Of Defining Yourself By Other People

Hello Snarklings! The Lady of the Manners is finally rousing herself from some much-needed napping, only to realize that the holiday season is upon us! With that in mind, the Lady of the Manners is working on a simply enormous holiday gift guide type of post, full of suggestions and clicky-links to Goth and Goth-friendly artists and retailers. However, that doesn’t mean that the Lady of the Manners is not going to look at reader questions, and this installment of Gothic Charm School looks at two different sides of the issue: allowing other people to define who you are.

Fae sent the following question:

Dear Lady Manners,

I am a Goth, however I am very low-key about it. Still being relatively young with a rather conservative family forces me to be a bit more subtle about my Gothy-ness (though most friends say that it is still obvious). I do not question myself or my tastes, but others seem to.

I used to spend time with another girl who considers herself Goth (I shall keep my own opinions about it quiet…). She was rather insistent that if I was not full out frilly Goth then I was not really Goth. I dislike wearing heavy make-up and must keep my wardrobe subtle, so in her opinion, I am not Goth.

Is there any advice you can give me to make her see that HER particular brand of Goth doesn’t have to be EVERYONE’S Goth?

Thank-You,

Fae

Congratulations Fae, you have now met one of the quintessential cliches of gothdom: the Gother-Than-Thou type. The person who believes that their version of Goth is the One True Form of Gothness, and that anyone who doesn’t conform to their (usually rather narrow) guidelines is not a Real Goth.

Every subculture and fandom has people who will loudly proclaim “I’m more [fill-in-the-blank] than YOU, and you’re doing it WRONG” at the slightest provocation, not just Goth. But because the Goth community has a perception of being elitist, the Gother-Than-Thou types can seem particularly visible and vocal. Allow the Lady of the Manners to let you in on a little secret: they’re wrong. People who insist that their way is the One True Way are almost always people who … oh gracious, there’s no other way to put this, they are people who, deep in their black little hearts, are worried that they are Doing It Wrong, that they aren’t a Real Goth. If they talk about what is and isn’t really Goth, it helps them quiet that little voice of doubt that tells them someone else may call them a fraud.

Which is ridiculous, of course. For all that the Lady of the Manners jokes about them, there are no Goth Points, no GothCard, and no all-powerful and secret Cabal of ElderGoths who give people a black, spooky stamp of approval. (For one thing, we can never agree on the final logo design!) Not being a full-out frilly Goth with wildly-colored hair and tons of makeup just means that it probably takes you less time to get ready in the morning (or afternoon, if you have a semi-nocturnal schedule much like the Lady of the Manners does these days). There is no final arbitrator of Gothness, no matter what some people say.

Yes, there are certain visual signifiers that Goths gravitate toward, and elaborate clothing and makeup are some of them. However, these are not required to be a Goth. Some people aren’t interested in such things, but still adore the music and literature. Some people, such as yourself, Fae, are not in a position where they can be as flamboyant as they may prefer. That doesn’t mean that they’re less of a Goth, it just means they have different opinions, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

You asked if the Lady of the Manners had any advice to make this person see that her particular brand of Goth doesn’t have to be everyone’s Goth. Sadly, the answer is no. Oh, you can quote the previous paragraphs to her, but the Lady of the Manners would be willing to bet at least a cupcake that it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. When people believe that their way is the only way, it doesn’t matter what arguments or rebuttals are presented to them. They will almost certainly disregard anything said, dismissing all of it with a wave of their hand and the ironclad belief that they’re right and you’re wrong and being foolish.

So what should you do? Smile (sweetly or icily, it’s up to you), and say something along the lines of, “That’s your opinion”, or “We’ll just have to agree to disagree”. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to defend yourself or change their mind, just let them go on their opinionated way. Besides, people who set themselves up as arbitrators of Real Goth eventually run into someone who is even Gother-Than-THEM, and find themselves on the uncomfortable receiving end of one of those “… but you’re doing it wrong, and not really a Goth” decrees. So again, don’t waste your time trying to change her mind. Instead, focus on the things that you enjoy.

The next reader question is not quite the flip side to Fae’s question, but is closely related. What should you do when you keep comparing yourself in an unflattering way to someone else?


Dear Lady of the Manners,

I am writing to you because I have a goth-related problem that I’m not quite sure how to deal with. Its a weight/self image issue and also a jealousy issue. You see I go to a university where there are very very few goths, maybe 4 or 5. There’s me, then a few acquaintances that I don’t really see much.

Anyway, there’s this one girl that I can’t help but be insanely jealous of. Her style is very close to mine, we like a lot of the same things, but she’s very pretty and much thinner than me. She can get away with wearing short skirts and bustiers and look good in them, while I just look like a…for lack of a better word a “Gothopotomus” if I tried to wear the same thing. I mean I bear her no ill will, she’s really nice and we get along fairly well, but I always feel second rate when she’s around. I’ve taken advantage of the Victorian goth style with long sleeves and hemlines to cover up everything because of my weight.

But there are still times when I feel like I can’t do the things I want to do because I’d be copying her. Like this time she was talking about this set of cleaver hair clips she found online, and I’d been considering buying the exact ones.

Or there are also times when I feel frumpy compared to her even when I’m wearing my tightest corset and my best red lipstick. But my main issue is I always feel like a fraud, like a second rate goth when she’s around because people seem to like her better. She always gets cast in the local films or haunted houses that are looking for a ‘goth girl.’ She makes a prettier, better put together goth girl than I do. I mean, I’ve been dressing this way for 7 years but she wears it better.

She looks like what I’ve always wanted to look like, the girl with the perfect slim figure and perfect pale skin. The alluring vamp, the temptress. But I don’t look like that at all, I just look goofy and matronly. I’m not quite sure what to do about it.

Sincerely,
Viridiean

Oh Viridiean, the Lady of the Manners is completely sympathetic to your issues, especially the part about wanting to look like something you’re not. For example, the Lady of the Manners has also longed to look elegantly feral and like a gorgeous predatory vamp, but has (mostly!) come to terms with simply not having the bone structure for it, and instead looking like a spooky and whimsical cartoon character.

You are not alone in looking at people you consider prettier than you and being jealous; the Lady of the Manners suspects that it’s a flaw that is hard-wired into the human condition. But! Letting it gnaw at you and make you feel bad about yourself is not the answer. It’s important to remember that no one (and the Lady of the Manners means NO ONE) has a perfect life, and that no matter how envious you are of this girl and her looks, there are certainly people that she envies just as much.

However, what is even more important to realize (and remember) is that comparing yourself to someone else and letting that keep you from doing what you want is an extremely bad idea. In fact, it’s more than an extremely bad idea; it’s soul-destroying and can lead into the trap of not doing anything, because so-and-so does it better so why should you even bother.

Be warned, the Lady of the Manners is going to get a tiny bit vehement and belligerent here: DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP. Tell your brain to shut up, and so what if it thinks that this other girl is prettier, thinner, or a better Goth than you? None of those things matter. What matters is being true to yourself, and being kind to yourself. Yes, some of these are shop-worn self-help cliches, but that doesn’t make them any less true. You need to treat yourself the way you want other people to treat you. Dress the way you want to dress, and for heaven’s sake, stop thinking of yourself as a “Gothopotomus”. Thinking less of yourself and thinking of yourself as a fraud isn’t going to make things better, and it certainly isn’t going to somehow transform you into that other girl. There comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to accept who they are, and then do the best they can with that. Which means, dear Viridiean, that while the jealousy and self-esteem issues you’re struggling with are completely understandable, they’re holding you back from being the most wonderful and intriguing person you can be.

Now, the Lady of the Manners knows all too well that telling yourself to not think like that is easier said than done. It takes vigilance and practice. When you realize you’re comparing yourself to this other girl, stop and ask yourself if you’d talk to a friend like that. Then concentrate on something about yourself that you like; your eyes, your voice, your skill with words, your sense of humor, something. Do this every time you catch yourself in that loop of self-belittlement.

One other very important thing: you don’t have to struggle with this alone. Talk to your close friends, because even if they aren’t Goths, they will still understand. Check to see if your college offers counseling services, and talk to a trained professional about your battle with your self-esteem demons. Please don’t feel you have to suffer under these these negative thoughts, and please treat yourself with kindness.

Oh Snarklings, there are times when the Lady of the Manners wishes she could just swoop down and hug all of you and tell you that things will work out, and that they do get better. (She also wishes she could answer ALL of your letters, but unless she suddenly gets a time machine, that’s simply not going to happen.)

Anyway, the Lady of the Manners is going to go brew herself some “Read My Lips” tea from David’s Tea (oh, so delicious!), and get back to browsing clicky-links for the upcoming holiday gift guide. Please, all of you, be kind to yourselves and others, and as always, feel free to write!

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