I have always had a kind of “girl next door” look. With my brown hair, brown eyes, and slim build I was constantly being told that I looked like so-and-so’s sister/cousin/relative. In addition to my looks, I did my homework, got good grades, didn’t drink/smoke/do drugs, hung with a good crowd, etc. Outside, I was a normal girl. A good girl. Not one of those girls.
Inside, I was anything but. I wanted to be different, to not blend in with everyone else. My personality – that of a strong-willed, outspoken, fantasy-loving, game-loving, anime-loving feminist – was enough to satisfy me for a while. But, I longed for my appearance to match who I was inside.
I. From “Good Girl” To… Not As “Good Girl”
Why was there such a seeming mismatch between my exterior and interior? Well, a few reasons. The first is that I am that good girl, but it’s not all of who I am. Then there was going to a private school where I could get kicked out for having any non-natural colour for my hair, or have any “inappropriate” piercing removed on threat of expulsion. There was also my aversion to modifying my body even a little bit to fit a standard of beauty, even if it was my standard of beauty. And, finally, when I was just starting to get a handle on what I wanted for myself, my abuser came along and demolished everything I had started to build. When I finally was at a point to start regaining it, all of my friends were so vanilla that I ended up being vanilla, too.
But, I’m not vanilla; I’m mint chocolate chip. I’m not just a good girl; I’m one of those girls, too. I had a lot of false starts, but staring to find a style that I – not my family, not my friends, not my abuser – wanted was the first step. Hell, not being afraid to wear clothes that hugged my body or showed my shoulders was hard enough, but with my boyfriend-at-the-time’s encouragement, I was able to focus on what I did and didn’t like. It’s a process I’m still going through, but my recent experiments with layering have gotten positive feedback and I feel like I’m closer than ever to expressing me in my appearance.
Finding a hair sylist that clicked with me was another big step. First came the haircuts I loved, then I ventured in with some highlights – brown/blonde at first, then red. And then one day I asked her if we could do green.
“Green??!” she asked incredulously.
“Yeah, green,” I affirmed. “I want to go green for graduation.”
So she ordered the colour and the next time I went in, she put green in my hair. “Punky,” she called my look.
I like that word. Punky.
II. Where I Stand, Who I Am
I tread an odd middle ground between respectable and rebellious. I’m “punky” not “punk”. I’m not goth, but I like the goth scene – fashion, music, people, and all. I’m a girl, but not “girly”. I’m a thousand and one things, none of which can be used to pin down an accurate picture of me. And, despite having green hair and a cartilage piercing, I am “normal” enough that I think it’s a special occassion when I get stares from people.
I’ve never been called a poser, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some people from the subcultures that I dabble in would see me that way. By skirting the lines, I haven’t had to deal with a lot of the ridicule that they do. Having to listen to my family say nasty things about tattoos (despite the fact that my eldest sister has one, the fiance of my middle sister wants one, and I’m definitely going to get at least one) or constantly think the worst when I mention an interest in piercing, kink, or whatever other out-of-the-norm activities simply can’t compare to the kind of shit I’ve seen others go through. As a small example: one of my high school friends dresses gothy – has long black hair, wears all black, etc – and because of that, and only that, one of my other friends was scared of her for like a year before he realized what a sweetheart she was.
But, honestly, all I’m doing is trying to be who I am. I want to be the good girl, the punky girl, the gamer, the feminist, the geek… I want to be all those and more, but still be me. And still have people see me for me. I like not being boxed into one idea, and I chafe when someone starts seeing me as one thing and not any other (The Feminist, not surprisingly, is one of the most common boxes I’ve been put in).
Sure, not fitting in can be uncomfortable sometimes. The idea of changing yourself and having an instant friend group to fall into is appealing. But I know it’s not realistic because even those of us who fit a role to a “T” aren’t defined by that role. The “instant friendgroup” may not be a myth exactly, but it’s not as perfect as it sounds.
III. Making Myself Palatable
One of my main complaints with mainstream culture is that I can’t do a lot of the things with my body that I want to. I have to keep my piercings to mostly non-visible places (I tread the line with my cartilage one) and when I get a tattoo, not only do I have to find places that will age well, but also ones that won’t compromise my ability to get a corporate job. Sometimes it really grates my nerves that I have to be so careful with how I express myself. But, by walking this road, I become one of the people who makes piercing, tattoos, and non-natural hair colours less “scary”.
It’s easy to judge goths, punks, or people in like subcultures as “scary” or “weird” or “not like us”. It’s not so easy to judge me, the “girl next door” type as that. Even when I’m a green-haired punky freak. In fact, I get compliments from people of all stripes on my look. My mother, who is the first to worry when I tell her about what piercings I want next or whatnot, loves my hair. She thinks that I not only wear it favourably but I make it, well, normal. For every teenager, child, or even adult who goes out of their way to say something nice about my hair, glasses, piercing, etc, that is one more person who might not be against a broader definition of what constitutes “appropriate” appearance.
I mean, the more people who think like that, the better the chance that I won’t have any problem walking into a board meeting with green hair one day. Or maybe an eyebrow piercing. Or a visible tattoo. And that, to me, would be a personal victory.