By Erin Sheehan
Growing up as an unpaid mime, I learned early on that the act of dressing up can visually communicate or sell an identity to others. Fashion is a system made up of different agents, which constructs a set of knowledge we use every day. One of these actors that taught me how to clothe my body and, in turn, present my understandings of self is the medium in which Clarissa Explains It All. However it was through the character of Angela Chase where TV truly changed my life.
In the pilot, Angela says to her teacher,
“It just seems like you agree to have some personality or something, for no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, how do you even know it’s you?”
Self-reflexive statements like these are only one of the reasons why at the age of 20, I found the 15 year old teen to be awe-inspiring.
It’s similarly because at the time I started watching the show I was going through an identity crisis. As I was going through this process of denaturalization and re-evaluation I was ashamed of the Donna Reed I was and the TLC member I was becoming. I hid myself from both my old and new sets of friends, changing to fit their expectations in each situation.
The show does present the popular Hollywood transformation theme with Angela dying her hair red and replacing her conservative pastels for the “grungy” faded prints that are worn by her new friends Rayanne and Ricky, who demonstrate the sense of freedom found in post-modern subculture style that the lead also wishes to feel.
However, despite this, Angela is revolutionary because of her use of bricolage. The dualism German sociologist Georg Simmel theorized as the dominant struggle in life between wanting to imitate and wanting to be different that is relieved in the ambiguous nature of fashion, is signified through Angela whose own identity is mediated through the everyday act of dressing up.
The final episode of the series Angela is seen mixing both the “conservative” and “rebellious” styles, pairing a form fitting bright green sweater with baggy overalls and a muted colour floral t-shirt, to signify her own individuality. This allowed me to see how we are both defined by our sociological structures and our activity within them, working with many objects and encoding their messages in our own way based on our socialized knowledge. Knowing this has allowed me to use fashion and, in turn, shape my identity into something that is influenced by other things, but is completely my own.
Angela, for me is the most ground breaking TV character as she taught me that although we may be products, it is how we style our bodies, and in turn our identities, that makes us active and complicated individuals, which is, as she states, the thing that makes us beautiful.