Dear Lady Mary,
First, allow me to worship you. I love this blog to pieces despite having discovered it only a few days ago and have proceed to devour all of it (I don’t internet much, but the Lady of Manners sent me here). I would gush on, but I do have a question to ask of you. One post in particular caught my eye from way back, the “Five Ways Goth Improved my Self Esteem”. The five points you made resonated well with me, as for a long time I was, to put lightly, a goth-in-denial. I tried to fit in and be the cutesy cheerleader-like persona everyone took me for (I’m rather small, relatively happy-go-lucky, blonde, blue-eyed, dimpled, etc.). I even pretended to be afraid of snakes and bugs and bats because I thought that was what girly-girls did. I know, silly, but despite how hard I tried to fit in, most, I shall say popular, perceptions of dress codes, habits, and attitudes of a “normal girl” (is there even such a thing?) eluded me to a laughable point. As well as trying to be something I wasn’t at heart, I went through several rough patches emotionally, and it just added to the stress of it. But years of fighting with my darkly inclined instincts left me one day going “Screw this” and I happily traded in my pink flats for black stompy boots so to speak. As you have stated, becoming and being Goth for four years has left me with creative expression, wonderful friends and a family that accepts completely, expanded my horizons as you yourself put it, and increased my self-esteem skyward that I may now call myself beautiful and comfortable in my skin. I receive enough compliments that outweigh the jibes and thrown insults, and such leaves me all feel good fuzzy and tingly like a kiwi.
But here (finally) is my question, one I have been discussing with my friends for some time and would appreciate your input on. Because now more than ever I express myself through my style, at what point does self-expression become vanity for us Goths/Alternatives? Many who put down Goths say we do it just for others' attention, but in actuality many of us do it for ourselves. But for many outside the scene, to do things just because it’s what you want to do is not enough to excuse oddity or strangeness. Therein lies the rub. Vanity, to paraphrase Austen, is what we would have others think of us, while pride is what we think of ourselves. But is self-pride at times indistinguishable from vanity? When we spend hours perfecting our look before heading out just to go to classes, raid thrift store after thrift store, or spend money on yet more black eyeliner, what is the final step that crosses the line from expression to vanity however good it makes us feel? To put myself on the line, just yesterday I spent twenty minutes looking for a black lace skirt because it was essential to my outfit and no other would do and whoops, two minutes late to work so sorry will never happen again. As a subculture some of us make such fuss over looking absolutely our gothy best, do we in the end forget the “true essence” of being Goth? Or perhaps vanity is not as simple or as sinful as some make it to be? A question for you that I dearly wish to have your opinion upon.
Hi MirriorMirror, thank you for writing in to me and for your lovely compliments! I'm glad you've enjoyed my blog and that you're getting in touch with your spooky side. It's always nice to be able to express yourself in a way that's more authentically you.
So, I'm a little bit wary whenever someone is accused of being vain. I'm very supportive of self-love culture. There is so much societal pressure to hate yourself and try to change yourself to fit one particular mold that to love yourself is a radical act. I love people who take daily selfies because they like how they looked that day, or people who spend a few more minutes on an outfit because it's a bright-spot in their day.
We Goths might spend a lot of time cultivating our aesthetics, from thrifting to DIYing our own clothes to taking selfies that show off our best outfits. That's not to say that Goths spend more time on that than other people. Based on your example, I'm sure there are non-Goths who have accidentally made themselves late because they couldn't find their favorite shirt. I certainly spend less time on my makeup daily than some of my non-Goth friends, but because we veer towards looks that aren't "natural" it seems to other people like we put a lot more effort into our appearances. More effort = more vanity.
As for the "true essence" of being Goth, I would argue that there really is no such thing. There's a long-standing debate within the subculture about whether or not Goth is more about fashion or about music. It's a fruitless argument, nobody agrees on an answer. I've expressed my thoughts on it more before, but basically I feel that you should do what makes you happy. If dressing up is what makes Goth fun for you, fantastic! If you prefer something more low-key, that's also great. Everyone gravitates toward the subculture for different reasons, don't let anyone ruin that for you.
So, in summary: Goths can be pretty vain and interested in our appearances, but not moreso than other people. It's also not necessarily a bad thing!
Readers, what do you think? Are Goths vain?