“I don’t have enough clothes,” my sister whines while she pulls one of her 65 identical shirts out of her overstuffed drawer and throws it on in disgust. “Everything I own is out of style. I need to go shopping!” she pouts, stomping out the bedroom door, her expensive new leather boots clacking across the floor, obnoxiously loud. She looks just like all of the 16 year old girls, hanging out in Starbucks, sipping their “Tall Iced Chai Lattes” out of identical, green, plastic bendy-straws. Slowly, we are all becoming the same. Throughout time, consumer culture has steadily grown, causing us to all become clones of each other. We all dress in the same preppy clothes, shop at the same “hipster” places, and even talk, walk and write the same way! We, every single one of us, is being brainwashed by modern culture, and no one is stopping to disagree or fight against it, even though we all know, deep down in our puny, shallow hearts, that it is wrong.
When my sister’s friends come over, it is astonishing how similar they all are. Although they are all exceptionally smart girls (they all attend specialized high schools), they all say “peace,” and “tight,” and “mad,” and they all have the exact same loopy, neat girl’s handwriting. They all have unique, different features, but their faces are all covered in so many heavy layers of bright, gaudy makeup in shades of pink, gold and brown that it’s hard to tell. They all have the exact same hipster clothes (because that’s what’s “in”) and they all have cute little glistening, silver earrings that look exactly alike. In fact, out of the two most popular teen clothing stores that I know of in New York City, Urban Outfitters has 856,223 likes on Facebook, and American Apparel has 617,392. It is as if my sister’s friends feel that if they all look like girly carbon copies of each other, than maybe no one will notice that they are in any way different, or original. For some reason, they have it in their minds that being the same as everyone else will somehow make them beautiful, and appealing. Why does this happen? Why do we become so similar that we can’t even remember who we were before we were just like everyone else? Why do we no longer care if what we wear looks slutty and inappropriate? Why don’t we remember that it is not socially acceptable to be wearing bright red lipstick and getting tattoos when you are only 14? What makes us forget? Or do some of us just never learn in the first place?
Starting around when kids begin to go to school, they decide that it is their job to teach each other how to do things. They snap nastily at their friends that the way they folded their paper airplane is wrong, and they should obviously never use a green crayon for hair when drawing a beautiful princess. Kids are discouraged from being different by their peers, and slowly they learn to believe that if they want to have friends, they have to keep their true selves hidden. They think that, maybe, if they ignore the fact that they like the color pink instead of blue, even though they are a boy, then they will eventually start to like blue more. But the fact remains that you cannot force yourself to change. It won’t work, simply because it can’t work. If you like pink, you better stop trying to disguise it, because it is quite possible that you always will. This is an important thing to note because, as the teens get older, the things that they feel they have to hide get more and more serious, and have graver and graver consequences. They don’t like to do drugs, but everyone else is, and they don’t want to be left out, so they pretend to enjoy it. They know that they like boys, but none of their friends are gay (as far as they know) and they don’t want to stand out. However, soon the occasional drug becomes an addiction, and the once harmless pretense of a girlfriend that you tried to hide behind in college becomes the lifelong burden of a wife, and, often, you cannot bring yourself to stop all of the lies.
Another reason why teenagers don’t feel like they can be different is because of stereotypes. From an age as young as 5, we are taught that being unoriginal and stereotypical makes you beautiful and desirable. All throughout our childhood, flashy advertisements, toys, magazines and stars teach us that it’s not okay to be different, and over time, we begin to believe it. Little girls jump up and down, pleading desperately with their mothers, asking if they can “please, please, pleeeeease” get the new, picture-perfect Barbie doll, with her shiny, sparkly skin and pin-straight hair, and the willing mothers agree, not even realizing that, by simply buying their daughters a doll, they are setting them up for years of insecurity later on. We start to think that just because we don’t look like that Barbie, with her blonde hair, blue eyes and big breasts, it means that we cannot be in any way attractive or even interesting. Or maybe we are just too interesting. We feel like we stick out like a sore thumb, and we need to change ourselves. We don’t even realize that we are not alone in being different. Only about 14% of America has naturally blonde hair and around 16% have blue eyes. But, as we get older, instead of stopping to look around at the other 85% that is just like us, we start to dye and straighten our hair, get contact lenses that change our eye color, and even go as far as getting breast implants, just because we are insecure about letting anyone know who we really are. We think that, maybe, if we look the same as all of the other “beautiful” girls, we will finally feel beautiful, too. But of course you won’t. Sure, maybe when you walk down the street, a couple of strangers will wolf- whistle at you, and maybe the popular, stereotypical jock of your school will finally want to kiss you, but in the end, you can only get your confidence you need from the inside of you- not around you. If you don’t have high enough self-esteem to deal with yourself the way you are, than no amount of sticky yellow goop in your hair will change that.
From the moment we hit middle school, we begin to be classified into categories. We can be upper middle class hipsters, or gay, or a jock, or Goth, or “emo.” The list goes on and on forever, and where you stand in this pyramid of social class depends on your ethnicity (and where your family is from), where you live, how you were raised, what you do daily, and, the most important one, however sad it may be- how you look. If your family was originally from Kenya, you now live in New York, and you happen to play basketball, you are automatically “ghetto,” mostly just because you have darker skin. If you don’t fit into the category that you were “sorted” into, you are dismissed as weird, and everyone truly believes that you are- sometimes even yourself. Everyone is afraid to challenge these common social rules, and go against the grain, because they don’t want the other kids in their class to think that they don’t belong- that they aren’t “cool” enough. We spend so much time trying to make sure that everyone thinks we are as cool as them, that we forget that that is not what is important. We forget that we have more to offer to the world than simple sameness. We waste away our lives trying in vain to be exactly the same as everyone else, even though that is not, and never was, what we needed to do to fix ourselves. We don’t need to fix our looks- we need to fix our attitudes. We need to fix our values.
We are all just sitting here. We are like little lost children, jumping in fright when we see even a hint of originality in our peers. We’re just sitting here, while the world grows, and expands, and people die, and cry, and babies are born, and we are stuck in front of a mirror, trying and trying for what can never be, instead of working with what we have. And the world is spinning, spinning, spinning; a blur of brown and green and white, and we don’t even stop to enjoy the view, because we can’t be bothered. And everything that once mattered falls to pieces, and we are left with no idea of what the hell we are going to do next, because we’ve all spent our lives hiding from ourselves. We’ve missed everything that could have changed us, because we wouldn’t look at what was happening around us, and now it is too late. We rush down city streets, cursing the snow as it turns to slush, throwing newspapers away because the articles were too long and too boring. We forget that we are on the verge of another Great Depression. We forget that, in Japan, people are dying from radiation everyday, because it is not “breaking news,” and hasn’t been for a couple of weeks. We forget that we are at war. We don’t even remember that the world- anything at all- exists beyond our pitiful high-school existence. We don’t care enough about the things that are important, like death, and life, and happiness. We care too much about ourselves, and knowing exactly how we are going to be portrayed.
And still, the world is spinning, and people are dying, crying, trying- living. And it is all passing us by, because we just don’t care. So, we all become robots- clones of one another, moving in unison, following in each other’s footsteps, and the worst part is that we won’t even notice until it is too late. Until we are all chirpy blonde Barbies, walking around in the year 2030, wondering why we ever thought that yellow was such a beautiful hair color in the first place. After all, now, in 2030, being a brunette is all the rage.
Age 12, Grade 7
MS 255 Salk School of Science