At age 11, the joy I would have felt as I debuted my new jacket to my fifth-grade class was overshadowed by my private knowledge of its dishonorable provenance: my local Goodwill.
Back then, shame silenced me. I resented that my family’s financial situation precluded me from the musky aisles of Hollister Co. and instead condemned me to the dusty racks of discounted retailers. I would have done anything to hide this reality and my paralyzing embarrassment from my comparatively well-off peers.
In 2019, however, I will gladly tell you the secondhand origins of any piece of clothing I wear and, though you probably won’t ask, I’ll tell you exactly how much it cost. In the past few years, the explosive popularity of vintage styles, purposefully tattered streetwear and sustainable fashion has destigmatized thrifting, and I’m more than happy to ditch my silence in favor of celebrating my pair of $5 vintage wide-legged Madewell jeans.
Yet, even though I am pleased by the recent acceptance of thrifting, I am also angry that I ever experienced such shame. Recently, I have embraced this anger and I now recognize that though my emotions will not transform socio-economic inequality or even my own experiences, they still represent valid and relevant expressions of my experiences and identity.
I feel intense rage that almost a decade ago I cowered in class-based shame because of my thrifted clothing, and now, people who enjoyed comparatively comfortable financial upbringings delight in the look of their secondhand items — or worse, their brand new, Urban Outfitters-sourced clothes paradoxically designed to look used. I find this behavior especially frustrating and ironic when I perceive their sartorial joy as part of an insidious cultural movement that increasingly glamorizes and fetishizes poverty while continuing to neglect actual low-income people.
Yet I do not intend to ask anyone to stop buying secondhand clothing or apologize for their privileged upbringing. In fact, if anyone wants to go thrifting this weekend, my netID is rpb47, and I’m always down.
My experience of unproductive rage about a seemingly trivial topic has indeed taught me a valuable lesson I find applicable to many situations we face as college-aged students in 2019: your anger does not need an outlet to be valid.
As college-aged people, we have many reasons to be angry. We face a terrifying financial future. Vine is dead. Our planet might be uninhabitable in 12 years, and, at the moment of this anthropogenic apocalypse, we’d be in our 30s. Meanwhile, some members of older generations have derided us as entitled and lazy — characterizations that work to minimize the gravity of our problems and shame us for complaining about them. In reality, however, we have every reason to be furious and every right to curse anyone who judges our fury and insists we must fix these enormous problems without stopping to complain.
Of course, I’m not implying that young people should not advocate for fair wages, affordable college or climate change action. On the contrary — go forth and advocate! I’m simply asking young people to resist the rhetoric that the hand we’ve been dealt is acceptable or fair and to recognize the profound mental relief that comes from allowing yourself to just be peeved. Advocate and act because you feel inspired and valuable, not because you feel pressured to channel your feelings into outlets deemed productive by a society that often values profitability over humanity.
I assert: you don’t need to “do something” to allow space for a feeling. You are not whining when you articulate your frustrations without simultaneously producing a plan of action.
We should not internalize omnipresent demands of productivity and apply them to our emotions. In order to preserve our sense of self-worth, we must resist suppressing our emotions and instead insist on seeing them as inherently valid. Only then can we accurately see our own intrinsic value, and only then can we lead meaningful, happy and healthy lives.
Above all, the real evil of demanding productivity from anger is that it corners the relatively powerless. Those who render such imperatives insist that if the aggrieved are not organizing a revolution — regardless of whether they have the money, the power, the time or the emotional stability to do so — their pain does not matter. I’m here to tell you: People and emotions do not find their worth in that which they tangibly create. Your pain matters, and it always will.
Rachel Biggio is a junior in the College. Generational Gap appears online every other Monday.