I was out shopping last night with one of my best girlfriends. She made a comment to me that at one time made me feel bittersweet. “I can by my full crazy self with you.” This made me happy because it means she’s comfortable enough that she’s not afraid of hiding who she is. However, with her parents and her boyfriend, she feels the need to ‘hold back’. She seems afraid that if people know her below her make up, she will lose the love and respect of people she cares about. “Conceal, don’t feel…” etc. (end of Frozen references)
This broke my heart a little bit and she is not the only person who feels this way. The scenario put me in a reflective tailspin about the benefits and dangers of conformity.
I can draw on a ton of references. Movies, books, Utopian society novels (<3 1984) and stories (Harrison Bergeron) . All about the importance and dangers of ‘fitting in’ to society . I particularly remember movies from when I was thirteen where the ugly girl in school got a make-over and magically everyone loved her, usually with consequences. (There was an appalling number of them in the early 2000s) But since I woke up this morning with a song in my head, I’m going to explore this idea through music.
Flowers are red young man and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than they way they always have been seen.”
But the little boy said “There are so many colors in the rainbow. So many colors in the morning sun. So many colors in the flower and I see every one!”
“Flowers are Red ” By Harry Chapin (1977)
I was already different in Daycare. Got bullied for having big ears, not being able to differentiate my “M’s” and “N’s”. I was a rebel who didn’t sleep during nap time. I couldn’t color in the lines, and although I could throw the ball, I couldn’t catch it, and I had a tendency to not wait turns, especially when talking. If I didn’t have my constant companion, a cloth doll named “Sunshine”. I was a hellion. (My dad was told to go home and get my doll one day because I forgot it.)
Apparently I was such a weird kid that my pre-school teacher told my parents that I would not amount to anything.
I blamed it on being left handed.
I never fit in with kids at school, with the exception of my best friend from first grade (who I’m still friends with today). There were benefits to fitting in at this age- I missed out on a lot of birthday parties and when I hosted them, there was always drama. I didn’t have the instant friends that come from being a part of a girl-scout troupe or dance class.
Now, my parents didn’t try to make me conform either. We didn’t shop at trendy stores, they didn’t force me into dance classes or into sports. They let me choose what to do and celebrated my individuality. We went to the zoo and to museums and Williamsburg. We chose private mountain lake havens for vacation over beaches. We were goofy and loud and close.
Now how many days in a year
She woke up with hope
But she only found tears
“Story of a Girl” Nine Days (2000)
Ah Middle School. The only time in my life I actually TRIED. I tried so hard to fit in. I wore eye shadow starting 8th grade, I started to care about clothes. But these were the worst three years of my educational career (as they are for everyone). Being at the bottom of the social ladder, yet friends with the most popular boy in school as he was my minister’s son meant that a target was drawn on my back. My friends decided to stop talking to me halfway through eighth grade and if I didn’t have my family and church supports, I don’t want to consider how the rest of my life would have unfolded.
From being in a middle school now, I see kids continue the struggle. There are definitely kids who are willing to be brave and be themselves, but then there are those who are too engrossed in showing off for their peers rather than focused on their academics. I see the ones forced into honors classes or activities by their parents. I have students who want to give me every answer, those who want to be ‘secret-smart’ and those who have already dismissed school as ‘not for them.’ There are my frequent rule-breakers, and I see a fair amount of defiance, but I know better than to take any of it personally. They’re figuring themselves out, just as I was at that age.
I fear for when I have a middle school aged child of my own. Puberty is bad enough without social nonsense. Providing a safe space is probably the best thing a parent can do- but Cyberbullying terrifies me. (may write about that one later)
Find myself inside myself and no one else can find it for me. Find myself
all by myself and no one else can find it for me!
“It Takes Some Time” – Catch 22 (2000)
Then in High School- for the first time- I just stopped trying. I did what I wanted, became who I wanted to become. Again, didn’t hold many friends. Lunch sucked. I avoided it by taking extra music and science classes. I stuck with my core group, watched anime before it was cool, and had a ton of fun.
My parents again, let me be myself. They didn’t outwardly judge my geekiness. (Ok maybe they made fun of G Gundam, but that’s allowed) They put up with my anime, reading/drawing manga 90% of the time, and my obscure ska and punk rock music. They endured concerts, marching band, children’s theater and all the other awesome things I was doing. When I wanted to play guitar, they were fine with it. When there were field trip opportunities, I went. They advocated for me when needed and taught me to advocate for myself.
College and Beyond:
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga (2010)
In college, I found others like me. People who refused to fit in the molds society tried to force us into. Some molds were religion, sexuality, sports, and pop culture. Regardless if they were enforced by family, teachers, or friends, we all arrived to campus with baggage. We made our own crazy group and did awesome things. Again, we weren’t sorority girls or frat boys. We didn’t go out to parties and football games. Our Saturdays involved sitting around watching Sci-Fi movies, playing role playing games, or playing Video Games. We were OK with that. We didn’t even attempt to conform, and we had a hell of a time. We ran into the occasional haters, but we honestly didn’t care. We accepted it as a natural consequence of nonconformity.
What I learned: Geeks have more fun! ( As shown through one of me/my husband’s theme songs: Geeks in Love )
Disclaimer: I am not yet a parent, so all that follows is based on speculation.
I am terrified. Terrified that my future children will be bullied both at school and on the internet. That they are going to be hurt, pressured, and afraid to be different. That someone along the line will harm them or make them feel worthless. That someone may even tell me that “S/He will amount to nothing.”
I’m also terrified that I’ll have a girl who will want to be a cheerleader. I’m terrified that I’ll have a boy who will want to play football. Afraid of other parents judging me for my decisions. But you know what? I’m willing to follow my child’s lead. As long as their decisions come from a place inside of them and don’t cause harm to themselves or others. I will allow them to choose their own paths, make mistakes, and always love them for who they are and encourage them to always be true to themselves, even if that means their life is a little more difficult. I hope to raise them to be brave and courageous. Loyal to their family and their heart.
There’s an unspoken rule, however. In order to live honestly with myself, I must not pass judgment on others who are doing the same. This doesn’t mean I’m friends with everyone, just that I try my best not to pass judgment. I find people who appreciate me for who I am and I appreciate for who they are. This is why when my friend said “I can be my full crazy self with you.” It filled me with joy. Live life as you want and just be yourself. There’s a certain level of societal conformity – obey laws, respect your elders, don’t be a douche, (don’t vote for Trump) – but within those bounds, there’s a million ways to live and be a unique individual. I feel most adults know this, but kids struggle.
So in the end, All I can say to my students, my friends, and my future children…
Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel
Like you’re less than f**king perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you’re nothing, you’re f**king perfect to me
F**king Perfect – P!nk 2011