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13th February 2019

Pigeonholed by the puffa jacket

Sophie Marriott looks at the way student culture, for all its diversity, can pigeonhole us into narrow tropes with particular expectations, and how this can restrain our ability to explore our self-identities.
Pigeonholed by the puffa jacket
Photo: University of Salford Press Office @ flickr

Facebook and Twitter are saturated with quizzes inviting you to discover which ‘type’ of student you are, or what style you suit best, or what you really should be studying based on your personality.

Are you fit? Are you chilled? Or are you a mess? These tired tropes circulate lazily through our social media and smuggle us into overcrowded pigeonholes like batter-farmed chickens.

Only certain people will live in certain halls of residence, and they’ll also dress in similar ways, and of course, have exactly the same lifestyle. What type of student are you according to your favourite takeaway? Or better yet, what takeaway are you based on what type of student you are?

What should be a time of experimentation and self-discovery is becoming a race as to who can finish this process first. It feels as if the aim is always to present yourself as a finished product; polished, buffed, complete. However, this leaves no room to relish the process before this point, to wear outfits that perhaps aren’t very ‘you’, and sometimes outfits which aren’t really very anyone.

Having the ability to experiment with your style or your social group, is an opportunity to explore your deeper identity. Clothes can be a way to articulate your interests and passions to the outside world, just as your music taste can. The way you spend your free time is a kind of scouting out of your own mind.

Not everyone knows exactly what they think, all of the time, nor is everybody in complete harmony with their background. It is often assumed that every member of an ethnic minority is profoundly in tune with their wider community, and if they’re not overtly Black or Asian it’s because of some conscious choice they’ve made. Or equally, the more prevalent category, that of the middle-class white student, are not all from the happy homes in the leafy Home Counties.

At times, the Library can feel like the infamous lunchtime diner scene in Mean Girls, segregating the cliques of high school.

Of course, in Manchester, it is far more nuanced, and there isn’t the same pernicious judgement of those who make different fashion and lifestyle choices from yourself. There are some, however, who dish out scoffs to anyone who tries to escape the expectations built around them.

Manchester can be wonderful in accepting people from different backgrounds and cultures, and with different body types, but there’s a disturbing readiness to confine people to these groups. I’m sure most would agree that, in theory, all should have equal access to the puffa jacket as well as the sensible waterproof. Yet unconsciously we see one of these items and make a leap to an assumption about work ethic and social habits.

There should be more room for people to experiment with different cultures and genres. What we expect of certain people becomes the only way they could behave.

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