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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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October 30, 2003
 Student View


Be yourself, whatever that is

Katie Norman
Katie Norman

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, by age.

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 interview?

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.


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