Richmond Proper: On rebellion

We all know that Richmond Proper adores order and exhorts her readers to live as peaceful an existence as possible. But this week, as a sort of rebellion perhaps, I’ll address the subject of…rebellion.

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.
Thomas Jefferson

Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.

We all know that Richmond Proper adores order and exhorts her readers to live as peaceful an existence as possible. But this week, as a sort of rebellion perhaps, I’ll address the subject of…rebellion. Tumblr user “gerlachness” writes:

I’m a good girl. I never went through a phase where I needlessly rebelled against my parents causing them distinct anxiety as I went out partying and smoking. I would never do something that would purposely harm my future. I plan, I’m organized, and unknowns scare me. So I clung to the safety of my parents’ orders and only questioned silently in my mind.

I am in need of rebellion. Last year I got a tattoo and almost relished in the thought that my parents would be upset. That they would lecture me about it. But, I was met with indifference. My dad couldn’t care less and my mom just sighed and accepted it. I could say that I was relieved, which I was in a way, but in the back of my mind I wasn’t satisfied.

I don’t know what I stand for so that need to change the world lays in embers in my soul. I feel the pain and the anger that builds from seeing wrong doing, but I really don’t have the resources to do anything about it.

So I’m left in a conundrum. What do I do to get my fill of rebellion? Take a trip that they don’t approve of to some place farther than my parents have ever taken me? Dye my hair, or part of it, some funky color? Get another tattoo that only I know about? What can I do?

This is a good set of questions, and it’s a shame that most people don’t ask them this bluntly and that instead we all wander around acting like we’re not trying to rebel and like we’re not seeking the attention of others. The short answer is that you should explore whatever justice projects, aesthetic changes, or road trips you feel like taking on and not be so worried about whose attention those pursuits will get.

I can relate to you on the good girl thing. My rebellions, if you can call them that, were of the most vanilla variety. And since I was super busy with music, sports, friends, and other hobbies, taking on additional, riskier enterprises seemed like way more trouble than it would be worth. Most dissipated people will tell you that drugs / smoking / extreme partying / bad manners are not as glamorous as they seem. I think you’ve chosen the right path thus far.

I would encourage you not to focus on appearances too much in your quest for a little rebellion. You must wear clothes, and you must do something or other with your hair, so by all means, express yourself and have fun with your looks. Put on what makes you feel comfortable and confident. But part of growing up is beginning to know yourself, so you’ll want to make sure you aren’t letting fashion statements dictate your personality. Don’t dress a certain way–whatever way is deemed “rebellious” these days–and then fabricate the personality and interests to back that look up. Rather, use what freedom your budget allows to make your wardrobe reflect what already exists in your personality. A boilerplate “rebellious” look may just be a phase, but a look crafted in this manner can become your signature, your standby, and something to make the “what was I thinking” pang of regret almost non-existent as you grow older and your style naturally and gracefully changes.

I would also encourage you not to make it your mission in life to make your parents disapprove of you. In the future, I’m sure you will find all the disapproval you ever wanted, whether it be from a boss, a spouse, a neighbor, or a friend you thought was on your side. Relish the good relationships you have with those who love you and try to preserve them. Besides, it seems as though there are things you are more passionate about, so what would getting another tattoo or finding some other way to tick off your parents really accomplish?

I hope my advice has helped you. And though your purpose in life is more important than just setting out to ruffle some feathers, if you do end up inadvertently doing that along the way, I hope you are able to relish that as well.

— ∮∮∮ —

Need some advice or want to share your own etiquette-related story? Hit us up at Richmond Proper on Tumblr or email

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Tess Shebaylo

Tess Shebaylo is a freelance writer, crafter, history geek, and compulsive organizer. She works at Tumblr and lives in Church Hill with her daughter, Morella.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Rebellion in my world isn’t what it is to some…seeking mere attention and/or disapproval. I too am a rule follower deep down, and loathe risk. I do not like to offend or disrupt others, or to be offended or disrupted myself. When I “rebel” or stand my ground in the face of other people whom I already know won’t agree with my position…I am on a mission. I am acting in the hopes that, while we may wind up agreeing to disagree, that perhaps they will come closer to accepting and tolerating that another person might have a different position…and that is OK. I think ultimately, that’s what humanity needs to find any kind of peace in large numbers in a social environment. Many will disagree with me, and say that acceptance and tolerance is just a way of watering down traditions and values. I believe you can hold and treasure your traditions and accept that not everyone has to share them. So when I got my tattoos, I got them as an art form. I designed them over the course of months, and found a young person that I wanted to support in his development, not a stuck up long time pro but a good kid with a solid portfolio a few years into the trade, and I paid him to put my art on my skin. Some members of my family greeted this act with the expected response, but I persuaded them that I was still the classy lady they knew, and this was my way of adorning the “temple” and not desecrating it. When they saw my work, and heard my words, they at least accepted & respected my position, even if they “still don’t like tattoos.” Fine. Mission accomplished.

    I like to think, and I love to make others think. My message was “you don’t have to come out here with me, but don’t be scared to look out the window. The view might surprise you.”

    Point of my ramble: Rebellion at its best is indeed a means of growth, for the individual, their sphere of human relations, and society, especially when rebels still maintain respect for others in the process.

  2. “I feel the pain and the anger that builds from seeing wrong doing, but I really don’t have the resources to do anything about it.”

    Your solutions are dying your hair, getting a tattoo, and going on vacation? What the fuck is wrong with you?

  3. Kelly on said:

    It seems like your whole focus is how your parents will feel about your choices and you are desiring to make decisions that will get you (negative) attention from your parents. It’s a normal part of becoming an adult to want a life separate and different than the one your parents have. So go do that. And make choices that make YOU happy without passing every action through the “what will they think about this” filter.

    As for rebellion, sometimes a weekly or daily dose of doing something contrary to way everyone else does will give you a “rebellion fix” that you crave. And you may have to experiment a bit to find what works but even things like biking to work or pursuing a unique hobby will be enough to help you feel like you are bucking the norm.

    As for social justice….choose a cause, find an organization that works towards its solution and go volunteer. The world need your energy and action, not your angst.

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