On a normal day at Oxy I’ll wake up, do my hair and makeup and walk out of the door. As my made-up face slowly melts off as I bounce along to class, I realize this isn’t me — it never really was. To some, this behavior is a routine — for me, it’s a conversion to a new beauty regimen. I like to believe I’m not a superficial person, but when I came to LA, I began to spend hours fixing my hair and applying makeup before a night out.
In LA, I’m torn between my desire to be indifferent to my appearance and a pressure to be consumed by my appearance, but Oxy is a college. Students come here to study first and foremost. No one’s forcing me to buy cooler clothes or wear concealer to class. Yet choosing my outfits in the morning makes me feel like I’m participating in the fashion Olympics.
I was raised by the internet circa 2013. It was the age of YouTubers and Tumblr feeds and pink walls only a certain follow count could get you in front of. This was my introduction to shaping my outward appearance, whether online or in person, into a reflection of who I was or was trying to be.
Being a first year at a new high school gave me the opportunity to reflect on my self image — I became obsessed. I spent hours on Pinterest boards and Depop pinning eclectic pieces trying to curate my way to a new self. For the first time ever, I was complimented on my outfits and felt gratified for the effort put in to looking the way I did. It felt like the world was saying, “We like this new you.”
I was also motivated by the fact that I didn’t love the pieces 14-year-old me wore in middle school and was ready to redefine myself. I worried less about my outfits in high school because I felt I was good at styling myself — I understood who I was and who I wanted to reflect.
In high school, I would wake up 20 to 30 minutes before school, get ready and walk to campus. I went to a small school in New England where, especially in the winter, people were more worried about not freezing their toes off than if their eyeliner looked the same on both eyes. I was comfortable with how I looked and what I was doing to look that way.
Upon entering college, the first-year angst of being perceived by new people washed over me. There is this excitement to being around people who know nothing about you. All the preconceived notions of who you are and embarrassing pre-pubescent memories of you are completely wiped away. But there’s also pressure to make the right first impression. When I get ready for school now, I want to curate a style and wear outfits that I feel exemplify me well. It feels like I should undergo some dramatic change from the person I was in high school, like those montage scenes in movies where the shy nerd tries on different styles until they come out of the dressing room completely transformed, outfit and all.
My thoughts on beauty standards at Oxy are complicated. On one hand, I know we’re very accepting of everyone and however they chose to represent themselves. At the same time, I’ve seen enough beautifully curated outfits revolving around a similar style to understand that there is a standard of dressing well. While I love Oxy’s style culture, I’m often upset with outfits I once loved to wear in my hometown because they don’t seem to meet the mark. I don’t have the latest trendy sneakers and the color palette of my clothes is muted and neutral. Pieces that once met the Boston quota seem dull in the light of the California sun.
I know from Greta Gerwig movies and texts from my mom that coming into yourself as “young woman” takes time. It’s important to note that so much of my anxiety around self-image has to do with the fact that I’m a woman. From the get go, we are put against one another and made to compare ourselves to unrealistic standards. I know it’s okay to not know where I fit in at Oxy style-wise and in the grander scheme of adulthood. It just sucks.
This frustration of not liking my style or feeling like I’m not meeting social standards will fade. I’ll find the outfits and makeup routine, or likely lack thereof, that exemplifies me well. Rereading old high school journal entries reminds me that I’ve been in this exact mindset before, and I’ve come out on the other side happy with the person my community knew me as. Everything will all come into place eventually. I know it will. The worst part is just that it takes time.
Contact Shea Salcedo at email@example.com