Find an Identity?
The question mark at the end of the title is not there by accident.
Why is it that we live in a culture that places so much emphasis on individuality, and finding one's identity? There is nothing wrong with being an individual. There is nothing wrong, as far as I'm concerned, with not conforming to societal standards if it doesn't consume most of your time.
It is generally agreed that adolescents are trying to find an identity. While this is certainly true, I do not believe that this is unique to teenagers. People change over time, and spend much of their lives attempting to get what they want out of themselves, and from others. Why is it that people do not often marry the first person that they happen to be in a relationship with? Is it because they were too lazy to bother or because they do not yet know what they want out of a relationship? Why is it that people often change careers several times throughout their lives? I believe that the person is looking for something that wasn't present in their previous career. They are trying to figure out what they want out of life, regardless of whether they are twenty-five or forty.
Being an individual does not have to consume a person's life. Is refusing to admit that you like a song because a group of people different from you might like the song being an individual or being reactionary? If you like a band you should feel free to listen to it, regardless of who else listens to it. What does it prove to insist that you hate something that you like, just so that you can fit in with your "unique" friends? Someone who is truly an individual will not say that they can't listen to a certain band because the band isn't "punk" or "gothic" enough.
Why is dressing in a certain manner considered such a big part of individuality? Being gothic, preppy, or emo does not mean that you're an individual. It may mean that you don't really care what the hell others think of you, but I can promise you that deciding to start dressing all in black will not make you an individual. Plenty of people have done it, are doing it, and will continue to dress in all black and wear dark make up. Liking a certain type of clothing or a certain colour is not a bad thing by any means, but you don't have to define yourself as a certain colour or style of clothing. Make up, whether dark or light, worn by a male or female, or not worn at all, does not define a person. Neither clothing or make up will make you intelligent, artistic, good at sports, happy, sad, deep, or shallow. Admittedly, clothing can be used to EXPRESS such aspects of a personality, but they do not define a person. Maybe you are what you eat, but you are not what you wear.
Mental illness does not define a person. Cutting or burning yourself, or attempting suicide does not mean that you are "deep". A person who dresses like a prep may be just as depressed and suicidal as a person who is gothic. People who are preppy can injure themselves in the same way as someone who is emo. This, however, only means that these people will have a better understanding of self-mutilation or mental illness or suicide. Mental illness may be part of your identity, but this is not something that should be used to define a person.
Why does it seem that people, teenagers especially, are so consumed with "figuring out who I am?" People are people. Things will fall into place over time. It doesn't need to happen in middle school, high school, college, or even by the age of forty or fifty, or even older. Teenagers who are still in their early teenage years, at least the ones that I have known, at one time including myself, tend to obsess over being unique. They want to fit in with a certain group and be different from everyone else.
Between the ages of eleven and fourteen, I spent most of that time trying to be what I thought was unique. I dressed in black, wore black make up, practiced Satanism and then Wicca, cut myself, attempted suicide, and then realize that none of these made me all that unique from others. I, for too long, refused to talk to people that I considered preps, and then realized, within the past year, that most of these people were not all that different from myself. Many of the preps that I thought were so shallow and happy had cut themselves, cried themselves to sleep, and attempted suicide, just like all of the gothic kids, punks and emo kids who thought they were so unique. I believe that I am incredibly lucky for the fact that I was able to get over myself, and the belief that I was so unique. I have been much happier since I began hanging out with people of all types. I no longer feel such pressure to prove that I am an "individual". I don't need to dress like anyone, wear makeup, eat meat, or act like anything. I am not expected to be loyal to a certain group.
Not consumed by individualism, I feel much more like myself than I ever have. Much of what I used to do now seems silly. There are times that I miss the way things used to be and the closeness that I had with a group of "unique" people, who strangely enough, were just like me. Now, though, I can wear the first things that I pick up off my floor in the morning, listen to the music I want, not shop for clothing, and not fight with people who I thought had it so much better than me. I can do what it is that I feel like doing without giving a shit what others think. I can wear a tye dye and hand out with gothic people, preps, punks, emo kids, jocks, and pretty much anyone else. People, I think, when they realize that you don't care how they dress, will extend the same courtesy to you. It really doesn't matter how you dress. People are simply people.