Individuality And Inner Struggle


Individuality And Inner Struggle Essay, Research Paper

Individuality and Inner Struggle

Humans desire to have individuality. What is

individuality? It can be thought of as a combination of

qualities that distinguish one individual from another.

Wanting to be different from others is a part of the human

nature, but what is also a part of this nature is the

longing for social acceptance. Therefore, humans are always

searching for a way to fulfill both needs. Minou Fuglesang

and Georg Simmel use fashion and envy, along with culture,

in their writings to define the inner struggle of the

human’s need to be an individual within a group.

In order to understand how exterior influences cause

inner struggle, one must understand what inner struggle is.

Inner struggle can be illustrated by Plato’s example from

Phaedrus of the charioteer and his horses (31). In relation

to fashion, envy, and culture, the charioteer represents

humans and their wants. One could say that the two horses

represent two of the many different needs of human nature:

one horse, individuality and the other horse, conformity.

When all three come together, the horse of individuality and

the horse of conformity want to go in completely opposite

directions while the charioteer wants his horses to go

straight ahead, so the charioteer has an extremely difficult

time reining the horses. Like the charioteer, humans also

battle with two sides that want to go different ways.

Simmel argues that fashion is a tool used to express

one’s individuality in order to be accepted by others.

Humans have two needs in society: “the need of union on the

one hand and the need of isolation on the other” (Simmel

301). They want to be seen as an individual, different from

everyone, but they also want to be part of a group for the

reassurance of their individuality. As Simmel states, “ . .

. fashion represents . . . the tendency towards social

equalization with the desire for individual differentiation

and change” (296). Fashion is extremely fickle and

transient because “the very character of fashion demands

that it should be exercised at one time only by a portion of

the given group” (Simmel 302). This transient character-

istic guarantees that the upper class, the ones in society

who have enough means to follow fashion, remain in a group

by themselves because as soon as the lower classes begin to

imitate the upper class fashion, the upper class changes the


Like Simmel, Fuglesang also holds that fashion is used

to unify and isolate. She states, “Women dress for each

other as well as for themselves” (109). The women who

attend the wedding celebration “dress for each other” to

obtain approval from other women but they also dress “for

themselves” to express their individuality. Fuglesang

emphasizes this ambiguity by recounting a story of her

experience at a “kupamba” in the very beginning of the

chapter. In her account, she describes women who follow the

most recent local fashions and those who imitate the styles

of television celebrities by wearing “pepeo collars with

frills” and “disco highlights”. These women emulate various

styles because it is a way for them to be different but

similar at the same time.

Why people follow fashion becomes more difficult to

determine when envy is involved. It can be a reassurance of

one’s individuality but it can also be a way of conforming

to society. People follow fashion because “the fashionable

person is regarded with mingled feelings of approval and

envy; we envy him as an individual, but approve of him as a

member of a set or group” (Simmel 304). Simmel’s argument

for this is supported by his example of the rich and poor

neighbors (304). The poor man feels envy toward his rich

neighbor while the rich man feels satisfaction from being

envied because he is not poor. Fashion works the same way.

Fashionable people know that they are different from others

when the less fashionable envy them. This satisfies their

need to be individuals. But then, there are those people

who envy the fashionable because the fashionable are a part

of a certain group, the chic group. They are not looking

for ways to express their individuality, but rather a way to

be like others, to be accepted by others.

Culture also plays a large role in the human’s in-

decision between individuality and social acceptance. Most

people feel they must honor their culture, a part of their

individuality, by continuing to honor old traditions. Yet

at the same time, they long to follow “local fashions” and

copy the styles of celebrities to be accepted by the popular

culture by exhibiting their “modernity” (Fuglesang 112).

Money is also an issue in some cultures. For example, the

extent of money lavished on a “kupamba” determines “the

bride’s social value” (Fuglesang 117). If money is used

sparingly for a “kupamba”, the bride and her family become

victims of gossip and dishonor in the community, losing

their social acceptance. Not only do fashion and money

cause conflict within oneself, it also causes conflict

within the community. As Fuglesang exemplifies, there are

religious reformists who disagree with the modern marital

practices. These religious leaders criticize the presence

of male musicians at all-female events, and they also

criticize the wedding veil, arguing that “it is a symbol

taken from the Christian wedding which has nothing to do

with Islam” (119).

Fashion, envy, and culture affect individuality and

conformity. They cause conflict within people because, like

the two horses, they pull humans in opposite directions.

All three advocate segregation by creating an elite group,

but simultaneously, they also advocate union by creating a

group. In order to overcome this inner struggle of self and

society, one must find a medium, a straight path to follow

like the charioteer.

Fuglesang, Minou. Veils and Videos: Female Youth Culture

on the Kenyan Coast. Vol. 32 Stockholm Studies in

Social Anthropology. Stockholm: Department of Social

Anthropology Stockholm University: Distributed by

Almqvist and Wiksell International, 1994.

Plato. Phaedrus. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul

Woodruff. United States: Hacket Publishing Company,


Simmel, Georg. On Individuality and Social Forms; Selected

Writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971.

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