Sometimes I feel like I’m running out of time with the people who love me. I watch the date change on my phone as 11:59 turns to midnight, wondering which day they’ll decide that I’m not their type of person anymore. I think I’ve found my people: they know me, they love me, and they make this known. But there’s something about being 19 and online that makes all my neuroses fall off the shelf. I think I’m approaching some expiration date. Surely, the day must come when they realize I’m not quite what they want. The clock turns to 12:01 and I hope I remain loved for the next 1,439 minutes.
I consider technology a net positive force, but its catalyzing impact on trends is undeniable. Recently, we’ve replaced decade-long trends with microtrends that last just a few months. Information moves quickly, and it no longer comes solely from Vogue or local influences. Since the advent of social media, information comes from millions of people. Platforms designed to share opinions seem to be telling you what to wear, what to listen to, and what to read. From the mid-2010s’ grown-up “normcore” to 2020’s tennis skirts and House of Sunny dresses to 2023’s “blokette” (bloke + coquette) style and Margiela Tabi revival, they come quickly, they go quicker, and we forget about them in due time.
Today’s trends aren’t limited to fashion. As with subcultures of the late 20th century, certain trends and aesthetics signal interests and identity. The way someone dresses speaks to the media they consume, and that media becomes a way to define them. These definitions exist regardless of whether the person truly enjoys that media; they’re based on reductive patterns and extrapolations. That girl wearing Levis and smudged mascara is now a femme-fatale-Gone-Girl-cigarettes-The-Virgin-Suicides-Fiona-Apple type of girl (incidentally, this is also how I describe my roommate’s cat). Your friend is no longer just wearing lace camisoles and red lip gloss—now she’s a coquette-Lana-Del-Rey-Mary-Janes-Lolita type of girl. But as certain physical trends go out of style, these “types” follow suit. As cuffed jeans and Fjällräven Kånken backpacks went out of style, so did the “art hoe” who likes Van Gogh and the color yellow. We are constantly pushed in and out of trends, forcing us to reinvent our perceptions of self. Not only do we exist as types of people, but we only exist as a certain type of person for a limited time until we expire and move on to the next box.
Artists, musicians, and authors seek to instill a certain beauty in their work. By defining ourselves by our interests, we signal the self as the object of aesthetic admiration and value. It’s easier to be seen as beautiful (either outwardly or inwardly) or interesting because you like Wong Kar-wai films rather than for your values, beliefs, and behaviors. True expression undefined by abstract ideas, media, and art puts us in a vulnerable position: when we sever identity from external sources of beauty, judgments become more personal.
Even admitting to true interests can be an act of vulnerability. Post-COVID-19 fashion mimics the trend of bright and energetic comebacks from national tragedies (see also post-9/11 optimistic patriotism, post-WWI flappers), but combined with the push for individuality and sustainable consumption as a response to the climate crisis, there’s been a recent move towards personalized and “true” senses of style. Users like @tinyjewishgirl and @myramagdalen promote “dressing how you want,” but such individualized outfits face relentless criticism on the internet. Comment sections contain as many compliments as remarks calling them “disgusting” and “delusional.” Free expression, in the case that it does not fit neatly into a pre-existing box, faces the threat of animosity.
When these boundaries to authentic and individualized expressions of interests exist, how do we expect to accept authentic expressions of ourselves? When disclosure of the self exists within a superficial sphere of dressing in a way that’s true to yourself or being proud of the music you listen to regardless of what others think, how can we turn the focus of expression to personhood?
Entirely media-based definitions of people remain largely on the internet (although I’ve definitely called someone “the Carhartt-single-stitch-T-shirt-film-photography-Underground kind of guy”), but the idea of the existence of a type of person reverberates into everyday life. We define ourselves by interests, hobbies, jobs, and schools. We distinguish people we know based on our perceptions of what “type” of person they are. These categories come from the way we see them through their surroundings and interests, not how we may see them as people. Identity sometimes seems to circle around everything but who you actually are. Beneath layers of superficiality lie the real essences of being human: unique thought patterns, emotions, hopes, fears, and values.
A week ago, I was talking to a friend about how I conceptualized him. I struggled to find the words to describe him singularly because we were only speaking relative to other people. I’ve been so trained to compartmentalize people, even people I’m close to, as types of people rather than individuals. I couldn’t just describe him as kind or put-together or confident—I felt that I wouldn’t have described him well enough if I hadn’t told him who he’s similar to or what media he seems like he would consume. At the same time, I didn’t think that just telling him he seems like the type of guy to paint his nails and listen to Radiohead would capture him fully.
I worry about everything these days. I worry about the way people see me. I worry that I’m not seen as a person. When someone tells me that I’m the same type of person as someone I admire, I don’t know if I should take it as a compliment or consider that maybe they just don’t know us that well. We might both wear big jackets and knitwear and listen to Big Thief, but I don’t think that means much.
I worry that I’m only in style right now. There’s nothing I can do if I’m just seen as a type of person; that much is out of my control. But what if I’m just seen as a trend? Maybe everything I like will be considered terrible in two years. I’m tired of watching the clock.
I suppose that when I worry about other people changing faster than I do, my issue isn’t with remaining one type of person as they change to another. My issue is with being a type of person at all. I don’t want to be a type of girl—part of a category. I don’t want to market myself based on what I like. I don’t want to exist solely in relation to others. I don’t want you to think I’m cool because I like Elliott Smith and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I want you to know me.