Aesthetic-based culture is suffocating 

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Fitting in with a certain aesthetic or crowd is an important part of remaining popular and well liked. Despite the fact that how you feel and act says more about you than what you look like, it is common for others to judge you based on your fashion or music taste. Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash.

In taking a deep-dive into my mind this week, I nearly came up empty for column ideas. Operating on autopilot, I’m living life by the motto ‘head empty, no thoughts.’ The semester has officially lost its novelty; days and weeks are routine but alas, we persevere. I have, however, spent a lot of time exploring new music in an attempt to diversify my treks across campus to class each day.  

Like many others my age, I am a huge fan of a playlist curated around a hyper-specific feeling. Even just opening up my Spotify app, I can see I’m nearing my 100th playlist. The titles of these range from “Homesick for something that doesn’t exist,” to the soundtrack to “10 Things I Hate About You” to “Strangers in the car – agreeable as ever.” I know that we can rely on music to better explain the nuanced emotions we struggle to articulate – and clearly, I embrace this each time I log on to my Spotify account.  

But even more so, I know that my music taste spans a wide range – you can tell from the many playlist titles that often come off as slightly-unhinged. It’s a little scary, and functions as a kind of abyss. Think of the scene from “Spongebob” where Spongebob himself claims to know nothing but “fine dining and breathing” and his brain office erupts into chaos when they realize they threw out his name – at this point in the semester I’m not sure I know my name all the time, but I definitely have that one odd song I heard once when I was 10-years-old and have since formed an emotional attachment to stored away in some figurative filing cabinet somewhere.  

But this can make it hard to describe what kind of music I listen to when people ask. I’m not unique in having this struggle; most people’s music tastes are pretty vast. But this is a good thing! I wouldn’t narrowly define myself as only emo, despite definitely enjoying the pop-punk scene, nor would I say I am explicitly “yee-haw” despite having grown up listening to country music with my parents. There is variation throughout my life, and consequently there is variation in the music I choose to listen to each day. 

With social media present in every facet of life, it’s hard to escape being labeled as a specific “type” of person. A person’s music tastes, activities, and friends are all publicly accessible knowledge. Photo by Ilias Chebbi on Unsplash.

There seems to be an ever-present phenomenon to label ourselves with an aesthetic, likely fueled by social media’s overwhelming influence. But why do we feel this intense need to label ourselves? Why, for example, do we have to be a “person who listens to xyz music,” in our appearance, actions and personalities? Listening to a certain genre of music is no longer enough – you have to look and act the part as well.  

It goes beyond music as well – we’ve become obsessed with fitting into the aesthetic of our activities rather than just enjoying them. We shove ourselves into boxes so that we’re neatly packaged and easily digestible by society, but it’s not doing us any true favors. There’s no benefit to narrowing our mindsets and expectations regarding something as vast as the human experience.  

As a population, we tend to lead toward labels because they theoretically bring simplicity to a very complicated world. Humans crave classifications and categorizations to make sense of our overwhelming experiences. Trapping ourselves via labels is the extreme manifestation of this need for organization – You can enjoy things without making them your entire personality. Your life does not have to follow one overarching theme.  

The world is messier than we would like it to be, and humans are dynamic. Thus, you cannot shove every person in the world into a singular category of aesthetic expectations. Defining people based on their likes and interests does not work; it is not an infallible practice. And we shouldn’t strive to make it so easy for others to do this in the first place – do what you enjoy rather than trying to define yourself by it.  

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