None of the other children are going, so you’re not going either. If everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you join them? Why can’t you be more like everybody else? You need to be better than everyone else. Look at them, they’re not causing any trouble, so why do you have to go about attracting attention? You need to stand up for yourself. You have to let go. You need to get involved. Why do you have to care so much? You have to study and be the best at what you do, that’s the only way you’ll make something of yourself and become an independent woman. You need to know how to cook if you want to get a good husband, you’ll never be an accomplished woman if you don’t get married and have children. Other girls don’t colour their hair and don’t wear that sort of clothes – why can’t you be more like them? What’s this story about fashion trends, you should find your own style, not be one of the crowd, you have to be unique. Never let a man define who you are. You need a man if you want to have a normal life, just like everyone else. Keep your head down. Be a leader. Make friends with everybody. You can’t possibly be friends with that sort of people. Looks don’t matter. You might want to mind your weight. Be your own person. Fall in line. Blend in, but make sure you stand out!
Does it sound nonsensical? Mindboggling perhaps? Many of us had to find a way of dealing with such contradictory pieces of advice in our childhood, and they were often verbalized by the same person. Sometimes those people meant well; other times they were just trying to avoid any sort of inconvenience. As a child, I used to believe that disturbing balancing act would come to an end eventually, and I was looking forward to that moment. It turns out, that’s just life. Contradictory demands, expectations and values are the norm, and sometimes we are the ones inflicting them on ourselves. But it all sounds so much better when it’s labelled as diplomacy, good manners, appropriate behaviour, morals, social rules, tradition, etc. Nevertheless, the pressure can become unbearable.
So… what did I choose? Well, my family situation was somewhat atypical at the time, so even if I wasn’t aware of it, blending in was not going to be an option. Therefore I understood that being different can be just another way of fitting in. There will always be some who are different in similar ways you are. There will always be places where you belong and places where you cannot fit, no matter how hard you try.
I started smoking when I was about 12 because that was something I really wanted to do, I remember… and I was among the first girls in my class to smoke. Then, by the time I was 14-15, everybody had tried it and I realized it was time for me to stop – I didn’t really like it, and I didn’t see any point in doing it just because it had become the norm. To this day, I am a non-smoker.
There have been times I spoke out when everyone was silent and there have been times when I said nothing, even if everyone was screaming. I don’t always take the easy way and I don’t always take the right way either. Some have rolled their eyes in disapproval, mentioning that I don’t like to do things the way “normal” people do them. Well, I don’t know about that. “Normal” can be overrated, it can also be offensive due to its inherent subjectivity. I like to think I do things my way. That delicate balance between contradictory needs and opposing perspectives is not easy to maintain, I do sometimes lose it, just like everyone else.
Sometimes blending in can be the key to survival. Other times, it’s all about standing out, about wearing that silver dress when everybody is wearing black (yeap, been there, done that, and don’t have any regrets). It’s about being who you are, not about what you’re being pushed into becoming. It doesn’t have to be either this, or that, we get so many opportunities for self-expression, and it’s all about the point in life, who and where we need to be, as long as we manage to be honest with ourselves.
Thank you, Ann-Christine, (Lens Artists Weekly Photo Challenge – Blending In Or Standing Out) for the inspiration. Great topic!