Summer is great for a lot of things: spending time outdoors, hanging out with your mates, unsheathing your pasty arms and legs from their winter woollies and getting some vitamin D… the list goes on.
You know what it’s not good for, though? Being a goth. Or in my case at least, being a rubbish goth.
At my school, come year nine, two main groups emerged: the chavs and the alts, and you had to pledge your allegiance to one or the other. You were allowed to sit on the edge with a gentle nod towards your chosen clan – an Adidas satchel or a bit of extra eyeliner, for example – but choose you must.
I’ve always been an angsty person – even as a child I’d get myself worked up about the meaning of life – so the alts were my obvious choice. And boy did I commit to it, bypassing the entry-level studded belts and skater shoes and launching headfirst into raven-black hair and boned corsets. In my mind I was a beautiful angel of darkness, with an ethereal aesthetic that matched my troubled soul.
The reality, though, was rather different. Caking white foundation over my already-bad skin just made it look worse, and my Potter-esque glasses only magnified the fact that I didn’t have a clue when it came to blending eyeshadow. I did a rubbish job dying my hair, my braces rubbed all my blood-red lipstick off and I could never get my blacks to match.
Plus, I lived in the middle of nowhere, so I couldn’t just pop to the shops for the stuff I needed to actually make the look work – visiting my nearest town involved sitting on a bus for more than an hour, which is not something I recommend when all the other passengers are aging farmers and elderly conservatives and you’re wearing a black wedding dress.
But I stuck with it, because even though I was doing a pretty bad job of it I felt that rocking a goth aesthetic was part of my identity. The music, the people and the mindset of the alt-goth scene spoke to me and made me feel like I was part of something meaningful and different – that I was meaningful and different.
So I was prepared to deal with the time-consuming faff of the hair and makeup, and I’d gotten used to the horrified stares from people in the village and the stupid insults from kids in school. It was the payoff for finding my identity and ‘my people’.
What eventually broke me, though, was summer.
No amount of factor 50 suncream could keep the freckles and weird tan lines at bay. No amount of powder would keep the white foundation on my shiny face and no amount of deodorant would stop me sweating profusely onto my thick velvet dresses. Any time I succumbed to the heat and wore a light dress or a pair of shorts the sudden change in aesthetic was so jarring everyone would make a big deal out of it, which made me feel rubbish, like I was betraying my own identity.
This was back in the days before pastel and summer goth were a thing. Back before there were endless webpages of style inspo to look to and long before Instagram makeup tutorials came along. It was all or nothing, and I was uncomfortable, sweaty and defeated. If I couldn’t properly show off who I was on the inside on the outside, I thought, then I wouldn’t bother at all.
So instead I just wore what was comfortable. I still went for blacks and dark colours, but there was no more scratchy velvet or rib-busting corsets. I stopped trashing my hair every month with black dye and started using a wash-in red to give my natural mousey-ginger a bit of a kick. I swapped the painful Victorian-style heels for a pair of comfy biker boots and while I still trucked on the black eyeliner, the white foundation went in the bin.
For a while I felt like I was compromising; like I was doing a bad job of ‘being me’, but gradually it dawned on me that, actually, I felt better in my own skin. I spent less time in front of a mirror fretting about my makeup. I moved around more freely and worried less about the vibe of my outfits.
I still listened to the same music and hung out with the same people – people who liked me for me, and not what I looked like. People who probably liked me even better when I stopped constantly tripping over my long skirts and being preoccupied with staying pale. I had, without even realising it, developed my own style and was more ‘me’ than I’d ever been.
So that summer was good for a lot of things, and as it turned out in the end, being a rubbish goth was one of them.
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Image: Hailey Hamilton