A university’s students and professors
are united by education – whether it is to learn or
to teach. However the similarities between many professors
and students end there. This common purpose leads many students
to spend more than 15 hours a week in lecture halls and
seminar rooms and despite this steady contact there seems
to be a barrier between professors and students when it
comes to “understanding” each other. Naturally
there are exceptions to this, but in general these two groups
live in very different worlds. These worlds are divided
not only by the acquisition of a PhD but also, in many cases,
The life of university students is inundated with pop culture
images of what these four (or five or six) years are supposed
to be like. Yet Generation X has shed the image of Jansport
backpacks, corduroys and sweatshirts for a new breed of
self-expression. The individual is what everyone is trying
to be and the primary way to express yourself is through
your physical appearance.
The difficulty, of course, is that there is no one set image
to conform to. Media has expanded, encompassing an ever-growing
number of choices of attire, each with a certain eeriness
of conformity looming around it, despite its claims to promote
the “true you.” The new backpack patch should
read “Be an individual; everyone’s doing it.”
Everyone is aware that the marketing of “the individual”
is simply an alternative to the mass conformity in the past
to three groups; jock, preps and dweebs. Now there are so
many categories to choose from. Try punk, grunge, goth,
preppy, gangsta or even sophisticate on for size. They have
all sizes for all body shapes. Individuality is not a one
size fits all. It isn’t that we’ve become less
dependent, and have adopted a more internal acceptance,
all we’ve done is expand the possibilities of conformity.
Nevertheless, despite much protest, image is everything
in today’s world. Clothing is no longer a way to keep
warm and stay protected from the elements, rather it is
the easiest way to brand yourself with a certain image.
Perhaps some of these so-called looks began as statements
of individuality but now they are simply conformity. If
one seeks acceptance the easiest way to do it is to dress
the part. Isn’t that what they tell you before an
A recent conversation between friends resulted in the question
of which sex feels more pressure towards having an ideal
physical appearance. What was the result, you may ask? The
verdict can not be published at this time. While we couldn’t
even decide on what this ideal was that we were supposed
to embody, the debate uncovered something I hadn’t
even thought about – male pressure to “look
good.” The conformity that females feel is well publicized,
but men feel it too. Is this a new phenomenon? Perhaps not.
It may just be that more males today are willing to talk
about their insecurities without feeling like they are compromising
their masculinity. Few people I know haven’t ever
felt too short, too tall, too fat or too thin. No one is
considered perfect these days and perhaps that is where
the pursuit of individuality began.
Capitalism has made shopping more and more common and from
this commonality stems a comfort. Have a bad day? Shop.
Break up with your girlfriend? Shop. Fail your midterm?
Shop. Retail therapy is the new prescription and almost
everyone is taking it. Whether it’s the pursuit of
vintage clothing at a second-hand shop or new leather boots,
the majority of people have an obsession with buying that
“certain something.” Stamp collections have
become shoe collections. If this isn’t the case than
why do some people own 10 pairs of black shoes?
Shopping is directly linked to appearance because the things
we buy are a reflection of who we are. The bags on the back
of our bedroom closets define us. Sad but true. Even if
you’re not buying, that says something too, doesn’t
it? It’s a catch-22 situation.
Perhaps professors don’t understand why their students
wear short miniskirts, have purple Mohawks or wear trench
coats on hot fall days. They might not have seen the new
Xtina music video and realize that that short pink gym shorts
are actually cool. They might realize that there was a time
when going by the initial of your first name and the last
two letters of your last name was the in thing to do. (Hi,
I’m KNo, nice to meet you). The thing is that many
students can’t even figure each other out. Students
are not a homogenous body with common interests and styles
of behaviour. Our union is simply that we study at this
university. Beyond that, many of the similarities that professors
may think exist, cease.
The university years are marked by a great deal of insecurity.
We combat this with individuality (at least the pop culture,
sugar-coated variety). Will we escape this? Who knows? The
important thing is to be who you are, even if you don’t
know what that is.