Appearance obsession inhibits individuality

Spencer Ivey

Although we try to deny it, we have become a society obsessed with appearance. Media, celebrities and popular brands have forced us to become overly conscious of how we look. In a sense, we use our appearance to tell a story about ourselves, and we do not want others to get the story wrong. What you wear can either attract or repel certain groups of people. To fit in with others of your preferred social status, you must first look the part, especially in the ever-competitive culture at the University. Two aspects of my life have led me to realize the exaggerated importance of appearance here: my interest in fashion and having a girlfriend. The unfortunate phenomenon of appearance obsession fosters a lack of personal expression, causes pressure to conform on campus and tends to hit the female community the hardest.

When I say I am interested in fashion, I don’t mean I am obsessed with models and high-end brands. I merely enjoy exploring the wide variety of brands that the clothing industry has to offer through fashion blogs and various websites. With this heightened awareness of fashion, I have come to realize that every brand represents a particular personality. At the University, an overwhelming majority of the population tries to exude a “preppy” or “put-together” look. Next time you walk from one end of campus to the other, take a second to recognize the recurrence of a core set of brands: Polo Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Lilly Pulitzer, Patagonia and Lulu Lemon. While this may be a consequence of the somewhat homogeneous student population (white, East Coast and upper-class), I also believe it could be attributed to an obsession with certain brand names and clothing choice. Do some people feel the need to blend in with this general look? I would definitely say yes. I get the feeling that some students might be afraid to show their flair because of the risk of being labeled as different or not being able to fit in with a certain group.

Appearance obsession is especially common among the female population on campus. Since I have a girlfriend, I have been able to gain more insight about this topic. What I have discovered is truly depressing. I hear about girls who spend hours at the gym, deprive themselves of food and have other girls come to their rooms before they go out to a party to make sure they look good in their outfits. This routine is especially popular among sophomore girls during the rush process; the girls feel the need to look their absolute best or else they will not be asked back to their favorite sorority. The fact that the University is one of the top colleges in the nation for “hottest girls” is probably an additional factor. Girls feel the need to look better than the girl next to them and live up to that high regard at ridiculous mental and physical costs. It seems that the ideals of “be yourself” and “don’t be someone you aren’t” have diminished with the steady campus breeze.

I do realize that a population of girls and guys who don’t obsess over their appearance exists, but it seems to be quite small. My challenge to the University community is this: be original. Don’t blend in. Be the one who looks a little different. Be the person you want to be, not the person everyone around you wants to be. The sooner everyone can learn to feel confident in his or her own appearance, the sooner everyone will feel a lot happier.

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