Lately I've been thinking that one of the most important lessons I've learned from my time in the Goth scene is how to be confident.
I have a peer group who seem to feel the need to strive endlessly towards generally unattainable perfection, fed to us by the media - you know the drill. The curves of Christina Hendricks or the size zero proportions of supermodels, and anything beyond or in between is somehow 'wrong'. Self-hating is the norm; compliments are viewed as some kind of trickery; every perceived flaw is magnified tenfold.
Goths are by no means immune to this. But in my opinion, actively choosing to present an appearance that varies from conservative norms takes confidence in itself, especially when every passer-by, relative and friend gets an urge to comment or criticise. Taking the leap to do this is quite often the hardest step, but you may find - as I found - that maintaining an alternative appearance over several years helps to build up quite a thick skin, which has helped me no end.
Being confident doesn't mean being arrogant, loud or extroverted (I am a confirmed introvert, and proud of it). Introverts have their own brand of quiet confidence; I'm not saying that we should all be dancing on tables or going first on karaoke night. It also doesn't mean being happy or cheerful all the time. Much like Goth, it isn't an emotional template.
[Tangent: just as being Goth doesn't mean being sad or depressed all the time, you also don't have to present yourself as perky or cheery all the time, whether to combat the stereotype or because a handful of well-known black-clad types present themselves this way. Goth isn't an emotion. Just be you!]
Confidence is, I feel, an important if little-mentioned facet of dark culture. I have read several emails, blog posts and forum comments from Goths who feel that the strength, for want of a more suitable term, that they can derive from being able to express themselves through dark fashion has helped them with difficulties such as eating disorders. I don't mean to trivialise such problems and certainly I don't think that being a Goth can 'cure' mental health concerns, but whether it's the multitude of images showing different body types, the tendency of Goth women to embrace feminist body attitudes or just the general tolerance associated with the scene, for some people it seems to help them accept themselves a little more.
I'm sure that many of you reading this won't need this pep talk - you already know that there is more to a person's worth than their looks or body size, and that no matter your 'flaws' you are already beautiful because you are unique. Your body is wonderful because it's yours, it's the only one you've got, and wouldn't you rather take steps towards accepting that and celebrating it, rather than sniping and sneering at yourself whenever you look in the mirror?
Feeling good about yourself isn't always a picnic, but it's a choice that you can make. (Please, click here to read a little bit about body positivity.)
Here are a few simple changes that I made, that you can make too. It might sound trivial, and you've probably heard some of these before, but it helps.
- Accept compliments. This can be a real learning curve, but stop brushing off compliments - or arguing with them! - and just say thank you.
- Do what makes you feel good. Don't exercise or diet to try to make yourself an 'acceptable' body size, do it because you enjoy it, because it makes you feel good, because you want to. Weight loss does not necessarily equal health, and a healthy outlook does not come second to a healthy body.
- Make a collage on the inside of your wardrobe door of happy, confident (Goth, if you like) women (or men, of course) in all shapes and sizes, quotes that inspire you, and other things that make you feel positive, so that you see it when you come to get dressed every day.
- Operation Beautiful
- Take the time to look after yourself. Little things, like painting your nails a different colour each week or giving yourself a foot rub, remind you that you're worth taking care of and can put a little more pep in your step.