The word ’emo’ has undergone some radical changes over the past few decades. Once a term meaning ’emotional hardcore music,’ stemmed from the underground punk scene in 1980’s America, it has now evolved into a name associated with self-harming for an entire culture of teens donning black clothes and Chuck Taylor converse. How has a once positive expression for a new genre of music developed into an insulting label for anyone wearing a little more eyeliner than is usually necessary?
It could be argued that the manipulation of emo from the music media industry has led to this change, and unfortunately it has become the inspiration and focus of some fact less and biased articles in tabloid newspapers. An “EMO cult warning for parents,” the worrying title of the somewhat controversial and entirely prejudiced article featured in the Daily Mail which, for one thing, lacks any so called ‘warning. ‘ It also appears to want to corner all pale faced, black haired teens, and brand them with a red hot poker bearing the words ‘self-harmer. After all they’d probably enjoy it. So what exactly is an emo? Not exactly an easy word to define as it means different things to different people. For me, an emo is someone who dresses according to emo fashion. By this I mean the studded wristbands, belts and the practically painted on black jeans; those very black jeans that make the spectator’s mind boggle as to how exactly anyone could squeeze themselves into them. However in my head, an emo does not inspire images of a self-mutilating teen, but this is sadly not the case for a lot of Daily Mail readers.
Perhaps a distinction should be made at this point, between an emo fashion-ist and a self-harmer. The emo dressing teen is one who adores the colour black and wears enough eyeliner to put Marilyn Manson to shame, whereas a self-harmer is, well, someone who self-harms. Of course it is possible to be both, but that does not mean that everyone who wears a little more black than most people should be labelled as self-injuring. Buried beneath the author, Sarah Sands’ endless opinions and accusations, lies the essence of her argument, that all black fringed teens sporting a studded belt, self-harm and have formed a ‘cult of suicide. Not only is this statement a huge generalisation, but it also suggests a lack of research, knowledge and understanding on the subject. Of course self-injury is a serious issue. According to a study at Oxford University, 24000 teens are hospitalised each year in the UK due to self-harm. However, where is the evidence to suggest that every single one of those teens wore band t-shirts and skinny black jeans? In her article, Sands argues that the internet has become a breeding ground for ’emos’ “celebrating self-harm,” on various web sites dedicated to the topic. This is true, to a certain extent.
Although these websites do exist, it is ridiculous to imply that every so called emo boasts and competes with others about self inflicted injuries. Granted, there are some teens who do discuss their injuries with others on the internet, but Ms. Sands seems to have wrongly assumed that all teens whose wardrobe consists solely of black are self-harmers. This is best shown by a young girl who I spoke to recently. She shows all the classic characteristics of your stereotypical emo; the black straightened hair, the fringe covering one heavily mascara-ed eye, the absence of anything closely resembling colour, and of course those crucial converse.
However, there are no knife scars marking her arms, and she appears quite content. She tells me she is happy, has never even considered self-harming and her ’emo’ dress sense seems to be more linked to fashion than depression. This would seem to contradict Sand’s ideas of self-harming teens, that being that they are all emo. I am not suggesting that there are no people who dress according to the ’emo’ fashion who do not self-harm, I am simply saying that it is unreasonable to assume that all self-harmers are emo.
It seems ’emo fashion’ and self-injuring teenagers have unfortunately been lumped together into one miserable category, and caused misinformed journalists to launch attacks on both kinds of teens. Sands also suggests that both the fashion and music industries directly encourage emo culture. This could be said to be true when speaking of the fashion business, with clothing outlets such as ‘Hot Topic’ selling clothes with phrases such as “Cheer up emo kid” splayed across black t-shirts.
However, it is perhaps wrong to imply that the fashion and music businesses support self-harm, which is what Sands implies in her article; “Emo bands (Green Day, My Chemical Romance)… encourage [self-injury]. ” The fashion industry does support the emo fashion but I have never seen any sign of encouragement for self injury. As for the music industry, the bands mentioned in Sarah Sands’ article often speak out against teens self-harming, in particular, My Chemical Romance. Lead singer, Gerard Way is quoted as saying; “we do not promote self-harm, but we encourage kids to find other ways to get out their frustrations… The band are often heard at concerts encouraging their audience members to talk to someone if they suffer from depression. One mother, who was so enraged by the article in question, wrote that these bands “provide a forum for teenagers to talk about their feelings, and also give a sense of belonging which is so often missing in everyday life for them. ” Therefore, the fact that Sands would suggest that the music industry encourages self-injury is absurd, and it shows an unfortunate lack of research.
Perhaps the mistake people make is that they are aware that the majority of these bands’ fans dress according to emo fashion, and they immediately assume that either they all self-harm, or that the bands encourage it. So there seems to be a large misunderstanding involving the term ’emo’ and its meanings. To some it means an overly emotional person, to others a self-harming teenager dressed entirely in black, some even see it as just a fashion. However, people generally associate emos as being self-injurers, which of course in some cases is true, but not all.
Regrettably, Sarah Sands article has only helped to fuel this misinterpretation. On the one hand, there are websites dedicated to discussing self-injury, and yes, some teenagers do use these sites, however, it is incredibly discriminatory to imply that all ’emos’ do so. Emo as a fashion has been promoted among clothes retailers, but that does not mean that the industry encourages teens to self-harm. The emo fashion and people who suffer from depression are two separate entities, yet they have become linked, forcing people to associate one with the other.
A biased and unfounded attack on a group of teenagers, who more than likely resort to being, what most people would call an ’emo’ in order to find an outlet for their aggravation, does not help matters. If these people really are self-harming, shouldn’t we be finding ways to help rather than backing them into a corner? Instead of launching unsupported assaults on the ‘outsiders,’ we should be attempting to give them the help and support they need. If their self-harming really is a cry for help, then we cannot turn our backs and ignore them when they need us most.