Form or Fashion: Dress to impress for right reasons

The Facebook generation has grown up on stage. Nearly every teen and young adult has an electronic wall of carefully selected flattery. The tremendous pressure to get noticed often plays out at school. Proud owners of sagging pants will flash their boxer shorts like semi-plucked peacock feathers, waddling to and fro like a group of penguins as if to answer a mating call. Girls are under the greatest pressure to physically stand out, and their most notable efforts come across neither as liberating, comfortable, nor well-timed for a day of learning and concentration.

By Casey O’Connell:

The Facebook generation has grown up on stage. Nearly every teen and young adult has an electronic wall of carefully selected flattery. The tremendous pressure to get noticed often plays out at school. Proud owners of sagging pants will flash their boxer shorts like semi-plucked peacock feathers, waddling to and fro like a group of penguins as if to answer a mating call. Girls are under the greatest pressure to physically stand out, and their most notable efforts come across neither as liberating, comfortable, nor well-timed for a day of learning and concentration.

To be clear, it is healthy to be proud of your appearance. Attracting attention is part of the human experience. Nobody should be judged for wanting to be admired or desired. Part of growing up is experimenting and learning to find that balance between self-expression and self-respect. Many students already have this down. Some couldn’t care less, and there is admittedly something charming about that too.

[pullquote]No one wants to be seen as relentlessly competitive for the attention and the envy of others. No one wants to be perceived as insecure about likability or social status. Yet those who consistently present themselves in restrictive or suggestive clothing, or make a habit of baring body parts, skin and undergarments that are only supposed to be seen in private or at the beach, will risk making these exact impressions.[/pullquote]

My big-brotherly concerns relate to the perceptions and distractions that come with trying too hard to get noticed at school. No one wants to be seen as relentlessly competitive for the attention and the envy of others. No one wants to be perceived as insecure about likability or social status. Yet those who consistently present themselves in restrictive or suggestive clothing, or make a habit of baring body parts, skin and undergarments that are only supposed to be seen in private or at the beach, will risk making these exact impressions. Assumptions will be made about intellect, vulnerability, emotional stability, and wholesomeness. This attracts people who are skilled at feigning interest in your personality and your personal wellness. Friendships and relationships based mostly on looks are not typically known for their quality or longevity. Some students are already accustomed to the hassles, heartbreak and wisdom associated with learning this the hard way.

For those who make meticulous or calculated decisions in the mirror while getting ready for school, I pose the following questions: What messages are you trying to send? What messages don’t you want to send? The unsettling answers are often clear to others before they are clear to the person in the mirror. Your intended audience tends to see the very insecurities you are trying to hide, and the perceptions you wish to avoid are often the first to be embraced. In contrast, when we acknowledge our intentions and reconcile them with our appearances before stepping out the door, we usually present the best versions of ourselves.

In a world full of physically beautiful people, it is just as easy to be forgotten as to get noticed for your looks in the first place. The more disproportionately you rely upon your appearance, the more replaceable you are. Confidence and self-esteem, when based on such a shoddy foundation, will deteriorate as we age. Excessive and noticeable cosmetics can disguise this temporarily, and some people will later turn to surgery. But it is only those with the serenity to be themselves and the determination to grow and evolve, who will turn to their minds and hearts and cultivate their humanity from within.

A more enduring foundation is your creativity and work ethic, your steadfast loyalty to friends and family, and the sort of intellectual and spiritual abundance that is punctuated with lasting respect. This is a desirability for which you will be most deeply loved and admired.

O’Connell, a guest writer, is a chemistry teacher.

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