Are We Being Judged?

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

My housemate is about to dye her hair purple but is worried that it won’t suit her because “only interesting people have purple hair”.  This is the same housemate who told me that I should get dreadlocks because they would “suit my personality”.  When I asked my mum what my next post should be about, she said I should write about how older people judge the younger generation based on how they look – which implies that we’re looked down on, but I personally don’t feel that way at all – but perhaps that’s because I look relatively “normal”.  That said, when I did experiment with pink hair and head-to-toe “goth” attire, I didn’t feel particularly judged, and looking back, I think if people were judging me it was more likely to be people my own age.  Generally speaking I think people should look however they want to look without fear of “what it will say about them”, but I also think it’s true that how someone looks can say things about their personalities – unfortunately, things which aren’t always positive or true.

That said, I think that there is a generational gap when it comes to some aspects of fashion.  Tattoos, for example, are unlikely to shock anyone my age.  You either have them or you don’t, it’s all the same to me, but when it comes to potential employers, it’s a different story.  More often than not, tattoos have to be covered up for work – fair enough if they’re offensive (but apparently people can be offended by the sheer fact that it’s a tattoo).  I would even go as far as to say that having a tattoo could prevent someone from getting a job, even if they’re qualified and otherwise perfect for the position.  I don’t know how likely that is (I don’t have any tattoos and have never been in that situation) but my general impression is that tattoos are considered negative.

I watched a programme a while ago about this sort of thing – some guy with tattoos all over his face was complaining about people judging him and I can’t help but not feel much sympathy.  Of course people are going to judge you and instantly assume you made poor life choices if you have ink all over your face.  I thought, “he should have known he wouldn’t be able to get a job if he got those tattoos, but he did it anyway, that was irresponsible, so he’s probably an irresponsible person, which is why he can’t get a job”.  But I suppose it’s not really that simple.  Why shouldn’t he have them?  The only reason it was an irresponsible decision is because people would judge him – but why should they?  Once again, fair enough if the tattoos themselves were offensive, because that really would say something about your personality, but liking or having tattoos isn’t wrong and doesn’t make you any less capable of doing a job or being a good person.

The same goes for having coloured hair, although probably to a lesser extent because it’s not permanent.  Still, having unnaturally coloured hair shows that you’re an interesting person – but it’s likely you’d be made to dye over it for school or work.  Never mind your qualifications, experience or individuality, if you’ve got blue hair you must be a drug-taking, reckless, immature punk!

It’s not just about body mods.  There isn’t really any way of avoiding these kinds of assumptions.  Even if you’re the most normal looking person in the world, you can be judged on your hair colour, what shoes you’re wearing, just about anything – especially by people your own age, but there are generational differences (not only negative ones – nothing makes me happier than seeing an old lady with bright pink hair).  I think most people judge others to some extent but for the most part it doesn’t matter.  I could be wrong, but I doubt many people really, genuinely think about and care what strangers think for a split second and then instantly forget.  I also don’t think that negative impressions are the ones that last – people are much more likely to remember seeing something (a haircut, someone’s clothes, a tattoo or piercing) that they really liked.  The opinions that matter are the ones of people who know you and of course, your own.


Next to Nothing


In a few weeks time I’ll find out where I’m going to be living as of August/September for the next academic year – Mexico, Peru, or Spain.  My housemate Hannah will also be going off somewhere and we quite often get into deep conversations about what the year will hold for us.  This morning we discussed the possibility of reinventing ourselves.  She said to me, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you came back as a complete hippie,” and to be honest, nor would I.

If things go my way, I’ll be going to Mexico, which is where I think I’ll learn the most and probably where I’d change the most.  For many reasons, I think that life will be a lot simpler which is one of the reasons I want to go.  I will only be able to take what I really need and I doubt I will miss much that I don’t have.  Another thing that Hannah said was, “I know people who spend all their money on fancy phones and new cars, but I’d rather have that few hundred quid and go off travelling for a month.”  We talked about how when we’re old and we look back on our lives, we want to have loads of stories and experiences rather than a huge collection of stuff.

Which leads me to our first-hand experience of living with next to nothing.  Many students do some form of backpacking so I hope a lot of people can relate to our three-week trip spanning seven countries with only a rucksack each full of things to last us and a tight budget to stick to.  Even though by the half-way point we had stopped locking up our bags, saying, “it doesn’t matter if they get stolen, they can have our dirty clothes!” we had the time of our lives, and compiled a short list of what we learned in Europe.

1)      You can live on a diet of croissants and ice cream.

2)      The hostel is around somewhere, even if it takes several hours to find.

3)      All you need for a good time is a pack of cards.

4)      You can fit 100 people in one tent.

5)      Campfires are underrated.

6)      Essential: Sun cream, maps, good shoes.

7)      Non-essential: Sleep, hot water, clean underwear.

Knitting: Not Just for Nannas

When I was really young my Nanna taught me how to knit.  I remember loving it when I was however old I was, 9 or 10 probably, but for some reason I didn’t stick with it and now I’ve forgotten how it’s done.  Similarly, only a year or two ago, my friend Alice taught me crocheting and I did it for a few hours, having the time of my life even though my square ended up being a triangle, but again, the next day it was over and I’d forgotten all about it.

Alice is really good at crocheting.  Every time I see her, she tells be about the things she’s made and is going to make.  I love it when people my age, or any age, really, are enthusiastic about such a simple pleasure, and I think creative things like sewing and knitting or crocheting or whatever are a great link between generations.  People have been doing it for so long, it’s universal – anyone can learn it and I think most people would enjoy it.  Young people take it for granted that we know how to work all the technology that our grandparents, even our parents, didn’t have when they were growing up, but if you think about it, it would be so much harder to learn the ins and outs of a computer than it would be to learn how to knit.

That’s why I was so happy to walk into the lounge to find all five of my housemates sitting around, chatting away and knitting.  One of my housemates, Jess, is a bit like Alice when it comes to crafts, she always has something on the go.  I’m always amazed when she comes out with things like, ‘I wanted something new to wear tonight, so I made myself a skirt,’ or when I see her starting to knit a scarf one day and seeing her finish it the next.  In the meantime, the other four are struggling away with dropped stitches and in one case, a snapped knitting needle, but they’re all having fun.  I think, now, a few weeks on, they’ve all just about given up, or perhaps they are making very slow progress (speaking of slow progress, my mum made me a jumper (which I love, even though my brother claimed he wouldn’t pay more than £1 for it in a charity shop), and it kept her occupied for almost two years) but what a nice thing to have learned how to do.

Also, you can’t imagine how much I laughed when my mum talked about joining a ‘Knit and Natter’ group but thinking back, that’s essentially what my house was when I was thinking how lovely it was for everyone to sit together and talk and knit.


Cultural Identity and Acceptance

At the moment I’m studying a book by Javier Marias, A Heart So White.  There’s quite a lot going on but my lecturer is focusing on one aspect, the identity crisis of the narrator and main character, who is uncomfortable with just about every aspect of his life and a fair few concepts of life in general.  I won’t go into detail, but the first thing my class was asked to do was to think about our own cultural identities and what it meant to us to be a particular nationality.

The first thing that sprang to mind was tea and scones, universally considered to be what the English live on.  I also thought of the Queen and roast dinners.  That was about it.  I found it really hard to think of anything I’d be happy to talk about because none of the stereotypes are what it means to be British.  Eating scones doesn’t make someone British and being British doesn’t mean eating scones.  There definitely is a meaning to being British, or any nationality, but even now I can’t put my finger on what it is.

In England, there are an infinite number of divides – the North/South divide, class divides, generation gaps, and as in any country everyone has different accents and cultures of their own regions.  I think it’s easier to relate to the culture of a particular area than the culture of a country as a whole.  The way people behave in the South is different to in the North, but that doesn’t make either way more or less British.  There are also conflicting opinions concerning British behaviour – the two that spring to mind are actually both true – some think we’re reserved and straight-laced, others think we’re loud and brash and drunk and unsophisticated.  You only need to travel on public transport to know that the first is true, and walk through any city on Friday night (or any night, for that matter) to see evidence of the second.

What made me write this article, though, was hearing about the Coca-Cola advert played at the Superbowl, in which ‘America the Beautiful’ is sung in nine different languages, representing cultural diversity in the USA (see it here).  The advert caused major upset amongst conservative patriots arguing along the lines that an American song shouldn’t be sung by people of other nationalities to advertise an American brand.  Yes, it’s as racist as it sounds.  The comment that stood out the most to me was a tweet reading, “Nice to see that Coke likes to sing an AMERICAN song in the terrorist’s language.”  It’s almost like they think they were the first ones there and English is America’s original language (and that no terrorists speak English).  I also can’t see how the advert wasn’t a compliment – people from all over the world thinking that their country is the best?  How offensive!

Anyway, my point is, it’s other cultures that shape our identities by comparison and most cultures are influenced by each other.  Whilst it’s important to know your own identity, I’d argue that it’s more important to keep an open mind.

I Love You

You Look Lovely!

Eye candy...

I recently read an article about natural beauty, specifically, the belief that natural beauty only comes about with a lot of help, i.e. is not natural at all.  You only need to wander around Boots to see that there is a huge demand for products to make people look younger, brighter, healthier or whatever.  I had always considered natural beauty to mean ‘without make-up’ – I had never even thought about the billions of other products that people use to try and achieve ‘natural’ beauty.

I live with five other girls and we all use skin care products and make-up to varying degrees.  However, only one of us has a rigorous routine that she follows religiously.  On the surface, it’s as simple as 1) cleanse 2) tone 3) moisturise, but the amount of lotions and potions on our bathroom shelf suggests otherwise.  No store-brand stuff, either (apparently natural beauty doesn’t come cheap).  Yet as far as I can see, the constant care and attention doesn’t make a scrap of difference; she’d look just as beautiful if all she used was soap and water.

It’s a cliché, but real beauty comes from the inside (even what you see on the outside).  I’m talking about two things: personality and health.  The most attractive people are the ones who smile and laugh and are kind to others and don’t worry about what people think.  Basically, happy people.  I mentioned health because I think eating well and drinking water will do more for your looks than any miracle anti-aging cream, but more importantly to feel good.  I wouldn’t buy into any fad diets or ‘detoxes’ or ‘cleanses’, or follow a torturous workout routine, because the aim here is to be happy and enjoy life and that means eating chocolate if you want to.


Communication Breakdown II – Communication Revival

family letters

Something I didn’t really get on to in my last post was the problem of real communication being taken over by digital correspondence.  The last thing I wrote was about these Facebook videos showing exaggerated, false versions of people, because people only post what they think will be ‘liked’ by others.  That means everything in their lives is exciting and emotional and dramatic and sometimes not 100% true.  It’s not even that things are always going splendidly, but in the world of Facebook, ‘I’m having a bad day’ translates to, ‘I’m having a bad day!  Ask me what’s wrong!  Feel sorry for me!  I’m important!  Pay attention to me, all 800 of you!’  Similarly, ‘I’m happy’ is often read as, ‘my life is perfect.  Is yours?  Didn’t think so.’

The simple fact is, anything posted by anyone on Facebook is looking for attention.  Whilst there is nothing particularly wrong with that, it’s just not the place to elicit sympathy if you genuinely need a shoulder to cry on, or somewhere to celebrate good news (alone in front of your computer).  Meet up with a friend.  Call your mum.  Have a party.

It’s been said before, but it rings more and more true every day.  Technology is making the world a smaller place but making us all more isolated.  It’s too important.  Everyone is only a click away, making human contact in the outside world unnecessary.  People talk so much via text message or the Internet that oftentimes, there is nothing left to talk about if they do meet up.

Modern day socialising.

Letters are different.  I used to hate writing letters but my mum always made me do it after my birthday or Christmas to thank people for what they gave me.  I used to hate it because I never knew what to say other than ‘thank you’, and that was only one line.  It wasn’t enough.  But why would anyone be interested in anything else I had to say?  It was always the same thing, ‘I had a great day, I did this, and this, and this…’ but now I’m older and I finally understand: it’s not easy writing letters and making the effort to do something personal is what matters.  When I came to Uni it made me realise how important family is which is why I started writing letters to my grandparents – in her reply my Nanna sent me 12 stamps, which says it all, really.

Plus, I love getting things in the post (things that aren’t bills or threats from TV licensing).




Communication Breakdown

“I absolutely despise social networking. I think it’s truly going to result in the destruction of mankind. Sometimes I just wish I didn’t live in this time. Before, there was so much more freedom and privacy, and you could truly escape places.”
 – Conor Oberst

When I was trying to come up with a web address for this blog my first post of call was Conor Oberst (as it is for a lot of things) and I came across this quotation of his, and it struck a few things that bother me, all of them to do with the Internet, more specifically, Facebook.

I have a lot of issues with Facebook.

  1. Lack of privacy.
  2. Facebook stalking.  This is such normal Internet behaviour that invasion of privacy is generally deemed acceptable.
  3. Over-sharing, attention-seeking, general annoyingness only acceptable on Facebook.
  4. The habit.  I never actually talk to anyone online.  Most of my actual real-life friends whose lives interest me rarely post anything.  Yet, I habitually check Facebook several times a day.
  5. Necessity.  I’ll give credit to the Facebook for being useful when I do need to contact people, but what I really mean by necessity is that if I stopped using Facebook, I’d be out of the loop.

I could go on.

The real reason I thought to write a post about Facebook is because a few days ago, it celebrated it’s 10th “birthday” and brought out a new feature which lets people watch a video of their lives as they appear on Facebook.  It starts with “when you first joined us” (read: when your life began) and shows you some cringey photos of when you were 12 under the caption “your first moments” (no one had moments before Facebook).  Then it shows you your “most liked posts” (read: number of likes directly correlates to your value as a person) and you can reminisce about something witty you said once.  After that it’s basically just a slideshow of photos of yourself.

I’m all for reminiscing.  Reminiscing is fine.  Look through old photos all you like.  Is the video really necessary to do that, though?  Personally, I don’t care about things I posted 5 years ago, nor do I particularly want to bring them up.  I especially don’t want to watch other people’s videos of their lives as told by Facebook, i.e. probably an exaggerated and inaccurate depiction of their real life.

The truth: