Opinion Graphic fall 2020

It’s a universally known fact that going through photos from middle school is a painful experience. Each image is an embarrassing reminder of the things you once thought were cool — things like duck lips, chevron, side ponies, and those plaid knee-length shorts. (You know the ones.)

This phenomenon is not limited to college kids plugging in their old iPhones and scrolling through their camera rolls. Older generations do the exact same thing. They dig out photo albums and yearbooks from the ‘80s, then say things like “Can you believe how we wore our hair?” and “Look at those outfits!”

Trends have always shifted and changed, but the world of social media has increased the pace of those changes to practically lightspeed. Thanks to platforms like TikTok and Twitter, something that was once acceptable can become old news in less than 24 hours. Case in point: side parts.

In the early 2010s, if you parted your hair in the middle, you were asking for ridicule. My entire friend group in high school had my fourth grade yearbook photo saved on our phones, forever ready to laugh at the old version of me: braces, wire-rimmed glasses, and — you guessed it — a “butt part.” Now, though, the Internet has decided that “butt parts” — excuse me, middle parts — are in, and side parts are a thing of the ugly past.

At first, these kinds of conversations seem harmless. It’s fun to look back at old photos and tease your younger self. However, when a person’s willingness or ability to follow a current trend becomes a measure of their worth, trendiness can quickly shift toward toxicity.

Lifestyles reporters turn out countless articles in outlets like Business News Daily and Medium that explain how to stay on top of social media trends. Vogue and Cosmopolitan writers discuss items that you should have in your closet to stay fashionable. If you aren’t regularly scrolling through TikTok or following the right people on Instagram, you might get left behind.

Blind willingness to follow trends — and to judge those who don’t — boils down to one simple thing: fear. Fear of becoming irrelevant. Fear of missing out on something everyone else seems to get. Fear that’s entirely unproductive and often harmful to yourself and those around you.

That is not to say following trends is a bad thing. Trends can be a great way to connect with people around you, particularly people you don’t know very well. A shirt or a dance or a certain type of jewelry that’s fashionable can spark conversation and create a sense of camaraderie. But judging or shaming someone for wearing something that’s out of style, or for not knowing about the latest viral craze, is an aspect of trend-following that’s unnecessary and harmful.

Trends will come and go very quickly. One day, we’ll be plugging in our iPhone 11s and scrolling through the photos, laughing and asking ourselves why we ever wore bubble braids or recorded ourselves dancing on TikTok. So just have fun in the moment. Let people do what they want. Part your hair to the side, throw on those plaid shorts and hold your head up high.

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