard and to her elitist fashion. Barbie offers a beauty standard that is not healthy or realistic. At the same time, Barbie's elitist fashion conveys to girls that material possessions are important. While both are relevant concerns, it is the beauty image portrayed by Barbie that is the largest concern. It has the potential to damage self-esteem, to alter the way women view themselves, and in the worst case, to threaten lives.