Social performance: fiercely fragile
November 27, 2016
Social shapeshifting isn’t my thing, or perhaps, I am not its thing. I have always been forced to really be, and feel at home, in myself in order to be able to try to disregard the damaging social assumptions my body elicits. I try to move through the world as honestly and as genuinely as I can to, at least on an emotional level, feel like I have something real and stable to anchor me in my experience, in my life, to this chaotic world. Years ago, I remember saying to someone once that stage acting isn’t quite comfortable for me, “…because it’s hard enough to feel like myself in my body, let alone perform as someone else”. As a teenager, I remember getting piercings and dying my hair to try to change the social presence that my body had. I was consciously trying to mimic the teenage “rebellion” of my peers, in hopes that maybe I could feel more seen, and recognised for who I felt I was. Those things always had an undercurrent of paranoia, of being hyperaware of the mainstream body image and conforming to it in a weird way. In early high school, two of my female teachers didn’t shave their leg and armpit hair. I used to be fascinated and slightly offended by it, because conventional femininity was something I strived for in my young mind. I remember being so self-conscious about anything to do with social norms and my body. Albeit in a “typical” way, I didn’t particularly or relentlessly obsess over my weight or the way I looked, but I just lived with the sense that people already perceived my body as “gross” or as “abnormal”, so I constantly, naturally, tried to mediate that assumption. I didn’t experiment with clothes in a terribly radical way, and I still don’t. I wear Doc Martens and Converse, I have always tried to personify that kind of capitalist and marketed non-conformity (fortunately I have had the money to do so). As I have gotten older, I have been forced to realise that I can’t live trying to constantly squeeze myself into social boxes, and ways of existing (gender, sexuality, culture), so I have tried to cultivate some ease about who I am, and who I am not. I will never be able to approximate a fully abled human, so why waste time trying and also, I will never be able to resist those boxes in the same way that others need to do, to live freely (and then gain social capital in certain circles). But on Friday, I paid too much to get my hair dyed purple and that has been a massive thing in my everyday life. Even while I was getting it done, I was like “this is everything that creates discomfort in my identity socially”, it feels a bit like a performance of being cool, of being edgy. However, it has actually made me feel more socially substantial, I am owning other people’s gaze and feeling like I’m someone worth staring at, because I have a [purple hair] personality. Yet, I wonder, do I feel like I have to appear a certain way for my personal embodiment to become socialised and not overlooked as a pitiful sight? And is this just another way of pandering to the ableist narratives about the way people look? Then last night, I started to feel really socially disconnected and awkward, and then my purple hair just fed into the whole “wannabe hipster, but pathologically alienated” inner story of mine, like “who are you trying to fool?”. Yeah, it’s strange, but I would rather be perceived as fierce than feeble, because at least that requires agency and passion, and I think my new hair helps that to get across to others. So what if they don’t know that I am just fiercely fragile (and fiercely conventional)?!