Why does being different have to be bad?
It doesn’t, but American society in all its self-centered wisdom tells us that “different” is weird or unacceptable.
It’s not. Different is beautiful. It’s unique. It’s what makes each of us distinctly and specially us.
I didn’t always believe that. As a kid, I fell into the world’s everyone-must-be-alike trap. I wanted the things other kids had and didn’t want to stand out as being the different/weird/uncool kid. Like many people do, I looked around my school and thought I knew the kids who were popular and what made them that way – clothes, attitudes, extracurricular activities, in-style shoes, makeup.
In sixth grade, each homeroom class sang a song at the Christmas program. I wanted to wear something special, but Mom wanted me to wear a brown velour outfit that was actually hers. All these years later, the reason why escapes me, but that was what she wanted.
I put my baby blue jacket on over that head-to-toe-brown outfit, and if you look at the pictures Mom took, you will see that I never took it off. I was sweating. I was uncomfortable. I claimed to be cold. I was not taking off that jacket for any reason. I would’ve died of shame if anyone had seen what I was wearing.
Why? It was an okay outfit, especially for the time period. It was nice. I was fortunate to have a mom who wanted me to wear something besides blue jeans and a sweatshirt. Those aforementioned pictures were taken by her, which means she cared enough to be there and to make sure I was dressed nicely, even if it wasn’t my “style.” What did I know about style in the sixth grade anyway?
But I thought I did, and I knew what I was wearing wasn’t cool. All I could think of was how my friends were going to make fun of me. Looking back now, I realize if they wanted to make fun of me, they should’ve done it because I was wearing that ridiculous heavy jacket all day. If they wanted to make fun of me, they could’ve pointed at my glasses or my long, straight hair with no bangs. They could’ve laughed at the fact that I still had baby fat-filled cheeks, that I was a little taller than most of the girls in my class or that my mom was tagging along.
Those things didn’t bother me, though. I was especially proud of my long hair and height, and the fact that Mom was there was a badge of honor to me. I was focused solely on that outfit, and I let it pretty much ruin my day.
Why do I tell you this? To illustrate how ridiculous we make ourselves feel over what other people think. I was only in the sixth grade, but what other people thought was already so important to me that I was willing to sweat my way through what should’ve been a really fun day just to hide what I was wearing.
At this stage in Life, I realize that those kids who pick on others are mostly just trying to take the attention off themselves. As long as they’re picking on someone else, no one has the chance to pick on them. If you stand out, you are an easy target. You get labeled as “weird” or “uncool” or whatever new phrase comes along to describe the outsiders.
But you know what? Those kids may just have a creative streak. Maybe their clothes, hair and shoes are how they express that. In a school system that wants everyone to fit in and not rock the boat, maybe those are the only outlets those kids have to be themselves.
If you ask 10 people if they want to live their lives repressed, almost assuredly all 10 will say, “no.” Yet we let others dictate what we wear, how we dress, what activities we choose, what music we like, how we carry ourselves and so much more.
My four-year-old has her own sense of style and always has. We have always called her “our little Punky Brewster” because she has the wonderful ability to put together the most mismatched-yet-wonderful outfits and make it work. I see her wanting to be like the other kids more and more, though. She still has her own ideas of what is beautiful and what makes her feel good about herself, but she is also wanting to wear Justin Bieber shirts (even though she really knows very little about him) and jeans with sparkly designs instead of her signature spinnin’ dresses.
She just wants to fit in. Who can blame her?
There will come a time when she will be surrounded by over-the-top snarkiness from all the little fast-tailed girls who think they are grown. That time will be here long before I’m ready. I see pre-adolescents at the mall wearing too much makeup and clothes only meant for dark clubs on a Saturday night. They are practically begging someone to hit on them, and yet they are barely old enough to stay home without a babysitter. It seems like girls these days are showing far too much of their yet-to-be-developed bodies at a younger age than ever.
But guess what? Not in our house.
We have too much love and respect for our kids to let them run around like that. Like my Daddy used to tell me, “when you leave this house, you are representing your family. People are looking at you and how you act. And how you act reflects on all of us.”
I hope our girls have enough faith in themselves and appreciation for their own minds and choices to be okay with being different. I hope they hold onto their uniqueness and embrace their differences. I hope they feel enough love from their family and true friends to know that they can be the person they are meant to be without fear of what other people think. I always admired the kids in school who were willing to go off-course and do their own thing. I never had that courage at that point in my life, but I have found a good measure of it as an adult. If only I had been happier just being me back then!
If our girls fall victim to the must-be-like-everyone-else mentality (and let’s face it – they probably will), I can only wish that they still tolerate and appreciate the people who choose to go their own way. We want our girls to grow up seeing that each person has something different about them, no matter how cool or popular they may seem. We need them to know that being different doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can mean that they are creative, that they see beauty in everyday things, that they look past appearances and get to know people, that they love, laugh and live with all their energy and that they realize Life is more than just what happens in high school.
Every one of us is different. And thank goodness for that! If we were all the same, Life would be horrifically boring. We aren’t all perfectly shaped or classically beautiful. We aren’t all talented singers, artists or writers. We aren’t all the right height. We aren’t all witty or charming.
We are what we are, no matter what that looks like. Life isn’t perfect. It’s certainly not fair. People can be hateful lemmings who can’t come out from behind their equally mean friends long enough to have their own voice.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. And if I have any sway in this Universe, I am going to make sure our girls embrace who they are, regardless of how uncool or different that might make them.
I am different, and that’s not only okay. It’s great. If only I could go back in time and stroll through my school in my brown velour awesomeness…