I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of an oddball. Definitely not the fashionable type.
It started at the age of seven when I was into my magic set, not Care Bears, and got teased for coming into school in my much-loved Laura Ashley dress. Then at 12, my friends noticed my face was covered in freckles: I was a laughing stock. At 15, they liked chart music; I was into alternative rock. The strange girl in The Breakfast Club – she was the character I identified with.
To be honest, growing up, being a ‘total weirdo’ was quite difficult. To be a geek in the 90s was most certainly not chic. And I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to bleach those freckles with a combo of lemon juice and a cream called Fade Out which I think is now banned.
But as I got older, I came to accept that I was ‘different’ – and, in fact, to enjoy it. My friends worked in offices; I did the unthinkable and gave up the daily commute to become a freelance writer. They went to bars; I took up baking, chess, knitting and sewing. They wore sophisticated clothes; I preferred vintage and couldn’t be bothered with the latest makeup, shoes and handbags.
I started to flatter myself that I was free-thinking and original – but suddenly we’re in an era where being different and ‘doing your own thing’ is, well, what everyone is doing. And as Grayson Perry recently explained, wanting to be unique is, in itself, just another middle-class rule.
So I’m starting to wonder if I’m not as original as I like to think. If, in fact, I’m a sheep, blindly following social trends. Because I keep thinking I’m just me, doing my own slightly oddball thing in life. And then a few months later I find I’m part of a herd.
Take naming my son Humphrey five years ago – an old-fashioned, ‘unusual’ name. Turns out my thinking was so conventional it’s becoming almost embarrassing. Every baby I meet these days has a similar name: Alfie, Monty, Violet, Ava, Elsie.
Or take my taste for bright vintage prints and plimsolls. It was my own unfashionable style, I thought; but it’s become totally mainstream.
Ditto sewing, knitting and baking. So I want to learn painting? So does everyone else – my new evening class is packed. My friend Charlotte has a similar situation when it comes to her old hobby for restoring furniture. ‘Now,’ she complains, ‘every fucker buys ‘shabby chic’ painted furniture – and so my ‘look’ is eeeeverywhere’.
In fact, almost all my ‘unique’ interests are part of wider trends (collective unconscious, innit). Like science. Having hated the subject at school, I’m trying to re-educate myself by reading popular science books and visiting aquariums and observatories. I’m currently reading Teach Yourself Mathematics. Weird old me, or so I thought. But I’ve just been sent a report from the Future Laboratory announcing that we’re entering a new age of enlightenment where ‘science is the new black’.
When I asked the fashion photographer Jill Carin Adams about all this, she said: ‘The idea of ‘memes’ fascinates me. How we can think we’re having an original thought, but we’re all pulling from this collective creative pool…it’s not a bad thing, it’s lovely.’
My friend Patricia, though, reckons it’s plain irritating. She explains: ‘I bought my husband a Keep Calm and Carry On poster when it was completely new to the market. I thought it was brilliant (and, haha, original). It’s become so ubiquitous it annoys the hell out of me. I bloody hate KC&CO now – I wince every time I see it on yet another hilarious card.’
The problem is that in an age of internet memes, we’re all trend-setters now – and with fashion constantly looking for something brand new, the more unusual and niche an idea, the more likely it is to become a watered-down mainstream fashion within days.
That’s why Karissa, a New York journalist and therefore my go-to person for hot new trends, gave up on her ‘unique’ hobby. ‘I started blogging about food before I knew it was a thing,’ she says. ‘I thought I was so cool and creative, but then eventually realised I was one of a zillion people – especially when it came to photographing everything you ate. I became annoyingly self-conscious about it, so I quit! Now I just enjoy my meals.’
As for me, it’s actually quite nice to know I’m part of the crowd. Even freckles are super-cool these days. But you know what? Right on cue, mine have faded. You just can’t win.
This article was originally published in Red magazine and is reposted here with the authors permission.
Olivia Gordon is a freelance journalist writing for national newspapers, magazines and websites. She has a strong interest in writing on disability and special needs. Find out more at oliviagordon.com
Olivia’s article on Down’s Syndrome was the original catalyst for me to start my DownWithDad blog. Read it via the Guardian here
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