“You’re such a goth, Tristan!”
I heard these words way too often during my middle school. I didn’t think I was “goth” or “skater” or anything. I was just dressing how I wanted and being criticized for it. I never knew cargo shorts, a band t-shirt, and a wallet chain were such outlandish things to wear. I cared back then what people thought and desperately wanted to be accepted.
Since elementary school, I have always dressed differently from the other people in my town. When I started getting called labels and names in middle school, I was hurt. I became shy and reserved, misanthropic and angry. I couldn’t take the labels and names, I retaliated. I got into fights. I couldn’t take the names anymore.
But after all the fighting, still nothing had changed. I was still screamed at in the hallways. I was still the nonconforming kid that people could take their hate out on. Their hate hit me like knives, every name chipping away at me until there was nothing left but a whittled down shell of what I had once been. What was a middle school student to do but bend to their will?
One day, I put on a polo shirt and jeans. The clothes felt like a cheap, itchy Halloween costume I couldn’t wait to take off. I had previously considered such dress practically formal wear and hated wearing it. But kids talked to me, girls thought I was cute. The facade worked but I hated every moment I kept up the act. Was that how it had to be?
In high school, I realized that conforming wasn’t worth hating myself. I hadn’t gained many more friends; my close friends had stayed with me through all of it. So I thought to myself, “If I could wear anything, what would I wear?” Colorful clothes, tight clothes, clothes I had always seen worn by punk bands and hardcore bands that I adored, clothes I needed to have. So I bought them, I wore them, I loved them. I was criticized, only this time I didn’t care. Kids realized that the names didn’t affect me anymore, and they stopped the criticisms. Some even respected me for it.
I wasn’t shy anymore either; in fact, I was outgoing. It was more than the fashion of my clothes; it was the feeling of self-expression and the happiness it gave me. I was comfortable with myself for the first time in my life, and I learned that I had to be myself that freshmen year. I learned that I had the power to dress how I want, to be who I want, and as long as I like who that person is, no amount of criticism can put me down. I’m not emo, I’m not a goth, I’m not a scene kid, I’m Tristan and I believe in dressing how I want to, not how others want me to.
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