Written by Chloe Laws
Being cringe is something most of us actively try to avoid, but what if embracing it could set you free?
You know that meme, the one with a goat sitting in a field, staring wistfully into nothingness? Its face one of pure contentment alongside the phrase, “I am cringe, but I am free.” Well, that’s the vibe I’m trying to go for in life right now. I am cringe, but I am free is my new manifesto.
Objectively, I’m a cringe-fest. When someone asks what I do for a living, I often say ‘media’, because telling someone I’m a social media expert, writer and poet is a triple entente of Cringe with a capital C. I spend my days putting feelings into words or filming myself with a ring light in my basement flat while people walk by. I know all the terms trending on TikTok, and I can tell you what specific ’era’ is causing a stir in any given week. I know way too much about celebrities. I’m naturally clumsy. My fashion sense is ‘the more colourful, the better’. The music I like is mainstream. My existence is too perceived and it’s made me hyperaware of what people think of me. And for far too long, I cared.
‘Cool’ has always been curated, and effortlessness is a myth we all help sustain. Society wants women to appear like they’ve rolled out of bed and thrown on an outfit, but for it to still be incredibly chic, for their hair to be perfectly styled in a french bob, for their nails to be manicured and their jewellery untarnished. Cringe is cool’s antithesis. A deep-in-your-bones shudder that happens, unprompted, when seeing someone is, god forbid, trying. Cringe is the meeting of awkwardness and trying too hard – it’s cringey to care, it’s cringey to be passionate, it’s cringey to be sincere.
In this age when so many of our relationships are parasocial (one-sided relationships that happen between social media users) and online, the way we judge people has changed – we do it in a split second, deciding instantly if someone is worth 30 seconds of our attention span. It would be rudimentary of me to say that we forget there’s someone behind the screen; I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I do think we’ve become optimised like the algorithms that run our digital lives. We decide who is cringe and who is cool at lightning speed, based on a very limited amount of information: what someone wears, their voice (the internet hates vocal fry), the music in the background, their interiors. There are subcategories for certain people who enjoy specific aesthetics or activities, and with that, there are mass-agreed-upon opinions for what is fashionable and what is not.
The thing is, all the people I admire most in the world are cringey. And all the personality traits dubbed as ‘cringe’ are ones I appreciate. There’s something in that sage old advice that ‘things are only embarrassing if you’re embarrassed’, and that’s something we need to apply to cringe.
At the start of January, I published a poem on this topic (very meta of me, I know), and the response was overwhelming. It showed me just how many of us are craving to be ourselves without the fear of being branded as cringe. One commenter said, “I have to read this to my daughter in the morning! What beautiful thoughts for our young girls who are taught to balance the line between confident and humble. Not too small, not too big. Stand out, but not too much! Blend in, but don’t fade away. What a paradoxical world we live in!” Another reminded us that “what’s cringe is judging people and revolving YOUR life around what strangers are doing”.
I want to be free of silly insecurities. I want to have a Julia Fox level of self-belief. I want to not give a single shit that some people will find how I present myself to the world embarrassing. I want to earnestly embrace my inner child and let them shout about the things they like. I want to be passionate. Uninhibitedly feel joy. Age without caring. Wear whatever makes me feel good. And if those things, as a by-product, are cringe? So be it.
Let women enjoy things!
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