In defense of superficiality

Katie Zhou

Remember when we used to agonize over what outfit we would wear on the first day of school? We’d try on endless combinations of our new back-to-school clothes until we found the perfect ensemble to flex on everyone else. My sister and I used to put on fashion shows for each other; she told me what colors looked good on me, I told her if I didn’t like certain silhouettes together. I remember going so far as to plan out all of my best outfits for the whole first week of school, making sure to showcase the best ones first. Over the course of the year, though, that excitement would start to fade: as studies got tougher and exams loomed closer, sweatshirts and leggings started to be more commonly seen at school than crisp new jackets. 

 

2020 has felt pretty much like a dreary, sweatshirt-and-leggings day since mid-March. Now, each day we wake up, go to our online classes, grab a meal or two from WU, go to more online meetings, study, and repeat. It’s hard not to feel like a hamster aimlessly running on its wheel, wallowing in clouds of doom, gloom, and Zoom. I often get the unpleasant sensation that the world is spinning entirely out of my control, like the darkness in all of our lives is destined to remain forever. But I’ve realized that by finding and taking hold of the bits and pieces in life that I can control, I feel like I can bring a little light back into my days. 

 

Our physical appearance is largely composed of the clothes we’re wearing. This then affects how we are perceived by other people, but more importantly, ourselves. Sure, this year may have been a complete and utter drag. Sure, maybe we aren’t going out to Shooters or Devine’s with what seems like half the student body anymore. But by wearing sweats on a daily basis, are we actually comforting ourselves – or reinforcing that sense of monotony? 

One of the most enjoyable parts of even going out, for me, is the lead-up process. Getting ready is a sacred ritual: I love dressing up and I always have. Over time, I’ve come to view my sartorial choices as more than just simple external decisions; they have come to be a major part of my self-expression every day. Like most other people, I definitely went through a phase where I exclusively wore workout clothes at home, and while I might have been comfortable, I didn’t feel like me. Call it superficiality if you will, but looking at myself in the mirror wearing an old t-shirt was hard. It was like losing part of myself, like I was a shell of who I could be. The version of me that put no effort into my outfit felt like a badly drawn pencil outline of who I fundamentally am. 

But when I choose to wear something that puts a smile on my face, that translates to who I am that day. I look more confident, I feel more confident, and I actually become more confident because of it. That makes those 5 extra minutes I put into my outfit each morning completely worth it, even if the only people who see it in its entirety are the baristas at Beyu when I grab a coffee or the two people I chat with at WU. That version of me is vibrant, three-dimensional, living in full color.

 

Most of all, if I wear something that I’m proud of, that pride in one aspect of my character also motivates me to perform my best elsewhere; putting in that extra modicum of creativity in my outfit inspires me to be that much more creative and capable in all that I do. When I pick my clothes in the morning, I ask myself: is anything special about this? Does anything about it stand out? And if not, what can I change about it? And if I can ask those questions and be that picky about what I wear for no one but myself, why not ask those same questions about all that I do: for school, for friends, for family? 

Some people have turned to crafting extravagant, Euphoria-inspired makeup looks to help them cope with quarantine. Others make music, and yet others write as a creative outlet. I wear (what I think is) cool shit, and no one gets to trivialize that for me or take that choice away. And that might make me superficial, but in this context, that’s a label I embrace. This kind of superficiality is limited to myself and elevates who I am. It’s a superficiality that stems from my understanding of how the way I dress and present myself can impact my mood and my identity. And being a better version of myself, for myself, gives me the capability and drive to be a better person for the world around me.