It’s Alive: Awakening My Internal Goth


In the face of anxiety, depression, and hypochondria, Melissa Broder—a.k.a. @sosadtodayfinds solace in beauty rituals. How does investing time, money, and energy in our bodies help us face down darkness? Is it because this distracts us from questions about the meaning of life? Broder explores the existential in her column, Beauty and Death.

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Growing up, I never fit in with an aesthetic subculture. Grunge was good till I finally got tits and wanted to show them off in tight shirts. My first and only skateboard got run over by a car on day one. Hipster bangs were not for me, as I have Jewfro—and puffy bangs lend themselves to an unflattering Joey Ramone look.

Perhaps because I felt sad that I would never physically fit in—even with groups of people who “didn’t fit in”—I came to perceive the sharing of aesthetics as the wearing of costumes. How alternative could people be if they were projecting groupthink by dressing identically? Could a look really reflect the depth of one’s soul if it was corporatized and proliferated? Even the all-black goth aesthetic, which appealed to my feelings of alienation, had cemented its place in mainstream culture at “mall goth” stores like Hot Topic. It seemed to me that to “be goth,” you really had to commit to the costume and the lifestyle.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder BUY

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Yet I’ve always felt more goth than anything, if only on the inside. I find beauty and humor in the dark. I question what society deems as “the path.” In my work I explore romantic longing, madness, and the shadow. I have a popular Twitter account called @sosadtoday, a book by the same name, and a novel coming in out in May called The Pisces, wherein a woman moves to Venice Beach and falls into a dangerous romantic obsession with a merman—who embodies both lust and death. People are often surprised when they meet me that, other than wearing a lot of black, I don’t look the part; they expect the full Wednesday Addams. But I have tan skin from the Los Angeles sun, blonde highlights, and I tend to smile compulsively.

Is it possible to be internally goth? Must one’s gothness always be reflected by a physical aesthetic, or is it possible to be accepted by other goths even if I don’t fully look the part? Is what’s on the outside really the most important?

It seems there is no American rebellion that remains unmarketable for long, regardless of how pure the intention of its creators. Such is especially true of the goth aesthetic: now a multimillion-dollar industry, including mainstream brands like Kat Von D and Urban Decay. Yet perhaps the corporate proliferation of gothness isn’t entirely soulless. People who identify as “internal goths”—who, for reasons social, environmental, or career-based, don’t exude full vampirism on the outside—can now choose to express their gothness in more subtle ways.

“The work outfits I’ve been enjoying lately are what I like to call ‘goth business casual,’” says Amy Mazzariello, a 32-year old editor from New York City. “By this, I mean they essentially conform to most business casual norms with a subtle dark twist that the casual observer wouldn’t notice, but that allows me to feel like I’m expressing myself.”

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Amy might not be shrouding herself in full funereal black, but accessories—small and unobtrusive—have given her other ways to goth up her life: “I have a beautiful strand of mourning beads from Bloodmilk that allows for a subtle externalization of grief and sadness; to most people they look like normal costume jewelry. Or I might wear a McQueen skull scarf, which is iconic enough that probably no one thinks anything of it.”

Is it possible to be internally goth?

Like the ’90s teens who cloaked themselves in clothing as somber as their souls, Amy’s post-goth garb reflects something inside. “I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, and one of the things I learned early on was that people don’t want to know about it…What I feel best in are clothes that signify something personal, that represent my sadness without drawing other people’s attention to it.”

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Amy smells something like a witch, too. “I also have an extensive collection of perfume oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab that I consider a core part of my personal style, many of which are inspired by darker themes…Sometimes it’s just easier to get through the day when you’re wearing a perfume called ‘A Witch Riding on a Dragon’ or ‘Nasty Woman.’

“I was drawn in originally by the music,” says Mandie, a 25-year-old freelance artist and goth from Salt Lake City. “Later on, I discovered the fashion aspect of goth culture and it drew me in even further, even though I never get to dress that way. Utah is hot and then cold, so lots of intricate black clothing doesn’t go over well,” she explains. So for the most part, her daily uniform isn’t particularly identifiable as goth: “I wear a lot of grey and deep jewel tones, adding in black ‘spooky’ accessories or subtle patterns where I can. As far as cosmetics, I’m naturally pale and tend to favor minimalist or monochromatic looks.”

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“What if a person is tan, has blonde-ish, surf-y hair and smiles a lot? Can she still be goth?” I ask Mandie. “If their favorite bands are almost entirely goth bands or they enjoy macabre hobbies like collecting taxidermy things and making weird jewelry, I’m not one to judge,” she says.

I mostly listen to rap—and not even emo rap. I only watch comedies. As someone with chronic depression and anxiety, I feel that my emotional cup already runneth over. But I do own a pair of roebuck skulls, a dead bat under glass, and a rubber replica of a human fetus in a jar. Does that make me goth enough?

“Naturally there are a lot of goths out there saying, ‘No, you have to look the part, what a poser, that’s not real goth, that’s girly metal,’” says Sally, a 29-year-old goth who lives in London, works in financial services, and names Dracula Clothing, Killstar, and Necromancy Cosmetica as some of her favorite independent goth brands. “I generally avoid these people. In the words of the great Voltaire, ‘There is always someone more goth than you.’ And if you’re excluding people who share your interests just because they don’t meet your exacting aesthetic standard, that doesn’t make you a better goth than them. It makes you an arsehole.”

Monica

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There are other women, particularly women of color, who have pushed back against the stereotype of what a goth should look like. “I’m Filipina. So I’m tan, brown-skinned,” says Monica, a 34-year-old art director from Los Angeles who mostly eschews the mass-produced, corporate commodification of goth—unless it’s the perfect Joy Division T-shirt or Kat Von D eye palette. “The constant problem with being goth is that all of the goth idols and examples you can find in media are white people, or extremely fair-skinned people…So I just skip the white-skin part of the outfits.”

According to Monica, my internal gothness is (almost) all I need. “Most of all, goth is an attitude and a subscription to wearing, being, all black everything….It doesn’t matter that I didn’t powder myself with white stage makeup like Heather from Florida.”

It’s difficult enough being judged by people who should understand you best, but if how much you can embody a particular aesthetic is how you make a living, others’ narrow perception of what goth looks like can cause even more problems. “The reactions I receive…some have been positive and some have been negative,” says Black Silk, an African American alt/goth model based on the East Coast. “Where a fair-skinned goth would only get ostracized for dressing differently, I get ostracized for dressing differently, along with my skin, and physical features associated with my race. As a model, it’s harder to get featured or work because I don’t fit the ideal look.”

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Black Silk lists the various genres she’s pursuing professionally—“fetish, gothic, Victorian, fantasy, gothabilly and alternative modeling.” Have I been thinking about the subculture in a too-limited fashion? Google reveals more derivations of goth than I ever imagined: fairy goth, cyber goth, geek goth, pastel goth, medieval goth. I’ve never given much thought to what kind of goth I am, even on the inside. But an online test reveals that I am probably fetish goth.

This seems somewhat true, in that I never like to be without an article of black leather or pleather, materials that make me feel tough and protect my true sensitive nature. I also like ripped clothing, items with cut-outs and holes. I like to write about sex, talk about sex, and have it. At the same time, PVC and latex-wear have always felt too performative for me; my fetishes have always felt more psychological than material. But now, knowing a new possible direction for my gothness, I decide to go shopping to see if I can render the internal more explicitly external.

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At Hoss International in the fashion district, I find a handmade, black leather corset with thin, silver dangling chains that I know will make me feel sexy. But when I ask to try it on, I’m scolded by Hoss himself, who asks quickly, “Do you know how much this costs? $675.”

“What about that?” I ask, pointing to a handmade satin corset dress. He barks back that it’s $1200 and only for experienced wearers. I won’t be able to sit in it. “Here,” he says, thrusting a black satin waist cincher at me. “You have bad posture. This will make you 1.5 inches taller and reduce your waist by 3 to 4 inches.”

Maybe Hoss is just cranky from people trying things on all day, but I don’t like being bossed around. I wouldn’t say I’m a domme, but I’m definitely not a sub. Still, I let him put the waist cincher on me and cinch it up, because he’s right that I have shitty posture. But as soon as the thing is on, I immediately feel like I’m suffocating: like I’m short on oxygen and the room is spinning. If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s sartorial help in having a panic attack.

“Okay, could you take it off now?” I ask between gasps. Hoss complies, but only after making me watch a CBS local news story about him on his phone.

If there’s one thing I don’t need, it’s sartorial help in having a panic attack.

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I feel much more at home in the female-friendly atmosphere of Hoss’s fashion district neighbor, Beverly Hills Hosiery. The store’s lovely new owner, Louise Cobb, lets me know that the store has been open since 1934 (definitely goth, because most people from that time are dead). Louise helps me select a strappy, minimalist-bondage style garter that is totally me—but definitely more bedroom-wear than streetwear.

I find more goth lingerie at Hollywood Boulevard sex shop Bizzy B, which is having a sale on fetishwear, including a cute off-label black leather bra with pyramid studs on it. I love pyramid studs and have to have it. The other items that seem the most me are a Low Rider leather harness and a B Yours 8″ PVC pink cock. Can pink be goth? Maybe pastel goth?

At Posers, a British footwear and fashion store on Melrose, I definitely am not goth (or maybe punk) enough. I’ve made the mistake of wearing workout clothes on this shopping excursion, and though they are black and mostly Adidas, I don’t feel like the look achieves health-goth status. I feel more like a suburban MILF—not SoulCycle level, but definitely redolent of Lululemon.

How Deep Is My Goth

Mia Feitel

I check out a pair of New Rock combat boots with a stiletto heel made of what looks like a metal spinal column. Remy, the cute salesperson, whose shirt is torn open to show his pale chest, tells me that New Rock is the more authentic predecessor to the popular Demonia brand. These boots are all custom made and should last a lifetime, which is good, because this pair costs $576.

Last, I make my way to Hot Topic, where I feel much more relaxed, because the salespeople don’t give a shit. The avalanche of merchandise reminding me that death is imminent—the skull belly rings and ouija necklaces, the broken heart emoji t-shirts and skeleton fingerless gloves—actually makes me feel great. I notice that I feel younger, happier, and more invigorated than I have in weeks. Maybe when mortality is packaged and sold as a t-shirt, the void seems more manageable? I leave Hot Topic smiling, with a pair of teen friendship rings and a $5 matte black lipstick.

My journey affirms that I am fetish goth lite. I like a hint of bondage, anything torn up, and sexy darkness—without being suffocated. But really I’ve discovered that, at least externally, I’m probably more of a hybrid of multiple goth types. If I had to brand myself, I’d say I’m a blend of hypochondriac goth, pastel-cock goth, childless MILF goth, and eternal teen soft mall goth. Or maybe I’m just depressed.



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