|Inspirational display in downtown LA // Personal Picture|
After reading Amanda's latest blog post on curating and jumping on bandwagons, I wondered about inspiration, where our tastes and aesthetics come from - more broadly, what affects our life choices. Does inspiration build our identity, or does imitating other people or keeping up with the Joneses make us drift away from who we really are?
When I was a child, I admired one of my aunts. The one who lived in the UK, was so smart and elegant, and sent me packages full of the Body Shop products for my birthday. I liked her simple style of clean lines, black, white and gray. I liked her simple silver jewelry. I liked that she was a vegetarian and commited to acting for the environment and her health. I spent a few months with her when I was 18 to refine my English skills, and she is the one who introduced me to the Body Shop, Muji, GAP, and beauty brands I'm still using like Clinique for example.
I clearly was inspired by her in many ways, and a lot of the choices I made, part of my style, and most of my favourite shops, were introduced to me by her. Does it mean I am an imitation, or is it a part of who I am now? That is the kind of question I asked myself when I was an identity searching young adult.
Another example of my own inspirations dates back to 2011, when I completely changed my style and built it back from the ground. At the time, I started by following a lot of fashion blogs - I somehow thought these bloggers were style experts, which I now doubt for most. After a few months, I discovered the wardrobe editing movement, mainly through the former blogger Dead Fleurette. And I have to admit, a lot of my style canvas is deeply inspired from that simplification/wardrobe curating blogosphere (I mean, taupe suede ankle boots anyone? I didn't buy the Dickers, but still...)
Three years later, I think my blog pictures and Instagram feed look a lot like what Amanda describes in the aformentioned blog post - clean line, wood, black, white and nice flower bouquets, French Press, striped shirts... Even though I don't buy much from high end brands, I'd say my overall aesthetics does have a bit of a Kinfolk air sometimes. Does it mean I am a sheep and that's not really me? What part does inspiration play to who we are?
This "Mirror Neurons" ThingI am no neuroscientist, so the topic will remain quite superficial here, but from what I understand, we humans are wired to learn by imitation. These mirror neurons of ours make us observe and reproduce actions and behaviours from other human beings - to learn how they did it and learn the skill for ourselves. I guess that's also a way to integrate in a social group.
I have a very practical example of this: my violin lessons. My teacher shows me how to play by playing the piece himself, then I imitate him. Sometimes, we play together, simultaneously. When I don't quite catch something he wants to teach me, he shows me. I watch and learn.
I'm thinking, it's probably the same for everything, not only manual skills. Children learn language by listening to their parents. We learn to say hello, thank you, goodbye, because our parents say it in front of us (on top of punishing us if we don't, that is). Maybe, as a child, I learned how adults are by imitating my aunt. Maybe I figured out my new style by imitating a selection of bloggers I liked, as I had no knowledge of my own on the matter at the time.
Even artists imitate. They reproduce masterpieces to learn the trade. Good writers read a lot of books and take inspiration from the writing styles they like most. I'm sure this is true of any kind of art or craftmanship.
On Choosing Sources of InspirationNow, the question I'm asking myself is, where does the imitation/inspiration stop, and where does our own identity start? If our tastes and life choices (this job over that, this holidays location...) are based on inspiration, how can we be sure to be "ourselves"?
Jess recently wrote about cultural capital, and, even though it is not the main subject of this article, reminds that a lot of our choices and purchases depend on our social group's cultural capital, and we forge an image - who we want to be, or who we want to be seen as - through the brands we buy from and the knowledge we expose. But what I'm wondering is, if this conspicuous consumption is about showing off and belonging, where is our "self" in this? Does this become who we are, or is it a social mask? How can inspiration lead to building who we are?
I think this comes down to the choices we make. There are a lot of sources of inspirations out there, but we choose who or what we are inspired by, and from these people, we choose which elements to take inspiration from. And I think this choice is what makes us who we are.
To illustrate on the personal examples above - I chose to be inspired by this aunt and not another member of my family. My sister for example, was inspired by a completely different person in her young years. Funnily enough, my aunt and I have a very similar personality, and my sister's inspirational figure has a similar personality to hers as well. And I don't think our personalities have been molded by our inspirational figures, I think that, on the contrary, we have been inspired by these people because they had a similar personality as ours in the first place.
The style and blogosphere example above is the same. Between March and June 2011, I followed many fashion blogs, and I had a very wide range of choices from which I could take inspiration. At first, I wasn't into wardrobe simplification at all, my initial goal was only to find a style I could feel "myself" in. But I discovered the "minimalist fashion bloggers", I felt drawn to this simplification project and I chose to take inspiration from this movement rather than another. I chose my source of inspiration.
The Patchwork of our IdentityIn the end, I believe what makes us who we are is this patchwork of inspirations we select here and there and put together in a unique way. The motivations for picking this element and not another are ours, and stem from our own taste and personality.
Sure, some choices are related to wanting to belong, to compensating a low self esteem, and, at some periods of our life, we imitate and search ourselves. I think that, as we grow, discover ourselves and evolve, we get less and less influenced by standards and bandwagons, and create more and more our own patchwork. But in the meantime, the influences that work on us, the bandwagons we choose to jump on, already tell something about who we are.
Again, to go back to my two examples of inspirations - as I became a young adult, when I compared my tastes and choices with my aunt's, I realized I had grown into myself, I don't always agree with her, I don't like everything she likes. In the end, we still do have a lot in common, but my identity has grown into something else.
Same for style inspirations. I have "minimalist fashion blogger" elements, the taupe suede ankle boots, the striped tops, the khaki jacket, the mini cross body bag... But I also have reintroduced pieces from my other inspirations - silver and natural stone jewerly from my "ethnic/exotic" taste, leather jackets from my "goth" years... In the end, my current style has its own unique elements from various inspirations, reinterpreted and patchworked together to become "mine".
My Current Take on InspirationI still have sources of inspiration, we all have. I didn't suddenly become a transcendental being who invents things ex nihilo. I probably have just as many sources of inspiration as I used to, and as many as you do. After all, it is human to be inspired, and learn from imitation. For example, one of the only famous French fashion bloggers I still more or less follow is Coline, and I know that I'm inspired by her jewelry collection and natural beauty routine.
As my identity became stronger and more defined, I am more aware of which elements inspire me and why. I know my own details and preferences, I know my ethics and values, I know my tastes and priorities, and I know how to integrate these inspirational elements into who I am. And I'm not only talking about style or material aesthetics here, I am talking about political choices, life choices as well.
I still have a long way to go, as we keep evolving until the day we die, but I think that inspirations are a way to know ourselves better, and I feel much more confident with my choices now, and much more immune to criticism. I don't like it anymore than the next guy, and I sometimes get hurt too, but since I know myself better, I stand behind my choices, so if someone doesn't like it, I'm better equipped to defend my opinion, and also to not care that they don't agree.
In a way, I wonder if being aware of our sources of inspiration, of the motivations that make us choose this option over that one, isn't a way to strengthen our identity and self confidence, of being more at ease with who we are.
The reflection here has gone further than initially planned when I started writing this post, but I really believe that what makes us strong and confident is to admit that we imitate other people sometimes, that we take inspiration from various sources, to be honest with ourselves and other people, understand and stand behind our choices.
To wrap up this long post, here is a TED talk about difficult choices and how they forge who we are. There is no talk of inspiration here, but I think the idea is linked to what I talked about above: what we choose to be inspired by forges who we are:
Ruth Chang - How to Make Hard Choices