Friday, 5 April 2013


We are who we present and, therefore, we become who we choose to present. We only ever see the world from our own eyes and our own perspective, and conversely, the world around us (or, at least, the inhabitants of it that have the ability to perceive) only ever sees us from their eyes and their perspective. Even if we attempt to present the exact person we feel we are deep down, it’s fundamentally impossible, because our multifaceted personalities can never be fully represented in the superficiality that is our physical and social presence. Even if we wrote an autobiography on ourselves, printed the full text on a dress, and forced everyone we interacted with to read it on our first encounter, that would still be our own interpretation and representation and would still only just be scratching the surface of who we “really” are. Fashion is just another way of writing our representative “autobiography”, arguably in a more powerful way than words ever could, because in an increasingly image-based culture, visual semiotics are more easily understood than linguistics ("a pictures worth a thousand words").

Hyperreality. It’s not real but merely a representation of the real, a world where the boundaries between reality and representation have become blurred. “A world where the fictional dramas on TV are used as teaching aids, or where a company promotes itself by advertising an imaginary product” (Nicholas Perry).

The only definite, unchangeable reality we have is the reality of who we truly are deep down, as it’s perceived by ourselves, anything else is a simulation, a fabricated representation. This is because of the simple fact that we live life permanently through our own eyes, not from the collective eyes of wider society. What is deemed ‘real’ and ‘irreal’ can only ever be judged from our perspective, and anyone else’s opinion is merely their interpretation from their perspective. A clichéd and all-too-common example of this point is that of a closeted homosexual, someone who lives their life as a “straight man” but is quite obviously (to themselves) living a simulated life. Underneath it all, the reality of their existence is that they’re attracted to men, but because for whatever reason they don’t want this to be their reality or they feel that this cannot acceptably be their reality, they simulate another reality, a hyperreality, something which is a (false) representation of themselves and not their actual self, but which is presented as their actual self (their “real” self) and comes to constitute their “identity” in social contexts. To live a completely real life (at least, from your own perspective) is to live life exactly how you wish it could be lived, no matter how the wider society would perceive you.

With the increasingly universal adoption of Internet usage and the ability to live almost permanently “online”, the cyberworld has become another place where hyperreality is clearly visible, especially within the parameters of social networking websites. “Facebook itself is an exercise in hyperreality – users create ‘profiles’ which are supposed to encapsulate their ‘person’ and communicate with others, ‘friends’, through its interface.” (Jordan Kinder)

It’s quite clear that rather than an accurate portrayal of an individual (assuming it is possible in the first place to create such a portrayal), a Facebook profile is a users interpretation of who they believe they are or who they want to be presented within the confines of Facebooks own parameters as to what constitutes an individual and what constitutes an “identity”. Facebook, then, is arguably doubly hyperreal. Jean Baudrillard (20th century social theorist), when questioned as to who he is, famously replied by stating, “I am the simulacrum of myself” (Jean Baudrillard). If we are, as Baudrillard suggests, a simulacrum of ourselves, then a Facebook profile arguably functions as a simulation of that simulacrum, a representation of another representation. The impossible question here is that, if we’re now given the freedom to represent something which isn’t even definably real to begin with, where will this cycle end?

Monday, 1 April 2013


“Identity is a mirage that shifts in and out of context”Winnie Ha

I was sitting in a lecture by fashion writer Winnie Ha about a year ago, and this quote in particular is one that stuck with me and kept me thinking.

When I searched for the definition of "identity", I realised that it's actually quite a hard thing to define, even for professional word-definers. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as, "the fact of being who or what a person or thing is". The use of the word "Fact" in this definition suggests identity is something that's absolute and unchangeable, yet the concept of a distinct "identity" is actually very transient. Our identity as it's perceived by society is not who we are when we go to bed at night, it’s who we choose to be when we wake up in the morning and venture out into the world. In other words, identity does not refer to the unchanging characteristics of ourselves (our physical form), but rather, the ever changing persona (perceived identity) that we choose to present. With this said, aspects of our physical form can definitely come to constitute parts of our social identity (for example: "the fat man, "the short woman"), but this is not because we choose to present ourselves as such, its because we dont have the ability (or in some cases, the motivation) to change those aspects of our presentation. While the persona that I embody in one particular context might define my identity at that point in time, once I shift to a new context, that persona or perceived identity can be altered radically and dramatically. For example, if I was at a professional job interview, I'd present myself quite differently than if I was having a casual coffee with a friend, or if I was going out for a night of drinking. This not only refers to the way we present ourselves physically, but also in the language and mannerisms that we use to communicate. For example, casual swearing and over-emphasized hand gestures might be part of my identity when I'm with a friend, but in a job interview, I would edit my presentation and exclude these characteristics from my "identity".

Fashion is arguably the most useful tool we have to alter our identities to the world around us, it gives us the unmatched ability to edit every single aspect of our physical self and present whoever and whatever we choose. "Each area of the body, from the top of the head to the toes, can be a location for the articulation of styles and dress. At every location of the body, the individual has a choice regarding how to articulate with styles of adornment - whether to wear a hat or not, a necktie or not, a skirt or pants, and so on. These choices are regulated by the paradigmatic axis of the societies particular dress code," (Roland Barthes). Because we are given the freedom to make these endless choices (to a certain extent), a distinct and unchanging "identity" is one of the most impossible notions imaginable.

Going back to Winnie's quote, "Identity is a mirage that shifts in and out of context". A mirage is an illusion, and while we might give the illusion in one situation (context) that our identity is distinctly defined a certain way, once we shift to a different context, the perception of that identity can change monumentally. This is still true even if we don't change our physical presentation from context to context, because the way our persona relates to the persona of the people and things around us in each particular context also has an effect on how our "identity" is perceived. For example, someone who chooses to present themselves as a "Punk" could be identified as a "normal person" when they're in the context of a Punk music concert or in any situation with their Punk friends, but if that Punk walked into an office or into a funeral, situations that call for a more conformative presentation, their physical identity, though it remains unchanged, would be considered "abnormal".

The underlying point of this post is that nobody is ever completely and permanently defined as one thing, and that changing the way our identity is perceived by the world around us is one of the most natural, unremarkable and surprisingly subconscious aspects of being a human.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

I've created this blog page as a place to collect and collate my fourth-year research and subsequent thought responses.

hyperreality [ˌhaɪpərɪˈælɪtɪ]
n pl -ties

(Sociology) (Philosophy) an image or simulation, or an aggregate of images and simulations, that either distorts the reality it purports to depict or does not in fact depict anything with a real existence at all, but which nonetheless comes to constitute reality.

n pl, slang

One's desired social identity expressed through personal presentation.