The Invention of Bland and the Death of Orginality
As I went to print, I heard the sad news of Stan Lee’s death. I wish to dedicate this post in his honour.
My eldest has a moustache and this makes me proud.
I moustache (see what I did there) what’s the big deal with that, you ask?
So, his tache started out as an attempt to grow a beard, however, when it comes to growing facial hair he fares just like his dad, slow burners. On the other hand, if he’d had my menopausal sprout growth, it would be a different story, he’d look like Zeus by now. But in fairness, whilst the beard wasn’t happening, the tache was resplendent full-on Seventies porn star. So, he came home one day declaring “that’s it, I’m shaving this shit off, but the tache is staying.” It’s amazing what a few episodes of Narco’s can do!
You wouldn’t believe the brouhaha a little facial hair can make. But that’s because it’s different, and that can disconcert folk. Despite much ribbing from teammates, work colleagues and his mates, the tache has stayed. I’ve always encouraged both son’s to embrace their individuality with no fucks given. In wearing the tache he made a statement, that he is his own man. Although he did say on leaving the cinema after watching Bohemian Rhapsody, he did wonder if folk thought he was maybe part of a Freddie Mercury tribute band. But the fabulous Freddie aside, this post isn’t really about lip rugs, it’s about individuality and how today, it’s as rare as hen’s teeth.
Normal Is For People Without Any Courage
When it comes to being different, I got a head start. In the ’70s, being illegitimate was still a huge stigma. Made worse still when growing up in a place where everything is alike. The same faces with the same attitudes living in identikit houses, one indistinguishable from the next. Social status town, all private number plates and small minds. Funny, always remember a conversation I had with a person of what you’d call ‘proper’ money. They commented “It’s always baffled me why everybody in this town has a private plate. Why would you want people to know your comings and goings? It’s just so terribly, terribly common.” I’m guessing common doesn’t mean popular.
But I digress. Nothing compounds misfit more than when you don’t really look like anyone in your immediate family. With green eyes and olive skin, I didn’t look local either so it was difficult not to feel like the proverbial sore thumb. People are cruel, none more so when they spot a dissimilar and fuck, do they enjoy pointing it out, no matter what age you are. But hey in time, I came to thank them. Like my green eyes (it’s the rarest eye colour, only 2% of the world’s population apparently) I discovered instead of being afraid of being different, I became terrified of being just like them.
Individuality is like a fingerprint, unique to you unless you’re a twin. Thought I’d say it, save the pedantic’s among us. Now you wouldn’t want to have the same fingerprints as someone else; especially in the event of murder. Yet, many seem willing to discard what makes them distinct, quicker than you can say fast fashion. Now I’m not saying be different for the sake of it, that’s disingenuous. My youngest is different from his brother, yet still doesn’t fit the mould. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin.
There have and will always be trends, which have gone hand in glove with the art of beautification. To some degree or another, we are all influenced by fads and fashions. Being a child of Seventies, and a teen of the Eighties, remember with a mixture of horror and nostalgia, my pale blue flared jumpsuit paired with ABBA clogs (god, how I loved them.) Given this information, perhaps I am not best suited to give advice, but I will never criticise anybody for doing what makes them feel good. I get it, we’ve all wanted to fit in, been young and impressionable. How much of us had a Wham Choose Life T-Shirt and Sarsaparilla jeans? A school disco wasn’t complete without them.
Make-up’s been worn since time immemorial. Think black kohl liner, Cleopatra style, Native Americans in war paint or doll-like Geisha’s. Before the internet took over, make-up was a form of self-expression. It was exciting and fun, with pocket-money in hand, who didn’t love a Saturday afternoon scouring Woolies and Boots? Wearing makeup was also a great way of rebelling against your parents or advertising your musical allegiance. Mods and Rockers. New Romantics. Goth’s and Punks. Whether you were Siouxsie Sioux, Robert Smith or Boy George, chances are, cosmetics played a part.
I was six when I first saw Bowie, it was on the cover of Alladin Sane. He was an absolute game-changer. Then age thirteen along came Madonna, all middle finger, sexual liberation and fuck you boys feminism. There was no going back. So I ask? Of today’s pop stars, is there anybody out there that comes close? As popular as they are, Little Mix or One Erection just don’t cut it. Whilst there are mainstream pop stars with presence and genuine talent, it’s still manufactured, all squeezed into the Industry mould. I know who there are, but I genuinely can’t tell the difference between Arianna Grande, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. Most of it is safe, uniform and boring as fuck. Nowadays, the aesthetic is different and not in a good way.
You’ll Turn Out Ordinary If You’re Not Careful
I blame The Kardashians, they started it. The first of the online influencers, contouring their way into history. Featureless, matte, cartoon-like skin. Disney doe lashes and filler lips, slathered in glossy beige. Beige is a neutral colour; the equivalent of nothingness. Neutral, the dictionary terms it; having no strongly marked or positive characteristics or features. We now live in a culture where looking neutral is the benchmark, personality vanishing like the lines on a filtered face. Earlier this year Instagram hit 1 billion users. Initially, the platform championed diversity and celebrated individuality, but then the marketing men came sniffing. Via the likes of Kylie Jenner, they re-packaged their age-old beauty myth and pumped that toxic shit out for a fresh market. And here lies the danger, KJ is slick, produced and surgically enhanced.
I’ve seen it first hand. My eldest has said many times finding someone quirky or a bit different is almost impossible. Or when they do meet up, they often look nothing like their profile pictures. My youngest has a girlfriend, who is as smart as a whip, empathic, sassy and stunning. It breaks my heart when she tells me, that she and her friends have considered lip fillers and Botox. She is eighteen. Social media is the currency of a generation, nearly everyone owns a mobile phone and there is no escape. One only has to take a quick look online, big-name teen brands such as Forever 21, Boohoo and Misguided all use KJ doppelgängers. Whilst it is lazy marketing, her likeness is EVERYWHERE. No surprises when a single Insta post from KJ, can earn her a reportedly $1 million dollars. There’s gold in them there algorithm’s.
Then there’s fashion. Vloggers selling a gazillion followers the secret to looking Insta worthy. With hauls the size of a small country, which if you’ve watched Stacey Dooley’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets is not that far from the truth. They are very clever, they act like friends sharing secret finds, they’re not. With that many followers, sorry to tell you, that ‘unique’ outfit is on every high street and nightclub across the land. As for cosmetic surgery? No thanks. I love my face, especially my freckles and wee beauty spot at the corner of my top lip. The wrinkles, well they’re part of my story too (a slightly dark albeit interesting one.) I also prefer to have a face that is expressive, Botox would totally ruin my resting bitch face and my ability to raise just one eyebrow, Scarlett ‘O’ Hara style.
However, I also know why so many people opt for cosmetic enhancement, it’s the legacy of the beauty myth. A lethal combination of social media and marketing is slowly eroding people’s self-worth. Sean Parker, the co-founder of Facebook admitted they designed algorithms to be addictive. They monitor our behaviour, track our insecurities via Google searches, and from pop up ads, sell us products tailored to those insecurities. Addiction is not a by-product of social media, it is part of the design. Without a doubt, conformity kills creativity, it crushes dreams and keeps us down. It stops us asking questions and challenging the status quo.
“Mark My Words. NOBODY Will Listen To Queen”
But we don’t have to comply, rules are there for the breaking. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend an unconventional upbringing and perhaps a moustache is a step too far, although it was good enough for Frida and Freddie. As Sherlock Holmes said, the solution lies in the problem. YOU are the solution. You are what you eat. So be mindful of what you consume, curate your social media feed. In my case, I only follow pages and sites that inspire or educate. If it makes you feel bad, don’t look at it. I carry a book with me everywhere I go, read at bedtime and don’t check my phone first thing in the morning. Unless you are a masochist, there’s nothing surer to ruin your day than seeing something that makes you feel less. Remind yourself, no-one posts their failures. Protect your mental health.
The system is also stripping us of our empathy, technology has desensitized us and we’ve stopped seeing others as human. Keyboard warriors and trolls abound. So, why not, once a day, take the time to think about something or someone other than yourself. Think before you speak. Be kind. Standing in a queue or waiting for the bus, instead of scrolling through your phone, smile and say hello. You never know, that could be the only human contact that person’s had in weeks. Recycle. Stop buying single-use plastic. Put your phone away or if that’s going to send you into withdrawals, download a Screen Time app. It shows you just how much time you’re wasting on mindless shite. Time is precious, choose wisely.
Be mysterious, keep them guessing. Leave them wanting more. Be a peaceful influence. Stop making stupid people famous. Buy that dress you think your friends won’t like. Go deny the big name shops, they make enough money as it is. Buy from independent retailers or shop secondhand. You’ll be doing the planet a favour, and she needs all the help she can get. Put YOUR stamp on it, there’s no better feeling when someone asks “love that, where did you get it?” And you can reply”thank you, it’s vintage, darling.”
If Freddie had listened to Ray Foster, there’d be no one singing “Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?” Take five and contemplate a world without misfits, mystics and troubadours. What if Bowie had stayed David Robert Jones? Conformity would have meant no Oscar Wilde, Quentin Crisp or Kate Bush (imagine never hearing Wuthering Heights?) Shakespeare or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Renaissance or Galileo, see above 😉 We must fight to keep the kinks, quirks and scars. Stay weird, warts n all. Genital warts being the exception, you’d need to see a Dr about that.
‘We’re four misfits who don’t belong together, we’re playing for other misfits. They’re the outcasts right at the back of the room. We’re pretty sure they don’t belong either. We belong to them.’ Freddie Mercury.