Fashion, Style and Authenticity

Youths fulfill an important function within society. Youths are frequently referenced as the future of a nation. The idea that the upcoming generations will achieve more than the previous generations is an important driver for political and social policies. However, despite their ultimately important role in human society, the legal and political status of youths is precarious. While they are fully human, they are not independent and they face significant limitations of their freedom imposed by their parents, elders and government.

In the young adult’s search for meaning and identity, both individually and within the larger societal context, words like “fashion,” “style,” and “authenticity” become highly significant. They do not merely refer to the trappings of style in clothing and personal appearance but to behavior, preferences, and choices as well. These concepts have become center points of Pakistani youth culture, because adolescents and young adults naturally seek definition and self-identity, making the idea of being in style and being authentic appealing. It gives adolescents and young adults a sense of belonging to their social group as well as a sense of self-identity.

Fitting into one’s social group is one of the most important components of youth culture, and a sense of style is one of the primary ways that youth achieve this. Style, especially, is a means for youth to not only define themselves but to define the boundaries of their group.

Interestingly, while youth like to think of themselves as independent and having a unique identity, the definition of style that they adopt is inevitably created by someone else and very often that “someone else” is a form of media. For instance, pop music is singularly formulaic in that it incorporates a standardized format of rising and falling notes, structure, and theme. Even alternative forms of music follow a specific format. Nevertheless, even within a standardized form, individuals create identity, both social and individual, through the choices they make regarding those forms. Using the ‘tool’ of style, then, youth culture defines itself by the choices it makes regarding the music, clothing, activities, and preferences.

Individual authenticity, on the other hand, can be compromised for the larger sense of group identity that style creates. Whereas some adolescents may not necessarily like the styles they see, they adopt them anyway, adhering to them because it helps them feel that sense of belonging.

Social and individual identity can coexist and commingle in everyday life. Nevertheless, very often problems arise because the young adult has a much stronger and well-defined sense of the identity of social groups, both their youth culture identity and that of the larger mainstream culture, than they do their own individual identity. Lacking this sense of meaning on an individual level, the styles and fashions of the social group disrupt their own authenticity by precluding individuality and the natural differences of opinion that arise between people. As a result of suppressing their own individuality or of mindlessly adhering to social norms, young adults can end up feeling hypocritical and meaningless.

Style, then, often supersedes authenticity in youth culture. Nevertheless, style can give young adults a sense of identity that they may not feel or know individually. Likewise, the choices that young adults make in style helps them form their individual identities through allowing them to present a unique expression of who they are and to what social group they belong. The relationship between style, authenticity, and youth culture is a dynamic one in which both the individual and the culture play an active role in the formation of identity and the expression of authenticity. While this balance between individual and social identity, between the activity of style on the individual and that of the individual’s authentic self, can and does get disrupted in the lives of young adults, the process of identity formation and individual expression continues unabated.

Perhaps more important is an implicit sweeping statement which runs throughout their lifetimes. Youths in their engagement with politics are essentially represented as either middle-of-the-road democrats, secular and absorbed into mainstream Western societies, or as radical and possibly violent. This is a gross over-simplification at best, but one which is unfortunately common to much supposedly expert opinion. The reality is that youths’ understanding of the relationship between their beliefs and their political engagements is as highly diverse as anyone else. One just needs to look on the Internet to get a taste of diversity: consider the thoroughly non-political Western-style pop videos of second – and third generation Europeans from the Indian subcontinent; European and North American youth who use punk, metal and experimental electronic music to express their uncompromising positions on Palestine, or who find no contradiction between being a radical bra-burning feminist. Similar range of expressions can be found in other e-contexts such as MySpace and Facebook, or indeed the Middle Eastern bloggers who have become central to the new media in the region. It can be considered an acute and the cumulative psychological effects of government, media, and social exclusion, and the resultant internal exile on the psychology of youth in the Diaspora.

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