by BEN RICHARDSON
I need your help. Let’s try to recreate a scene of our school on the first Monday after winter break. We’ll start with a generalized depiction of what the hallways were like: crowds of people, some of which you were excited to see, others not so much. Are you starting to have flashbacks of maybe what you saw, what you heard? AH, here we go, flashback number one: two-thirds of the school population is showing off the Christmas season’s hottest items, asserting their self-confidence in a world where socioeconomic class is a personality trait. A sophomore guy wearing Airpods confronts his buddy standing near the learning center couches with a Twitter joke.
“Oh, you didn’t get Airpods for Christmas? Sorry, can’t understand you. I don’t speak BROKE.”
Jokes aside, my mind pesters me about that first day back all the time. I’m struggling a lot with the idea of humility and modesty, but I’m also completely transfixed on figuring it out for myself--which is why I want you to think back on that day, so I can make sure it wasn’t just me who felt as though our school’s culture is deeply flawed. Unwelcoming, even, by everyone “flexing” on each other. If I was the only one, feel free to stop here. But if you did happen to notice the same issues I noticed, I see you. To anyone who felt incompetent or looked down upon for not owning Airpods, I see you. If you and your family decided that maybe it was more important to pay the bills this month, in the shadow of a government shutdown and a looming economic crisis, I see you. And I have good news. Reality paints a different picture in my crystal ball, because a good portion of Airpod owners, or of any other coveted golden cow, are desperately just trying to fit in.
Being modest is hard. It requires us to deny other people the right to define our own reality. If we want to think of Airpod owners or any sought-after item owners as members of an exclusive club, we ought to think of modest, humble people as members of a club that would be 10 times harder to get into. When it comes to clothes, modesty is a daunting task for one high schooler to achieve, grabbing something so high up on their ladder of importance and bringing it down to earth. I myself envy the person who works to be perfectly content living a life without physical distractions, however impressive he or she might be.
My good friend’s mom has driven the same Chevy SUV for years. Only up until last week when the beloved ‘Burb kicked the bucket was there any urgency to upgrade. The way I see things, people like that are much more selfless and spiritually present because they aren’t exhausting their limited energy on triviality. If the car drives, why does she have to succumb to societal pressure to upgrade every 6 years (on average)? Does she really need to splurge on a leather interior to be happy? At the same time, there’s no denying that confidence and self-worth are valuable. Necessary, even. So, if material possessions are the only way to get yourself off the couch feeling better about yourself, and to achieve greater things as a result, that’s great. But some of us, like my friend’s mom, have mastered the art of not caring about what other people think.
Pulitzer Prize-winning artist, Kendrick Lamar, brought to light the conversation on Photoshop and fakeness in his music video for “Humble.” I’ll give it to you straight: we dress how we feel, and the YouTube influencer-Vogue model-soundcloud rapper culture we live in affects how we feel. We willingly enslave ourselves to a hyper-capitalistic system that feeds us lie after lie. You’re important, so buy this and dress like this and edit photos like this to prove it. No wonder that entire album (wish I could say the name) won a Pulitzer.
I learned about vanity recently, and now I’m convinced I’m a vain person. Vain people like to be seen walking around with Airpods. It takes one to know one, but I am only as vain as I allow. Those bad boys go in my pocket when I’m walking down the hall because I honestly wouldn't want to miss a chance to talk to people I care about in this day and age of isolation. Before I wrap my piece up, I feel like I should mention the distinction between dressing flashy out of self-importance, and dressing well out of self expression. How we present ourselves is all about mindset. One of the greatest gifts we have as Americans is our robust individualism, and I love when people express their authenticity through their appearance. Here’s an example where a line is drawn, though.
Person A buys a pair of $280 semi frozen yellow Boost 350 V2 Yeezys that look HORRIBLE with 98% of their outfits. It doesn’t matter though, because Yeezys subconsciously signal to other brainwashed victims of society that they’re worth it. In the words of bestselling author Dave Ramsey, “We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.”
Person B, however, knows that fashion should reflect who he or she is, not what society wants. Person B keep tabs on sales at his or her favorite stores. Person B is not too stuck up to shop at Old Navy or Plato’s Closet for wardrobe staples, either. At the end of the day, the difference between the two people is that Person A arrives to school reliant on strangers’ approval to validate their worth, while Person B arrives to school unconcerned about strangers’ judgement, which in return frees up extra energy for better things, like actually going to school to learn and make real friends.
If we all lived as if we didn’t have to prove ourselves to anyone but our Creator, our families, our employers or the people who actually matter to us, would we even need status symbols at all? I hope that more of us consider that question before we have an urge to flex what we got.