This week Bowie left the building.
I'm not the biggest music fan: so I asked myself why I felt so sad and affected by his exit.
His image has been around my whole life and I've always connected it with freedom, and flipping the bird to cultural norms. The man was a genius, reinventing himself again and again, pushing at boundaries and confronting the Great God of the Norm with his indefinable style and limitless creativity.
Bowie's image and music resonated with my idea of always trying to be genuine, trying to be myself.
That self can change over time, (just as DB demonstrated with his string of alter egos), but if the person's ideal self is congruent with their actual behaviour, as psychologist Carl Roger's posited, then they will be able to function more fully in the world. And, in the most fully functioning people, there will be a constant desire to express oneself as one actually is, even when that doesn't coincide with expected social norms.
The BIG questions are: How do we become congruent? How do we become genuine? How do we become ourselves?
I believe it starts when we are young. We need to have our 'self' reflected back at us by our caregivers. We need understanding, genuine relationships based on mutual respect. If parents are too wrapped up in themselves and their own issues, it's hard for them to separate enough from themselves to really listen with objective ears to their children, and reflect their children back to themselves, so that the kids get a sense of whom they are becoming as people. In the same way, as kids grow up, they look to their cultural environment to hone self-definition. This is why images like Bowie's were important for young people who didn't "fit in". A boy wearing a dress. A snaggle toothed, mis-matched eyed glamour god. He projected a permission to be different and to find yourself. The more we see relatable representations of ourselves around us, the more we can feel accepted and real.
It helps to get the message across to kids when young...
"Let the children lose it
Let the children use it
Let all the children boogie"
My belief in 'becoming oneself' led me to choose a primary school for my kids where I hoped they would learn something about who they were (rather than be moulded into people who would fit into a pre-defined system). When I visited Lewes New School to check it out there were some boys wearing tutus and dresses. My reaction? I heaved a sigh of relief and knew it was the right choice.
In 2009 in order to publicise the school's co-created curriculum, where respectful communication and no testing were the norm, and the strapline was "I can be myself", we facilitated the kids in making a video of Bowie's song Changes. It opens this Blog, and I hope you like it.
We liked the lyrics. And the kids played the instruments and sang (except for the contribution of one Herbie Flowers on bass who was a Grandad at the school at the time).
I hope that my kids will always feel permission to be themselves. It's harder as you get older and sometimes we need a bit of help from the odd icon along the way.
Thinking about Bowie, who has been called 'an original', 'a genuine artist', and a 'misfit megastar' over the past few days, the words of Rogers in describing the life of a person in the process of self-actualisation come to mind. Rogers, discussing the creative drive, says that such a person "would be the type of person from whom creative products and creative living emerge. S/he would not necessarily be "adjusted" to his/her culture, and s/he would almost certainly not be a conformist. But at any time and in any culture s/he would live constructively, in as much harmony with his/her culture as a balanced satisfaction of needs demanded. In some cultural situations he/she might in some ways be very unhappy, but s/he would continue to move towards becoming him/herself, and to behave in such a way as to provide the maximum satisfaction of his/her deepest needs. Such a person would, I believe, be recognised by the student of evolution as the type most likely to adapt and survive under changing environmental conditions..S/he would be a fit vanguard of human evolution."
Yes, Bowie had dodgy teeth, and was thin and pale. But did he get immediate cosmetic dentistry or use a sunbed? What do you think? No, he presented himself as an artist redefining what attractiveness, beauty and glamour were. And had he been a flat-chested woman, would he have strapped on a padded bra to have a Kardashian figure or got breast augmentation? (That's a rhetorical one). And, well, just check out his Victoriana blouse and that cold-shouldered catsuit will you? That's style.
So I'm drawing your attention once again to the freedom to be yourself, and look just like you. Bowie famously wore a dress as a boy, and rather than bowing to social pressure to wear 'normal' 'boy' garb (inverted commas signifying the glorious difficulty of defining either of these words), he continued in the face of disrespect until his talent and star quality paved the way for other boys who wore dresses too.
Check out this Vlog by journalist Paul Mason who explains why Bowie was a great liberator for our time.