Flirting with identity

May 13, 2015

What does it mean to be your most authentic self?  Where do you go to find what it is that makes you, you?

In the last few years, we’ve embraced the idea of ‘flawsome’, a celebration of all of our imperfections. It’s our imperfections that make us authentic individuals. Nobody is perfect.

Embracing the flawed self allows us to embrace and understand ourselves - lumps, bumps and all. We have seen this manifest in fashion with a greater diversity of sizes, as well as campaigns like Dove Real Beauty, which show us that imperfections can be beautiful.

Image courtesy of Dove

With such a positive message, who would want to move away from this ideal?  Flawsome is awesome, don’t get me wrong – it makes up the majority of my excuses for unplucked eyebrows and the permanent reappearance of ladders in my stockings.  However, it is part of a conversation that encourages us to look inwards, to introspect.

Individuality and authenticity has traditionally been a process of introspection and reflection as we grow up, from awkward and unsure teenagers, into adults who have grown into their sense of self.  To be your most authentic self is to necessarily hold onto a more permanent narrative, a narrative we learn by looking inwards. However, the conversation is shifting from a serious introspection on the self, to a more playful, externalised experimentation with the self.

In his book, Empathy: A handbook for Revolution, Roman Krznaric introduces the idea of “outrospection”. This is the process of “stepping outside of ourselves” to discover who we are, and how to live.  It necessarily requires creativity and playfulness – the external world rather than the internal world.

The idea of playfulness mediated by the outside world is increasingly gaining popularity amongst adults.  An important part of playfulness is how it encourages us to keep learning in the ways we did as children.  It invokes a naïve curiosity about the world around us, and thus encourages us to use external experiences to help us understand ourselves, to understand the internal.

Importantly, playfulness allows us to be curious and flexible in the ways we interact with the world around us. And it reminds us to not take ourselves so seriously. It’s okay; we’re all still learning and growing.

Flirting with gender

Fashion can be used as a tool for outrospection, where we can step outside ourselves to discover who we are, using fashion as our external interface of identity expression.  In fashion, the move towards outrospection has manifested in a more experimental and playful aesthetic – almost reminiscent of the ways in which we played dress ups as children.  Although light-hearted, fashion trends have started to take on what it means to test the boundaries of identity as a changeable and flexible construct, rather than a permanent narrative.

The most recent emergence of this has been the distinctively effeminate edge in men’s fashion. At the start of the year, Gucci sent lanky, silk-adorned, homme-femme femminielli down the runway in Milan.  Yes, it does seem a bit gimmicky, and if we were being cynical it could be viewed as just another (superficial) move by the fashion world to be seen as edgy and interesting.

Image source: Flickr user, Charlie Cole, Lou Dalton SS14

But indulge me for a moment. This is also indicative of a playfulness of gender as it relates to one’s identity.  It can be seen as one expression of an outrospective approach to identity, providing an example of how we can test the limits of our own gender identities. From the perspective of the consumer, it provides new inspiration for our own games of dress-ups, and challenges us to play with pre-conceived gender boundaries.

Where perhaps in the past, making statements about gender has been explicitly political, Gucci’s femminello aesthetic doesn’t take itself too seriously: it’s fun, flexible, experimental and flirtatious.  What it tells us is, and what this broader shift towards flexible identities tells us, is that we’re free to play and experiment with identity, it’s not fixed or permanent, it’s just a game of dress-ups.