[Written By: Hannah West]
[Photograph: Adriana Iuliano]
In this strange new world of internet fan bases and online communities, it seems that now more than ever there is a set aesthetic that is expected of fans of absolutely anything. From bands to sports to art, there is a “look” that is expected of people who identify or associate themselves with [X]. This can, of course, be a good thing: dressing according to interests is a way for people to code and identify themselves as a certified fan of a particular thing. It creates a certain group identity that can be very unifying; something that helps to find people around you with similar interests. However, this can also be incredibly problematic in some situations – it can lead to the assumption that someone can only like something if they choose to present themselves in this one specific way.
The notion of there being a problem here really hit me after a conversation I had with my flatmate a few weeks ago, when she informed me that she and other members of her rugby team had been told that they “didn’t look like rugby players”, presumably because they sometimes wear skirts or makeup, or have long hair or a petite build. This is, of course, ridiculous, as a rugby player is only obligated to dress or look like a rugby player when they are actually playing rugby. But this was the kind of retort they were faced with; seemingly, in order to simply play a sport in your free time, you are expected to present yourself in a particular manner, or else it is unbelievable that you could be associated with it. To me this seems like the equivalent of saying to someone who works at a restaurant that they don’t look like a waitress, even though it’s their day off.
This really comes down to a stereotype in my opinion; the preconceived notion people have that a certain type of person should look a particular way, or else it should come as a surprise that they are a part of this thing. The problem with this is that stereotypes are never accurate representations of an entire group, and aesthetic stereotypes are no different. There is, in fact, no rule that demands someone who enjoys [X] should code the way that they look accordingly. What this stereotype does is take the way a specific group present themselves and assume that everyone who shares the interest will do the same, which just isn’t true; the stereotype is irrelevant when looking at individual people.
When I thought about this a little deeper, I couldn’t help but think that this stance assumes that people are totally one dimensional – that their entire personality, and therefore the way that they choose to present themselves, can only be one thing. But this isn’t the reality at all; in fact, the vast majority of people have multiple interests, and the way that someone chooses to present themselves can be a representation of one, several, all or none of these. So, if you ever feel the urge to let someone know that you don’t think they look like they’d be a fan of that, play that sport, go to that place, consider that there is perhaps more than just one thing that they enjoy, and that dressing a particular way may not come into this at all.