Can people choose their identity and if so how much of our identity do we choose? For the aspects we don’t choose how did they come to form part of our identity? How much of our identity is a non-changeable permanent part of ourselves, and how much has been cast over us like a cloak via external influences including family of origin, friends, teachers, the media and social structures? We will explore these questions using several theories and concepts in order to gain a greater understanding into the degree to which we choose our identities.
The issue of identity is a complex one. More fluid than fixed our identity is comprised of a myriad of inner qualities and outer representations of self. It consists of innumerable defining characteristics that make up the whole of who we are in any given moment. These fragments of self include our sexuality, gender, and sense of belonging to a particular culture, nation, religion, family, or some other group. Our identity includes our looks, personality, beliefs and fears and is “an unfolding story…continually recast in the course of experience.” (Sennett 2000: 176-177). Very little if any of our identity is a permanent unchangeable part of us in these days when surgery can alter everything from gender and height to body shape and face image. Self help workshops and books have entered the mainstream as people embark on lifelong journeys of personal growth and evolvement, no longer content to stay within fixed roles as perhaps our parents and grandparents once did. This suggests that we have greater choice over our identities than ever before.
Identity can both be influenced by, and influence, the work we do, our education, financial and class status, the car we drive, the home we live in and the clothes we wear. Identity is also determined by perspective. Our self-image can be entirely different to the way we are seen by a colleague, partner, friend, child or parent