Lessons from Taylor Swift

February 24, 2010
I used to eat lunch accompanied by my shadow while everybody else formed tight cliques in the cafeteria. I was an insoluble chunk floating against the current of the conformity. Nobody wanted to talk to me because of the way I looked. Back then, I consistently wore faded T-shirts from The Children’s Place and alien-looking hand-me-down sandals. In addition, my hair was black and my skin was of a deeper hue than white. The other kids pretended not to mind, but surreptitiously they avoided me.

This is the problem many adolescents face today. It’s the issue of never looking “good” enough, or having “acceptable” clothing. A large contributor to discrimination based on appearance is personal prejudice. Stereotypes closely associated with different distinctions between people, such as race, gender, or economic background, stick close to the minds of adolescents, shrouding unbiased judgment. Arguably, the strongest point of distinction between people is appearance.

Appearance is now a source of security for those who perpetuate it. Conversely, failure to dress “well” is manipulated as a point of exploitation to deride fellow students. Sticking to popular trends, kids buy into large clothing chains such as American Eagle and Hollister. In doing so, they begin to succumb their individuality to the conformity. Those who refused to or did not have the money to change their appearance, like me, were often isolated.

Branching from outer appearance is a myriad of stereotypes further personified by the media. These aesthetic barriers make it harder for people of certain races and backgrounds to make social headway into the world. In order to fit in, individuals in the minority often sacrifice quirks in order to appease the majority and fit in with its ideals.

America is often labeled as a “melting pot” of cultures. However, a cursory glance at history reveals that America is really not as benevolent toward minorities as people may like to believe. Prejudice has become so integrated in our lives today that many people fail to notice their self-prejudice against others. The innocent integrity of elementary school is quickly shed as kids adapt to the “new frontier” that is middle school by discriminating against other kids. America will not truly become an equilibrium base for all cultures until adolescent prejudice is tranquilized.

“I got to sit down at a lunch table full of girls and they would all get up and leave as soon as I sat down,” pop icon Taylor Swift revealed about her past. Today, celebrities and teens alike are faced with the same problem.

Let’s take a cue from Taylor Swift. The key to solving this social dilemma is to pursue it at the source. Adolescents today must learn from their juvenile mistakes while there is still time to change the future. The effects of adolescent discrimination are long-lasting. Adolescence affects adulthood, and helps determine the caliber of people our society will produce. The adolescents of today will mature into the policy-makers, artists, lawyers, and doctors of tomorrow. Who knows what each individual will grow up to become? This is why we must begin to develop our mindsets to be sensitive of all groups of people while we are young. At the same time, we must not be afraid to embrace our unique cultural differences.

From personal experience, I know that prejudice among teens is an issue that is still healthy and thriving. Without alleviating cultural tensions on the adolescent level, how can we expect to solve the same problems of ethnic tensions as the teenagers of today become the adults of tomorrow?

This is a survival story. Prejudice in schools is a pertinent issue that must be addressed and mitigated. I survived the depression and isolation of prejudice, but there are many others who fall prey to the snide remarks and never get up again. We cannot lose any inquisitive minds to social suppression. If thought is curbed and tailored by prejudice at a premature time, it will be harder to accept other cultures regardless of appearance later on. Mass media is a heavy contributor to this problem, but ultimately the media is not in control. Each individual has the right to stand up against social injustice based on appearance. If this happens, maybe the pursuit for cultural equality will not elude us for long.

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