A lot of this theme has become the idea of exhibition: what oddities we choose to display, what we choose to destroy, and why. For me, strangeness is very wrapped up in complexity. We all have so many layers and I am interested in the ways they manifest in private, in public, in love, with intention and by accident.
We make conscious decisions about how to represent ourselves every single day; that much is clear to me. But what has also become clear to me is that trying to frame yourself and others is a catastrophic mistake.
In Henry James’ novel A Portrait of a Lady, the protagonist, Isabel, is highly sought-after and desired. The only true love she ever feels, whilst wading through her suitors and her insecurities, is a platonic one towards her best friend. She describes Ralph as being able to make her life “more spacious,” whereas her husband is “the house of suffocation.” Isabel’s marriage has trapped her by taking away her ability to express and define the space she occupies. Part of this is self-imposed.
That is what we should chase. When someone makes your life “more spacious.” When we can celebrate the multiplicity of expression and stop trying to force ourselves to fit certain molds. Societally-imposed molds, significant-other-imposed molds, friend-group-imposed molds, self-imposed molds.
Halsey, my personal lady love and queen of #goals, once told Rolling Stone: "I don't want to be Halsey: America's Sweetheart, or Halsey: Bad Girl. If you can sum up my career in a clickbait headline, I've done something wrong."
There’s something to be said for embracing certain labels. Zodiac signs, MBTI placements, Buzzfeed quizzes, pet names, etc. We collect ideas of who we are from anywhere we can find a hint of it—anything that resonates with us. And these can help place stepping stones on our paths to self-realization. I am a Leo, an INFJ, according to Buzzfeed I am most like Phoebe Buffay in the Central Perk gang, and I love when my friend Daniela calls me “peach.” But more importantly, I transcend all of these things. They are like small stitches in the patchwork quilt of my life, where everything I do and think and experience combines to form who I am. We are endless sets of dualisms and arenas of contradiction.
I am a massive proponent for the power of metaphor, as well: representing yourself as something other than what you physically are (i.e. Nicki Minaj yelling “I’m a motherfucking monster,” or my favorite Sylvia Plath line: “I am the magician’s girl who does not flinch"). But these feel less like labels to me, and more like refusing to be boxed in—when you embody something other than your actual body. When you lay claim to many different forms.
From my earliest memory I have been taught to survey myself in every action. I walk down the street, I cry in my room, and I can scarcely avoid trying to picture myself walking or crying. I am always trying to lift out of myself and evaluate, critique, and so I am the gazer and the gazed in one. It is hard to unlearn connecting your sense of self to how you are being seen.
But it seems wholly useless to try and control how people think of me. Throughout so much of my life, I had this idea of who I am being my appearance, what I like, who I hang out with, where I live. But even people I’ve never met, people I don’t like, songs I can’t stand, streets I’ve never been on all have had a role in my life: as a human being made of star stuff, I am unbounded energy and nothing concrete defines me. We are the meaning-making creatures. We will continue to draw conclusions about the world around us, and every time we do, it will be inadequate.
Moreover, I’ve never known myself more productively receptive of other people’s thoughts, feelings, ailments, etc. than the months I’ve spent loving myself first. When I’m not focused on whether or not people like me, I have space in my head for so much more.