Parental Expectations, Family Photos, and More About When Black is This Year’s Black

Goodness, Snarklings, do you realize what October means? Besides Halloween and proper weather for velvet, that is? It means that Gothic Charm School is one year old! (In this incarnation, of course. Being the clever Snarklings that you are, you are well-aware that Gothic Charm School previously existed under another name, and has been around since 1998 or so …)

This month, not only is the Lady of the Manners going to try and help a young lady who has a question about parental expectations and family portraits, but the Lady of the Manners is also going to take another look at last October’s topic, because the Lady of the Manners has a few more things to say about the mainstream fashion industry deeming all things “darkly romantic” to be In while simultaneously sneering at the Gothic subculture. In other words, the Lady of the Manners is probably going to rant. You Have Been Warned, Snarklings.

But! Before the ranting and the rolling of the eyes, there is trying to help a charming young lady named Dianne:

Hullo there. I’ve been reading through your site and I must say that everything on here is relevant and quite tasteful and helpful advice. I do have one miniscule question, though.

I myself have been dressing and acting ” a little different” since fifth or sixth grade, and now as a sophomore in high school, I am proud to say that I have refined my look to a pleasant mix of Victorian mourning garb intermingled with a few bits of classic, doll-like velvet dresses or some sort of dark take on the fifties pin-up girl look.

I am a decent person at heart. Not only do I make decent grades and stay in honors classes, I treat the family with respect, I don’t use my wrists as cutting boards, I keep “out of trouble”, and I don’t sit about begging her to let me use my face as a pincushion. I am also a Christian and go to church regularly. (My church too, has grown used to me and my what-ever-I-am-ness, rarely do I get any funny looks or anything of the sort)

However. (I say that alot, my apologies)

My father has not, apparently, gotten used to me.

I really feel bad for him at times… He works away from home most of the time and I don’t see him often. He is a wonderful person, albeit not the most cultured or fashionable, and I often feel as though I must make him feel like a failiure as a parent. He certainly has told me that he feels like one at times, both for the things that have happened with my mother and for the fact he is unable to see me much. I sometime think that when he looks at me, he doesn’t see the joyful, upbeat, perky person I am, he sees a depressed young lady dressed all in black, penning angsty poetry in her spare time and complaining about how awful her parents are. I feel as though he thinks of me as his angsty teen daughter who spends her time locked away in her room and crying, when in reality I am a terribly happy person.

It has gotten so bad that he is ashamed of me in public. Normally it is the teen trying to distance themselves from the parent… Often my father acts as though I am not his child so that people will not stare at him. He has encouraged me to walk ahead of him or to go off in my own direction many a time. He is proud of me in that I get good grades and stay out of trouble, and he assures me constantly that I “Have a good head on my shoulders”

However, I know he must be affected by me. It does not help that the picture of me he has in his wallet is one from way back in seventh grade, back when I was just a silly little squeaklet of a babybat, in which I am frowning and wearing my hair in this awful waterfall drop in front of my face and I am smudged in way too much eyeliner. Thank God I no longer dress like that. I know it must upset him to have to flip through his wallet, like, “Yes, this is my young hellion-I mean daughter.”

He wants me to have professional photos taken at glamourshots, and I can simply FEEL an argument brewing over how my hair shall be done, what clothes I shall be wearing, etc. It wouldn’t bother me so much to have my pictures taken in “Normal” clothes if I didn’t look so odd in them. My plumcolored hair and very thin eyebrows wouldn’t exactly look becoming with “Normal” clothing.

And to be very straightforward and honest with you, I hate to argue with my parents. It’s so unhelpful and it just causes ugly feelings and things, and my family loves to store things I say to use later in another argument.

Can you think of any good way I should broach the subject of my photos with my father? And can you help me prove to my father that I am not what he feels I am?

Oh dear. Well, in regard to the photos, you might try gently asking your father if he really wants to have photos of you that don’t represent who you really are, photos that are some sort of fiction. However, be prepared, because asking that question will almost certainly lead into a discussion of why your father doesn’t approve of the way you look. Having that discussion is important, and shouldn’t be avoided, but you need to be prepared for it.

The Lady of the Manners feels that you explained things quite eloquently in your letter to her; have you tried saying those things to your father? You say that you don’t see him often due to his job; perhaps he’s not aware of who you really are and what you’re really like. Instead of getting to know you, he’s let his perceptions be clouded by the usual nonsense the mainstream media says about Goths.

You might want to try writing a letter to your father; start off with some of the things you put in your letter to the Lady of the Manners, but expand upon that information. Write about why you feel comfortable and at home in the Gothic subculture, write about how Goth doesn’t equal depressed or a troublemaker, and most definitely write about your joy for life, and how expressing yourself makes you even happier.

Why is the Lady of the Manners suggesting you write a letter, instead of talking face-to-face with your father? Partially because if he’s away so often, it might be difficult to find time to have a conversation about these things. However, the main reason the Lady of the Manners thinks a letter is a good way to start is because discussions of this sort are difficult, and even more so with parents. It’s all too easy to become flustered, upset, and lose track of what you’re saying. Plus, no matter what you intend to talk about, family discussions frequently change into discussions (or arguments) about old issues; writing a letter lets you state your points calmly and eloquently without being distracted from what’s important to you, and can be a jumping-off point for a calm and useful discussion later.

If you decide to follow the Lady of the Manners’ advice, please write back and let the Lady of the Manners know how things went!

(Actually, that goes for all of you, Snarklings. You may not have realized it, but the Lady of the Manners does like to hear back from you about how things are going, and if you tried to follow her advice. So please, do write back!)

Now, some of you may remember that last October, the Lady of the Manners wrote about the mainstream fashion industry’s recurring fondness for borrowing from the Gothic subculture. And of course, this autumn is no exception to that; not only are there velvet jackets and flowing skirts and lace blouses everywhere, but a few of the high-end cosmetic companies have brought out black nail polish. Which, according to all the fashion magazines, has become the hot new trend. But according to the fashion media, this black nail polish is … not Goth. No, it’s elegant, it’s luxurious, it’s “edgy”, but not in any way associated with Goth.

Stop and think about that for a moment, Snarklings. The Lady of the Manners will wait for your eyes to stop rolling about your head.

From where the Lady of the Manners stands (in her pointy-toe granny boots), part of the issue here is the eternal problem Goths face: very few people outside of the subculture seem to realize that the Gothic movement has been around in its current form for almost 30 years, and can trace its roots back to the 1700s. Instead, most non-Goths think that being a Goth means you’re a depressed teen who (probably) believes you’re a vampire or writes bad poetry. Or, heaven forbid, both. To non-Goths, being a Goth is just a phase, and something that one grows out of.

So how does this tie back to black nail polish from high-end cosmetic companies? It’s simple, really. While the Lady of the Manners is all in favor of taking advantage of the fashion industry’s seasonal dabblings in darkness, the Lady of the Manners is also all in favor of being an informed consumer. Do some research, read reviews, and take a close look at items before purchasing them. Just because something is from a Name Brand doesn’t automatically make it any better than the old standbys; in fact, sometimes it means the quality is worse, because those Name Brands are trying to cash in on what they think is a short-lived trend.

(Which causes the Lady of the Manners to veer off on a brief tangent, Snarklings: the Lady of the Manners is both bemused and horrified by the proliferation of “Goth” –branded Halloween costumes and accessories. On the one hand, the Lady of the Manners has seen costumes that look suspiciously similar to outfits the Lady of the Manners sees on other Goths all the time; the only real difference is that the costumes are made from materials of dubious quality. On the other hand, not only is the Lady of the Manners just a smidge tired of people asking where she bought her costume, but the Lady of the Manners also feels that “Goth” Halloween costumes will just add to the perception problem that the subculture already labors under. None of the costumes really exemplify the dark romance, elegance, and whimsy that are vital aspects of the Goth subculture, but instead focus more on the “possibly-dangerous freaks who think they’re vampires, devil-worshippers, or sexual deviants” issues.)

Ahem. Anyway, if someone (as in, a non-Goth) asks you where you got your (black nail polish, velvet jacket, shoes, boots, vintage handbag), be polite. (You knew the Lady of the Manners was going to say that, don’t try to pretend you didn’t.) But do feel free to make it clear that this is your chosen style and that you’ve been dressing this way for a while now, and keep in mind that polite doesn’t have to mean overly friendly. Responding politely to someone while making it clear that you are oh-so-amused by the questioner’s trend-jumping ways is a skill always worth polishing.

With that, the Lady of the Manners is going to wander off to the local thrift store and see what treasures of vintage clothing are hiding forlornly on the “Costume!” racks. Next month’s lesson at Gothic Charm School is quite probably going to be about Dealing With Parents, and why just sitting down and talking to them really is the best option. Unless, of course, the Lady of the Manners is sent a particularly interesting letter (just click the Correspondence link in the upper right corner of the main page!), or is distracted by more instances of the mainstream media getting it All Wrong. Doesn’t all of that sound exciting, Snarklings? Of course it does, so do be sure to come back next month.

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