Live Through This

Identity Kit

An argument for being a poser.

’90s raver flyer via Beautiful Decay

There comes a time in every young person’s life when she is faced with a crucial dilemma: which alternative subgenre do I belong to? This question is both totally ridiculous on its face, and actually important: its answer forms the beginnings of how you figure out “who you are.” Furthermore, when you’re in high school, your chosen subculture is your escape—the place where people actually get you, where you don’t have to pretend (as much) all the time. In this specific hidey-hole of rebellion, you will find freedom, and acceptance, and a kind of family—just as soon as you can figure out how to look like that. Because that’s the first step to fitting in, right?

But aren’t you not supposed to have to think about any of this? You’re supposed to just KNOW WHO YOU ARE and BE YOURSELF, right? Your community will call to you from within your soul. Those of us who’ve really pondered this, and made premeditated, focused, and/or organized maneuvers on just how to start being this or that or that other thing, well, aren’t we kind of inauthentic? You can’t just decide one day that you feel seapunk and then show up the next in an acid-washed frogskin bodysuit with dyed green hair, can you? Doesn’t that make you a poser?

Yes, you damn well sure can, and yes, it sure does. And both those things are totally fine. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

When you come across that thing that takes a seam-ripper to the sewed-up reality you’ve been living in—the one that tells you that you have to get perfect grades and stay out of trouble and hang out with the “right” people so that you can get to the “right” places later in life—suddenly there is a lot more possibility than you ever realized. It could just be a photo you saw on someone’s Instagram, or a quote on Tumblr. It could be a wild force of a human you met and desperately want to be friends with, because undoubtedly they will influence you to not only loosen up but possibly become consummately liberated. Whatever that thing is, it looks like freedom, and you want in. By all accounts (unless it looks like cocaine or something), please go chase it!

I had this feeling the first time I went to an underground show when I was 16 years old, a birthday party in a clubhouse that featured a couple of pop-punk bands and a legit raver DJ. This was in the mid-’90s, in the pre–Top 40 Green Day years, back when raves were huge, secret, and illegal. I had no idea beforehand what I was walking into. Here’s my diary entry from that experience, slightly abridged to spare you the boring parts:

Holy moly! This was probably the single most exciting event in my life. At first I felt really dumb because I was wearing a thermal top and farmer jeans. Everyone else’s style was based on the same thing, but they all looked different. One guy thought he was Sherlock Holmes. Another guy carried a cellular phone and a bag of crap with him. I realized there were basically two groups: punks and ravers. The punks were the grungy, dressed-in-black ones who tended to be serious and aloof. The ravers wore big, bright, sporty clownish items and were more at ease with themselves. Most of them had shaved heads, ponytails, and a bad dye-job. I felt like a big nerd with my perfect, natural blond hair.

My freaker friends who brought me were being totally cool to me. I was happy to be babied, because I had no clue what the hell was going on. I was introduced to some pretty girl who was embarrassed of her name (she was punk), then to a guy who kissed my hand (raver). Then I met two girls because I had the urge to pull one’s rattail, so I did. They were ravers and didn’t mind.

At one point we were all told to go stand somewhere else, and I decided I didn’t want to and refused, and I met this other girl because of that. “All right!” she said. “Start a trend!” I told her I felt dippy in my overalls and she told me I’m starting a new look. I thought she was gorgeous. She started raving her brains out and asked me to dance with her, but I was too shy. She said, “OK,” and left.

That formative experience really yanked me out of the static boundaries of suburban life. These kids were simultaneously ridiculously role-playing from yore and pretending they were aliens from the future? And they were experimenting with their sexuality, which was pretty unheard of where I came from? Holy shit. From then on I decided, Screw it, time to let go, I don’t want to dress or be normal anymore, so I didn’t. One day I looked punk, in a kid’s baseball shirt, a spiked collar, a crushed-velvet mini skirt, and shredded fishnet stockings with visible garters; the next I was in enormous phat pants, a neon-yellow crop top printed with hot-pink flowers, and stickers all over my face. People did not know what to make of me, a straight-A former cheerleader who played soccer year-round, caused trouble incessantly, went to punk shows in skate parks, and snuck out on school nights to go to raves a state or two over. I didn’t fit in with the art kids because I couldn’t draw; I didn’t fit in with the other honors students because I was way too weird. Therefore, on all accounts, I was a poser.

I really did try to commit to my One True Sub-Genre, but I was too complicated (as are you), and it was all just way too perplexing of a puzzle to navigate. The ravers were so positive, fun, spiritual, and forward-thinking; the punks were raw, deep, and somewhat political, and they understood struggle. There was no way to choose between the two, and it hurt at the time to have my sincerity under inquisition from both camps and beyond just because I was curious.

But thank goodness for dabbling! It’s how you develop dimension to your personality and interests. You get smart and possibly eccentric from experience; your fantasies become richer, your dreams engorged with possibility. Because that’s what this is all about, right? The hope or belief that in a pocket of the big wide world, somewhere, there are things happening that are more interesting than your current surroundings might afford. And the more you dip in and out of escapist wormholes, the more you discover that your hunches are correct. So if you change your mind after a week on S.S. Seapunk and decide you’re actually goth, great! Go bite that style as wholeheartedly as you can muster. Be a ho about culture. Be a poser—because everyone’s posing, all the time, and the realest of us are at least honest about it. ♦

Liz Armstrong lives in Los Angeles, writes for a living, and is currently posing hard on the too-sexy-child-pop-star/mermaid-from-Venus scenes.

59 Comments

  • ravenflamingo June 14th, 2012 7:04 PM

    I totally agree with this. I spent 6th grade trying to fit in with the “emo “kids. While I know look back and think of how ridiculous it was, it was a good experience.

    http://agirlnamedraven.tumblr.com

    • ravenflamingo June 14th, 2012 7:09 PM

      *now

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 15th, 2012 9:03 AM

      There were “emo” kids in sixth grade? That would have been an awesome experience.

      • mwong1025 June 16th, 2012 2:18 PM

        There are! And a lot of goths, too. When I was in 6th grade I was friends with these bunch of girls who hate everyone and happy things and sunshine. We would just go around wearing black and fishnets and leather and black lipstick, threatening to sacrifice people to Satan.

        http://www.style-abuse.blogspot.com

      • BritishFish August 8th, 2012 3:15 AM

        People called me goth and emo in sixth grade. Then again.. I told some people I was secretly a vampire in third grade so I can’t blame people. haha

  • starcollector June 14th, 2012 7:10 PM

    Thank goodness for this! I always feel kinda weird about changing my style and tastes so much. I feel like it makes me so inconsistent while everyone around me is so… smooth, you know? They change in a month, gradually, but I change overnight. It makes it tough to have a viewpoint in art, but I get bored easily and it’s just the way I am.

    http://china-lily.blogspot.com/

  • runningfilm June 14th, 2012 7:16 PM

    THANK YOU. I get a lot of flack at my high school because I don’t fall neatly into any single category. Over the course of a single week, I can wear everything from running tights and a grubby race shirt (I’m a distance runner) to head-to-toe vintage. I’ve even had a handful of people tell me I need to “choose” one style like a “normal” person. But hey, I’m allowed to be both a track rat and an artist!

    • Liz Armstrong June 15th, 2012 1:44 AM

      hell yeah! you can be both those AND more!

  • Kathryn June 14th, 2012 7:23 PM

    I feel like there aren’t very many groups at my school. It kinda makes me sad. I guess it’s weird that I want cliques, but I WANT MY LIFE TO BE LIKE A TEEN MOVIE.

  • indigosunday June 14th, 2012 7:26 PM

    I’m a curious person which means thay I like to try all sorts of genres and they bevome a collective of who I am…and I think thats a good thing. Being an artisy(writer) it’s great to be different types of people because it allows you to create something unique with your work. And it allows you to have more friends because you can bounce between all thooose groups. I mean in reality nobody’s tastes fit one genre. You can be a cheerleader who likes the Top 40 AND the Velvet Underground. It makes you more interesting to be different and multifaceted.

  • puffytoad June 14th, 2012 7:36 PM

    I may be a poser, but my problem is I’m not fooling anyone!

  • Sterling87 June 14th, 2012 7:50 PM

    love this more than n e thang

  • toasterly_reasons June 14th, 2012 8:03 PM

    When I was maybe 15 or 16, I started experimenting in dressing punk/goth. I went to a very small rural high school with only 900 kids. I always felt like an outsider.

    No one was really punk or goth in my high school when I started dressing that way. Everyone who knew me thought I was insane. There was one outfit I really liked– black skirt, fishnets, combat boots, tiny black t-shirt. Every day, I got at least a dozen derogatory comments on the fishnets, most commonly “you goin’ fishing?!? haw haw”

    My poor little brother, who was only 12, and ran in very respectable circles, got harassed about it too– his friends would ask him “is your sister a ‘GOTH’?” like goth was some sort of obscene thing.

    I started toning it down by the time I was 17, and by that time, a little clique of freshmen and sophomore had gone full-out punk. I tried talking to these young’uns, thinking they could relate to my plight. They shunned me, looked at me like I was crazy when I tried to strike up conversations. Clearly, I wasn’t “punk enough” for them.

    I still like to think that I was the more enlightened one. Normal people shun us weirdos because we’re “too weird”, how is it any better to shun a fellow outsider for not being “the right kind of weird”?

    http://toasterlyreasons.blogspot.com/

    • christinachristina June 14th, 2012 9:49 PM

      Love this.

    • Liz Armstrong June 15th, 2012 1:46 AM

      story of my life! not enough “this,” too much “that,” wrong time for the wrong trend, etc. WHATEVER. All I know is this: teen goths take the BEST photos for looking back on later in life. You’re doing it right.

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 15th, 2012 9:06 AM

      A very small high school of 900 students?? There are like 150 in my school. But it’s only 8th-10th grade though, and we are the smallest school in the area. But still, 900 seems like so many to me.

      • Skylar June 15th, 2012 4:18 PM

        Haha my highschool has over 5000 kids in it you just have a rly small school

  • sweeteelou June 14th, 2012 8:03 PM

    In the seventh grade, I wanted to be a scene queen. And now I dress like Jessica Day. It’s funny to me that people actually noticed that I started dressing different, because it was just a natural process of evolving my tastes for me.

    sweeteelou

  • Moxx June 14th, 2012 8:07 PM

    This is beautiful, but the thing is that you need to know the appropriate “cool” people who will introduce you to these things, to the events and people and rituals and dress. That part is tricky.
    But I mean, you can always be weird on your own. c:

  • AnguaMarten June 14th, 2012 8:07 PM

    this is great! i, too, am one of those kids who doesn’t fit in a box. i mean, an honors student who dresses weird and plays lacrosse and curses and writes about the idiocy of organized philosophy and wears colorful makeup and is totally open to discussing masturbation with people she barely knows and paints and reads and plays basketball and doesn’t ever, ever get in trouble? yup, that’s me!

    • Liz Armstrong June 15th, 2012 1:46 AM

      you sound fantastic!

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 15th, 2012 9:07 AM

      You should be my best friend. OMG.

  • Annabelle June 14th, 2012 8:11 PM

    I love this! I’ve always been into dressing differently, which seems to open up a whole new (and maybe more militant!) world of trying to fit in. But the more I try, the more I learn how unique I am. I think everyone should try different styles over time. It’s healthy and of course, FUN!

  • thespiella June 14th, 2012 8:28 PM

    Thanks so much for writing this, I haven’t related to an article this much in a long time. I guess you could say I’m a indie/theatre kid poser, but guess what, I’m not so ashamed of the poser part anymore! x)

    • Liz Armstrong June 15th, 2012 1:47 AM

      nice work! POSERS UNITE.

  • erin June 14th, 2012 9:18 PM

    Love this article, though I must say, I’m jealous of the cultures you had access to! They sound fun, and there’s nothing like that around my land. But I think it’s totally cool to be able to appreciate different styles and just wear what I want.
    But from what I’ve read in the comments, it seems like everyone gets judged and picked on for wearing different stuff. I go to a really small school, and I don’t think I’ve ever had that. People always compliment me, and I think I’m perceptive enough to know it’s not in an ironic way. Though sometimes people ask me why I’m wearing a dress on an ordinary day (dresses are considered very formal here).
    Anyways, three cheers for enjoying all of the styles!

  • haileyhallie June 14th, 2012 9:31 PM

    I had no idea that “seapunk” was a thing until I read this.

  • kitterfly June 14th, 2012 9:50 PM

    Yes! Try things, and attempt to ignore comments from others. Or–scratch that– don’t ignore them. Realize that what you’re doing is more important, and they’re probably a bit jealous that you’ve the courage to dabble.
    Like, that sounds so inaccurate, but it’s true: people are attracted to those who have/do what they don’t/aren’t… how they act on that attraction is entirely different, and is their problem, not yours.

    HEHEHE SEAPUNK

  • youngfridays June 14th, 2012 9:51 PM

    Yes! One of my favourite articles yet!

  • kitterfly June 14th, 2012 9:54 PM

    AND! There’s nothing wrong with being a chameleon. Just because you don’t fit into a set of rules doesn’t mean you’re “fake” or a “poser”… There’s nothing wrong with going to a rave one night, going vintage shopping and drinking pretentious coffee the next morning, and showing up for a business interview the next day.
    You’re allowed to wear skull pants with navy blue button-downs.
    People are great globs of contradictions, and anyone who says otherwise isn’t looking past the surface.

    • BETHH June 15th, 2012 2:01 AM

      YES

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 15th, 2012 9:09 AM

      Pretentious coffee. This should be a thing. Like, “Hey, you wanna go get some pretentious coffee?”

      • ladyjenna June 15th, 2012 2:29 PM

        There should be a Rookie section called “Things that should be Things”. Then, the Rookulation can make them Things. And Rookulation def should be a thing.

  • Claire June 14th, 2012 10:02 PM

    SEAPUNK. but in all seriousness, this is a very good, very valid piece. Throughout my adolescence, I’ve experimented with various personas, ranging from prep to hippie. Right now, I’m not sure I could label myself as conveniently, but I’m definitely the sum of my parts. (And hindsight is 20/20, right?)

  • EveyMarrie June 14th, 2012 10:04 PM

    I was all over the place in middle school and high school.

    First I went from plain “I wear the same hoodie and jeans to school everyday” to 7th grade with (over)plucked eyebrows, ‘rocker clothes’ (those shameful ‘Rock Girl’ shirts and guitar earrings). 7th and 8th grade became a crazy mismash of psuedo-rock to goth and then to preppy.

    9th grade, I went absolutely crazy. I wore rainbow sweaters with tiedye legwarmers and the next day I’d wear head to toe black and heavy makeup. One day I got called emo and I was like, “Dude, I’m wearing pink and carrying a Coach bag. What are you talking about?”

    I never had a clique or group, I just wore whatever the hell I wanted to (still do) and stepped into the ‘punk/goth scene’ wearing a Hello Kitty purse and a Walmart band shirt and usually got accepted. I would just be dubbed ‘crazy girl.’ Fun times though :)

    • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini June 15th, 2012 9:12 AM

      Hahaha I’ve had the same thing with being called emo when I was wearing pink and sparkling nails. I don’t even dress that crazy, it’s just nice to look like you walked out of a 40′s movie sometimes, you know?

  • BETHH June 15th, 2012 12:04 AM

    Part of being a teenager is trying to figure out who you are and what you want to be. Everything that we are surrounded by has the possibility of becoming a part of us, in one way or another. We learn new things everyday and we pick the things we like and we morph them to incorporate them into our appearance, our language, our gestures. Everyone has a different way of presenting themselves, but the building blocks that are used to create this image are shared with everyone and everything else in the world. That is what’s so beautiful about being yourself, that you can be whatever you want to be.

  • insteadofanelephant June 15th, 2012 12:48 AM

    this was really wonderful. even now i have to remind myself that just because i hang out with certain people, it doesnt mean i have to do everything as they do. some of my friends are hippie-like, but i’m not afraid to eat a cheeseburger and wear a pair of high heels around them if i feel like it. just be comfortable, people are usually just happy to see other people being happy

    instead of an elephant

  • chantal June 15th, 2012 1:35 AM

    I already knew this but it’s nice to have that reaffirmation that it’s ok to be a “p0ser”.
    I guess the group I fit into in high school was “nerds” because I took all AP and IB classes but I only had like one friend so I guess I was just a loner. I listened to emo music though and definitely felt emo but I didn’t want to wear what they wore. Their style had some nice elements to it but mostly they wore the boring black hoodie and jeans. I’m not sure what subculture I am but I like most alternative things.

  • Sea goddess June 15th, 2012 3:44 AM

    wooooooow rookie always seems to impress me. I find this article so accurate to what we go through out life, one day we want to be this and do this and be with someone that in later years will probably look like “What was I THINKING?!” but it’s amazing how ALL the things we go through teach us something, maybe good or maybe bad but they build up who we TRULY are inside. Clothing for me is very important, I think we express how we are feeling or want to feel with what we wear; I for most of times feel like an outsider to many things in life so I kind of almost wear something uncommon even if it’s just a bracelet or a headband or w/e. In times we may think we are actually posing something and that we believe we are into it becz its the new thing, and well sometimes it sux if u really want to be ur ownself, but at the end of time it’s all good because that’s how life is, we will always be changing this or that; we are always posing, I could say? CHEERS to this artc. which brought many thoughts and a good conversation starter.

    http://deadelmare.bigcartel.com/

  • Emily Kay June 15th, 2012 4:26 AM

    Fake it till you make it :)

  • hvit June 15th, 2012 8:53 AM

    SEAPUNK.

    I love this article.

    I spent ages being just the nerdy kid in the corner when I started secondary (high) school, because I thought I had to ‘fit’ my look in with being clever and well-behaved, and it was also a rebellion against the hordes of other first years who were all in the same jeans and branded tops and things. I hit puberty early and was already nearly 5’8 and only 12, and I’d always hated ‘fitting in’ so I actively tried to not to dress up. A weird rebellion.

    I got into the ‘poser’ faze late then, and that was so hard for school/family to deal with because they’d already put me in a bracket- doesn’t the world love to do that to you? So make-up, manic charity (thrift) shopping, a proper interest in fashion, they thought I’d gone mad.

    Only recently have I realized I’m fine as everything- nerd, ‘she looks like an art student’, sporty-kid, a young lady, a grungey-girl, a PERSON.

    Why did Rookie not exists to tell me that when I was 12?

    http://hblogsf.blogspot.co.uk/

  • starsinyourheart June 15th, 2012 8:54 AM

    i needed to hear this! i’m so there right now.

  • abbs June 15th, 2012 9:42 AM

    This article has such perfect timing! Around the end of the school year and beginning of summer, something inside me *clicks* and makes me want to change myself for something else. But I always felt like a fraud for just changing who I was almost every year. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one. This year I was kinda boho/hippie-esque and now I’m just bored and want to go for a more urban punk look. hooray for posing!

  • breakfastpixie June 15th, 2012 1:52 PM

    What a great, great, GREAT article! It took me until I was about 21 to figure out I could wear different styles and still be myself. Living in London played a big part in me realizing my style doesn’t have to be consistent. (Two months. Completely on my own. I didn’t know anybody there and was scared as hell.)

    When i was 12, I was a goth. At least I tried to, my mum didn’t like that very much. Haha. After that, I started listening to 60s music and dressed accordingly (people thought it was weird to wear vintage clothes back then) until I was about 15 when I suddenly started wearing pinstripe suits and pink glitter tops (seriously)… After I left my first boyfriend, I worked very hard on becoming an indie girl until I met the next boyfriend, who was into the 60s, so I became a 60s girl again. Leaving him and going to London I finally found out who I was and my style changed so much. It still changes. From day to day. I love that.
    Thinking about it, I can’t believe that I restricted myself from so many things all those years. I didn’t look the way I really wanted because I thought I had to fit in.

    I’m so glad I’m ME now!

    x
    Sabrina
    a pixie’s view on fashion

  • HarrietIsAPirate June 15th, 2012 2:12 PM

    I used to think it was so important to be part of a group. I experimented with emo and with indie and with punk, desperate to fit in with something and never really succeeding. Then I had a revelation: I really, really can’t be bothered. I’m just far too lazy to spend loads of time on my appearance, because in all honesty I don’t give a crap. So now I wear plain jeans and T-shirts and hoodies and I feel so much more comfortable than I ever did wearing ‘alternative’ stuff.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s great to wear edgy or alternative stuff, but it’s also fine if you’re not into that and you’d rather just blend into the crowd a bit. It doesn’t mean you’re boring or ‘mainstream’. We can’t ALL be alternative after all, because then it wouldn’t be alternative anymore!

  • Lucy23 June 15th, 2012 3:44 PM

    I went through this whole “I’m arty and unique to a degree but I still fit in with the normal crowd!” phase in eighth grade (yes, I was a pseudo-bohemian loser XD) But now I’ve kind of found my niche and I’m now in with the hippie-activist crowd. I still jump from hippie to grunge/punk (stylewise), partly because it’s fun but mostly because of my hardcore girl-crush on Courtney Love XD

  • fizzingwhizbees June 15th, 2012 9:24 PM

    I feel this! In high school I was always way too weird and spooky for the nerds, but too nerdy for the weird kids. Bleh.

  • cakethepop June 15th, 2012 10:40 PM

    Dis is so wierd.

    I wrote a comment like a week ago here asking for style “finding myself advice” and

    Poof!

    This article is here.

    Tankies.

  • SorchaR June 16th, 2012 12:46 AM

    Love, love, love. I had days where I dressed as hardcore punk as my mom would let me (not very), days when I dressed like someone’s maiden aunt, days when I was a heroine out of a romance novel, and all sorts of other mixed-up grab-bag images. I remember one day in particular where I wore grey creme eyeshadow as lipstick, a grey top, grey jeans, and grey shoes. I think I was going for some kind of ghost effect, but I don’t know. Anyway, for years after high school I was embarrassed that I couldn’t even be weird right, but now I think I might have been onto something, maybe.

  • A June 16th, 2012 6:43 AM

    i was a punk in highschool. i just wanted to fit somewhere. now i consider myself belonging to several subcultures (or none even). ‘weirdo’ is a good thing, people. just be a weirdo. most strict subcultural people care FAR TOO MUCH about what people think. also punk was extremely misogynistic in my experience. good luck folks.

  • Eliza June 16th, 2012 8:52 AM

    “Holy moly”? Your childhood really was set in a more innocent time. :)

  • RubyRed June 17th, 2012 3:33 AM

    Haha I guess I am a poser because I can’t just stick to one subculture, I am all over the place! Too many interests :D

  • 3LL3NH June 19th, 2012 5:59 PM

    (Excuse my language) Fuck yes!!!!
    My brother and I grew up in Jamaica, where we were the most abnormal thing you could find just for our skin colour. So when we got shipped back to dear Canada, we basically went cray-cray trying to figure out how to be us, ie wear clothes that weren’t a gingham plaid/ khaki uniform, and not blend in cuz that was certainly not our thing.

    He ended up the most sentimental straight A punk kid I’ve ever met, and I constantly decide what I want to be, and then be it (sometimes I completely copy what someone looked like the day before, and I’m pretty sure no one notices ‘cuz they’re used to seeing me in whatever random clothing and whatever random hairstyle I feel like).

    Once I got past the idea that fake suede worked, and realized that thrifting was genius, and accepted the fact that mainstream style wouldn’t melt my creativity like sugar, I became pretty much the happiest thing.

  • soybrain June 23rd, 2012 3:07 PM

    how i wish i experienced more of the 90′s! but this topic is relevant for me now as well. people in school get well confused when i turn up all dressed in tie-dye and start babbling about jim morrison and world peace, because the next week – i can be a younger version of regina george from mean girls, a female ziggy stardust, or maybe a die hard rocker in ripped jeans?

  • Bloom July 1st, 2012 5:59 PM

    I just spent like half an hour on the sea punk tag and just what. It’s like a beautifully terrifying dream.

  • rroseselavy August 6th, 2012 6:53 PM

    “Your dreams engorged with possibility.”

    I am late to comment, but this might be one of my favorite Rookie posts ever. I love the idea that identity is not set, and that we are all constantly growing.