For me, identity has always been a difficult topic. For years, I only had a hazy conception of my interests, personality, and values. It may seem a bit weird, but I feel that part of my difficulty with forming an identity was because my family is poor.
I’m sure a lot of you will remember middle school and high school as a time when you and your friends were secretly dying each others hair, fighting with your parents for that new piercing, saving up to get those hot new shoes. This is the time when we’re figuring out who we are, and part of the way we do that is by deciding how to present our body.
Unfortunately when you’re poor you don’t have many options for expressing yourself using your body. My clothes came only from hand-me-downs and donations. Makeup was out of the question(I mean, $9 for mascara? C’mon). I would grow my hair out long so we wouldn’t have to pay for frequent haircuts. But man, when the day came to chop all that hair off, I planned my hairstyle for weeks!
If our minds and bodies were entirely separate things, the problems I described would be minor problems at best. However you don’t just have clothes hanging on your body, how your body presents affects how you think. You don’t just wear the suit, you become the businessman. Because I couldn’t play around with clothes styles and makeup, I felt like I had no control over my body. As my clothes styles got more jumbled from years of donation, so did my sense of self.
Fast forward to college. I’m an undecided freshman with a steady income, overwhelmed with new opportunities to invent myself with clothes, majors, clubs, and new friendships. I’ve realized that although I missed out on a self that could have been, I now value who I’m becoming so much more. Without that experience, I would never have thought about how important my body is to my sense of self.
The body is an important marker of identity for us all. We use pictures and avatars that look similar to our bodies (or our ideal bodies) as markers for ourselves. We alter our bodies in numerous ways to express ourselves. We use dress to signify our class, gender, interests, and values. Society is based upon the assumption that we shape and adorn our bodies. But sometimes society shapes our body for us.