Scrolling through Tik Tok has become a daily pastime of mine, as it has for most of us over the impending months of quarantine to bring laughter in an uncertain time. However, a certain Tik Tok had me doing everything but laughing. A regular user of the app was showing outfits she would wear if she didn’t think she wouldn’t get bullied for being “basic.” Here is a girl who was afraid to express who she was because she would be labeled “basic.” I empathize with her. We have all been so afraid of being “basic” or “just like everyone else” that we have all molded into being exactly that. Unwilling to truly be ourselves.
While individuality has started to become praised, those who don’t meet societal standards of being “alternative” are ridiculed. As alternative style has become the new trend, the idea of what alternative really is has gotten lost in the midst of its popularity. Jennie Matos, a 16 year old student at The Lovett School , and a co-host of VOX ATL’s ‘GRL TLK’, defines what alternative truly is, saying, “Alt isn’t just baggy jeans and dyed hair. Alt is a mindset. It’s not being afraid to piss people off with who you are.”
Personally, I couldn’t agree with Matos more. The dictionary definition of alternative is relating to behavior that is considered unconventional and is often seen as a challenge to traditional norms. Isn’t the true way to be unconventional by not caring what others think and being yourself when it’s human nature to conform? This is not to say purposefully go against trends, just don’t let trends dictate how you treat yourself and others. Do what makes you comfortable.
Social Media Was “Driving Me Crazy”
Ever since the rise of social media in the early 2000s, individuality has started to become praised with those who go against the status quo being idolized. People who were put down for dressing differently, or even loving differently, have found their communities where they can be accepted. Boys can paint their nails without being shamed (for the most part) and alt style is applauded rather than ridiculed. Mecca, a 17-year old home-schooled content creator, credits the pandemic for giving people the opportunity to accept themselves.
“This pandemic and not being around people has helped me realize, people don’t care if you’re trendy or not because at the end of the day, if you like what you are, why should it matter what someone else thinks,” she says. “Sitting at home during quarantine gave people the opportunity to reflect on themselves and try new things.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. Personally, I found an interest in skateboarding, which I never thought I would do before. Although social media brought us together during the unsure times of quarantine, division still remains a constant on all social media platforms.
It’s human nature to compare yourself to others, so naturally we compare ourselves to influencers and Instagram models which clearly does wonders for our self esteem. Atlanta based actress Tamara Morgan, 18, found herself needing a break from social media.
“There was one time I had a social media break for three months because there is this thing in the industry with girls who look like me, my age range, and Black don’t really get a lot of work fast enough, so when I would go on social media, people I followed were just getting booked,” she says. “All I could think was: ‘When would it be my turn?’ I was just driving myself crazy.”
And true to Tamara’s hardships, this is typically the effect social media has. It drives you crazy. Constantly putting yourself down while putting someone else on a pedestal is a torturous cycle, but social media has had some upsides. It can unite us if we allow it.
Straight Vs. Alt
Everyone wants to be a part of something. It gives a feeling of unity that makes you not feel alone. It’s the reason cliques form in school, on social media, and basically throughout all of society. It is also the reason why labels are such a huge factor of social media. However, as we debate on what the true meanings of these labels are, we also use these labels to unite or divide. The division of “straight” and “alt” Tik Tok perfectly depicts how we use labels to do both.
“Straight” Tik Tok refers to those who participate in popular Tik Tok dances and follow popular Tik Tokers, such as Charli Damelio, while “alt” Tik Tok refers to those who are unique and don’t align with the previous perception of “normal” in society. In the past, people would be ridiculed for being “weird” on social media, so when weird became popular, those who had been put down had finally found their place. Then the superiority complex kicks in and we start to put down those who aren’t like us. But if we are to truly be alt, we have to accept everyone who is being themselves.
In an interview with VOX ATL, Dr. Stacey Kenyon, a psychology major from University of South Carolina and current teacher at Grayson High School, says “most teens want to fit in, but if they do not, then they go the exact opposite way and try to be totally different from everyone. Everyone wants to be accepted and like others, even those that say they do not. It is a human trait.”
These polar reactions seen in youth creates the cliques and labels that continue into adulthood. This goes on and on and the cycle never ends.
So what is the obsession with being different? 14-year old Amaya McGee who attends Dekalb School of Arts, went as far as cutting her hair to stand out from others. “In the African American community, there is a norm that women cutting their hair isn’t feminine,” she explains. “It was about defying the odds.”
It’s natural to want to feel special and being different is exactly what brings that feeling.That’s how trends become popular. We all want to feel different but naturally become the same. As a generation we have created even more definitions of different to set ourselves apart.
“It’s a generational curse,” says homeschooled 17-year old Zariyah Allen. “Miseducation, oppression, societal norms such as workplaces and schooling, and everyone’s individual insecurities keep us from improving as a society.”
Not only do a variety of external factors contribute to these trends, but our genetics code us to follow the trends as well. Most people want to be “stand outs” (if they are extroverted) this can be an achievement- motivation, self-actualization, or operant conditioning in humans.
Conformity is genetically coded into our brains but the most natural thing is being yourself. If you want to wear baggy clothes, wear them. If you want to wear tight clothes, wear them. Live life without being dictated by trends because at the end of the day, being different isn’t setting yourself apart from others. Being different isn’t putting others down to uplift yourself. Being truly different is being your true authentic self and accepting others for doing the same.