The Death of Personality in the Age of Aesthetic 

Saturday, July 18

By Ash Haslett Cuff

In the world of social media we have become obsessed with our image, with making ourselves fit into certain niches in order to be marketable to others. These niches come in the form of ‘aesthetics’, which is basically a fancy way of saying ‘pre-packaged self image’. This started out as a way to describe fashion sense, maybe music taste, but has come to dictate the personalities and actions of millions of young people around the world. Subcultures have always existed and probably always will; From the mods and rockers, surfers and greasers of the 50s and 60s to the preps and jocks of early noughties teen flicks, adolescence is a time of self discovery and finding your ‘niche’ in the social world. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but it can get to a point where the type of shoes you wear, the music you listen to and the way you decorate your bedroom makes up your personality in easily digestible, marketable terms so that people will be able to tell if they want to befriend you at a single glance. Having a fringe isn't a personality trait.

In the age of the aesthetic, where do we draw the line between image and personality? What does personality even mean if it lacks the superficiality that comes from ready made branding? It has become so easy to dress a certain way and carry certain accessories in place of developing an actual identity. Having a hobby or favouring a certain kind of music shouldn’t be the storyboard for your entire personality. Sure, you listen to Cigarettes After Sex but you don’t need to develop a nicotine addiction, bleach your hair and move to Brooklyn. However if you do move to Brooklyn, these things may occur naturally. 

From a young age we are forced to develop a brand, a way of marketing ourselves to say ‘look at me, I am this type of person!’ and that is a lot to ask of anyone, especially a thirteen or fourteen year old. We’re essentially teaching them that they’ve got to align their interests with their outer image and they’re to maintain this in order to make friends. A thirteen year old can barely maintain their own bedroom, nevermind a ‘brand.’ The amount of change they’ll go through in those years is monumental and they have enough to deal with without the added pressure of image maintenance. 

I understand the appeal of an aesthetic. Becoming your own person is a daunting task and so the idea that you can follow certain steps to undertake a ready made persona sounds very appealing, especially to a young teenager. However now that we have split groups of people in this way it discourages them from branching out, trying new things for fear it will mess up their carefully curated image. We’ve created a generation split by Doc Martens vs. Adidas, tote bags vs. bum bags, which has killed the spark of originality in many of them who will grow up and discover that there’s more to identity than you can put on a mood board and then where will they be? Frantically searching Pinterest to supply them with a sense of self at 33? Please.

I have been down the ‘changing-my-aesthetic’ rabbit hole so many times, curating my wardrobe, my Spotify playlists and wall decor to ascribe to the image I longed to project. From Emo to Alternative to Dark Academia to Hipster I have endlessly browsed Pinterest and Instagram to find inspiration for my new personality, as if it were something I could build up from scratch. It wasn’t until embarrassingly recently that I grew fed up with this endless curation only to find I was left with another problem: What is my personality without the exterior? Who am I without a deep seated dependence on aesthetics? The sorry reality of it is that I forgot how to exist in a mindset where visuals played no part in who I was. Sure, I still don’t really know who I am but at least I can explore that on my own terms rather than those laid out by other clueless youth. 

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