When the senior editor of Stylecaster, Perrie Samotin, contacted me about writing my professional thoughts about copycatting, I admit, it's not a topic I had recently given a lot of thought to. Copying someone's style becomes less of an issue as women become more and more knowledgeable and secure about who they are, and their own individuality. Having said that, we all have a little "copycatting" tendencies in us. In fact, the whole fashion industry depends on it. But when does having our personal style copied actually cross a line? And is there anything we can or should do about it? I share my psychotherapeutic thoughts in the following Q&A with the editor of StyleCaster.com.
1. Firstly, should you even care if someone copies your style? Is it worth getting upset over?
It's sometimes hard to not care when someone copies your style. Most people don't want to be upset with their friends and/or acquaintances, but when extreme copying happens, it's normal to get upset and feel annoyed.
2. Psychologically, why does it bother women SO much?
While it feels flattering to be admired by those we love, being copied can often feel like identity theft. Like the other person is trying to take away or rob us of our uniqueness. So, although initially flattering, this compulsion to imitate can feel aggressive. If you scratch the service, it feels like an insidious kind of envy; especially in the worst case scenario. Like the other person not only wants to imitate you, but replace you. Psychologically we would describe this type of personality, especially if it happens too intensely and frequently, as the type of person who has no sense of self. This lack of self prompts them to mimic or try to become exactly like someone else (you in this case). Being around this kind of grossly insecure person, can understandably feel unsettling.
3. Let's say you have a friend who always copies your outfits, and who runs out and buys the same things as you. Sure, once or twice is fine, but when is the point where you can say something and feel okay about it?
If this copycat pattern persists to the point where it's jeopardizing your friendship, it's okay to point out your observations to your friend. To say something like, "I don't know if you're aware of this, but you've been wearing and buying a lot of the same exact things as me lately. Sometimes it's okay, but the whole point of buying things it to highlight your own unique style and taste. This can't happen if you're getting everything that I'm getting! Is this something you are aware of doing?" You can open it up as a conversation, but be prepared to receive some defensiveness and for your friend to be in denial.
4. If you plan to say something, how can you do it without hurting her feelings/making her feel embarrassed?
Sometimes handling this type of situation non-verbally, is the best way to protect your friend's feelings. First realize the type of person who is prone to this behavior, is most likely suffering from extreme insecurity, low to no self esteem, and is having a hard time trusting his or her own instincts. Point out what you like about their style, especially when it departs from your own. Be less revealing around them, in general. Keep some of your preferences, style ideas and choices to yourself, for a short period of time. Perhaps this will help her look to herself or others for inspiration; instead of just copying you.
5. Do you think copying is always a form of flattery, or can it signify something else? Can it damage one's individualism?
When someone copies you, it is always a form of flattery. Now, this doesn't always mean it feels good. The copycat is saying non-verbally, I want to be like you and feel like you. I want to have what you have. In some cases it's developmental. People go through phases on the way to developing their own sense of who they are and who they want to be. So the copy cat tendency can be a phase on the way to developing one's own individuality. But if it lasts too long, it can also be a sign that a person is missing a core sense of who they are, and they are trying to act "as if" they are someone else in order to feel less empty and vacant, emotionally.
6. Copying fashion is one thing, but what about when a colleague copies your work? Should you run to your boss right away, or go straight to the co-worker?
If someone copies your work, you might want to put your co-worker on alert. Let them know what he or she has been doing. If this behavior still continues, then ask to speak with your boss about it, to see what he or she recommends.
7. How about when you notice a former colleague is copying your work for a competitor? Should you ever take matters into your own hands, or should you let it be?
I suppose this depends on how threatening to your professional livelihood you think this behavior is. This doesn't sound like something you should let go. It seems like something that should be brought to a boss's attention and/or to human resources. This also feels more like a legal issue, than psychological issue to me.
8. As an expert, do you think copying is a form of downgrading oneself?
Extreme copying reveals having low self esteem to no self-esteem, and/or reveals having an inferiority complex. On some level it's a way to avoid feeling downgraded. When one is in the act of copying, they temporarily borrow the self esteem they imagine this other person has, for themselves.
9.Anything else you might want to add?
Celebs get copied all the time. In fact, that's one of the traits that makes them valuable. Companies bank on other people copying them, so they can make money off of them. Having said that, the celebs don't necessarily have to be directly exposed to this type of copycatting. When a friend does it, it can feel more like a betrayal than a compliment, because friends are supposed to admire each other, yet simultaneously maintain their own sense of self and identity. Copycats cross those lines and boundaries, which make the friends they are copying often feel intruded upon and uncomfortable.