This blog post is inspired by one of my clients (you know who you are) who is so sweet and often asking about how to choose in this world of seemingly-endless options for self expression.
First thing's first: It's important to note that self-expression is by nature, individualistic and very subjective. But it's one of my core values in life, and the reason I do what I do here. I take this VERY seriously, not only as someone who comes from a long line of fashion-industry professionals, but also someone who reckons and re-reckons with self-expression (both surface-level and philosophical) on a daily basis.
- Determine who you really are: this is the hardest part. It can be as deep or as surface level as you want, though it can help to spend a little time in both surface and deep arenas. If you want to start by making a values-map, that's cool. If you want to flip through posts on social media and say things as simple as "I like this, I don't like that," that's taste-making too! Some people realize that self-expression cannot be contained by any one or handful of things, and even coming to that realization is a determination one has to make.
Find Your Medium: Self-expression can take many forms, such as writing, singing, dancing, cooking, painting, photography, fashion, etc. Try different forms of expression to see which one resonates with you the most. For me, I've been drawn to visual art since I was a child, so my easiest outlets were fashion and drawing. But, now that I'm a full time artist, I've really been called to experiment with other senses: taste, smell, and touch are harder for me! The medium is just the way for you to convey your feelings, the way you want others to interpret you. But it is also about aesthetic love, feelings, and the softer emotions that are very difficult to place values on. Remember, your medium is a way for YOU to express what you want, and not a final piece to be judged. Did you read that right? Your medium is for YOU to express yourself- the work is in the doing, not the final piece. The expression is in the journey, not the product.
Create a Safe Space: It's important to create a space where you feel comfortable expressing yourself without fear of judgment or criticism. This could be a private space in your home or a supportive community of people who share your interests. I have found social media to be a wonderful and tolerant place, especially if you find yourself a small-ish circle of supportive people. This is especially true if you are in a hostile home environment or somewhere where you may be ostracized or put in danger for expressing yourself openly in an environment that is intolerant. Honestly, this is why I feel safer in elective spaces! You may be inclined to believe all the nice comments and emotional support is just lip service, but once you actually get chatting on an individual level, you'll find that people are just as nice as you and me-- they're people, after all.
Start Small: Begin with small, manageable creative projects that you can easily accomplish. This can help build your confidence and allow you to explore your creativity without feeling overwhelmed. For instance, challenges are super fun! These are little ideas or projects you come up with to just push at the boundary of what you are comfortable with. Depending on your method of self-expression, these projects will look different. But for a makeup junkie like myself, this might be a challenge like, "use every eyeshadow in this palette by the end of this month, but you can't repeat shades on consecutive days." You'll be surprised how flexible this kind of 'small challenge' based mindset can get you. I made challenges for my fountain pen inks, going to the gym, trying new hairstyles, fiber craft projects, and more. There are plenty of challenges you can try to come up with on an individual level, but there are also challenges, hashtags, and communities that tackle projects together. I think finding a community has made a lot of personal aspects of self expression a lot easier!
Embrace Imperfection: Don't worry about creating a masterpiece or being perfect. Self-expression is about exploring your inner self and expressing your unique perspective. Embrace your mistakes and imperfections, as they can often lead to unexpected and interesting results. Like I said, the process itself is what you are looking to learn and heal from, not necessarily just the final result! This is much easier said than done, and I am working on it myself. This might be considered super toxic, but one of my favorite things to do when I am feeling down about myself and my progress is to look at some of my heroes and idols and see where they were at in the beginnings of their journeys. Oftentimes, we are comparing two different life stages of two different organisms together, and we just have no business even starting to equate the two. Strive for perfection, but fall short and be OK with that. There's a difference between having high standards and being a perfectionist (someone who lets their high standards or fear of negative external judgement get in the way of actually doing something).
Be Authentic: Self-expression is about being true to yourself and expressing your unique voice. Don't try to imitate others or conform to what you think others want to see. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and authentic. Educate yourself with lots of different resources and pull from all kinds of things to find a way of self expression that feels true to you! I always try to remember and keep in mind that no singular form of self expression can ever fully encapsulate who we are as individuals, but it's fun to show different sides of ourselves. Authenticity means listening to what you genuinely do and like, even when it means people are opposing you, not seeing you, or not validating you.
Experiment: Try new techniques, styles, and mediums to explore different ways of expressing yourself. This can help you discover new facets of your creativity and expand your skills. This is where documentation is super fun! I love to show the progression of something, even just to have a record for archival purposes. we change so much over time organically, so just imagine how much progress we can observe when putting pointed efforts towards a task! however, as much as I like to tout experimenting towards a 'finished' end goal , remember that experimentation too, is part of the self-expression. think about what feels good to YOU, what makes YOU feel powerful. There's a certain tuning to an internal compass that requires a bit of work to figure out, and it must be done through trial and error.
Practice: Like any skill, self-expression takes practice. Set aside time regularly to practice and experiment with different forms of expression. Over time, you'll develop your own unique style and voice. And remember, we reserve the right to change our forms of self expression whenever we feel like it! Just like not all things are good in all circumstances, not all forms of expression are beneficial or safe in all situations. I like to remember that life is made up of infinitely many phases and situations and they don't all have to fit nicely together to make something good in general.
Hopefully these tips helped! It was a little vague because self expression runs the gamut from being a performance artist to running a book blog. Ultimately, I am keeping this in mind for myself as I carve my way in the world as an artist who is reckoning with her own brand of self expression.