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 par 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- is tic 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 fashion. 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 "pepe o 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.
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