Monday, June 30, 2014

Not fitting in

Sometimes memories are triggered by sensory stimuli. Last week I heard the song "Dancing Queen" by Abba, and had a very vivid recollection of hearing it when it first became a hit, back in the summer of 1976.

I was seven years old, and was just beginning to form an impression of what it was going to be like to be a teenager. This song represented a sort of ideal of the perfect teenage girl. I remember feeling a complete certainty that I would never be that girl. It was not only that I was not a good dancer. In an early moment of self-awareness, I realized that I did not have the confidence and social skills to become the sort of person who would enjoy having everyone's eyes on her as she danced.

The more I thought about the song and the type of lifestyle it described, the more I considered this ideal of partying and dancing to be shallow and pointless. That sort of having fun was never my highest aspiration. I disliked the expectation that everyone should conform to the same lifestyle, and the implication that this sort of fun was equal to happiness.

I was a shy, serious, and bookish child. This will come as no surprise to those who know me now, or have been following this blog. I felt that the way I was represented the right way to be me, and I knew that even if society considered me unusual in some ways, that was a problem with society and not with the way I was.

One thing that helped me, and that I hope may help others, is this insight I got from something my father told me. He said, "You were not born to be a child. You were born to be an adult, and that will be most of your life". I realized that I would just have to pass through childhood and adolescence as best I could. The pressure to conform seems to be highest during adolescence, which is unfortunate because this is when people form their identities. Being made to feel that you are weird or an outsider at this age is very damaging. As an adult it is easier to be the person you actually are, and nowadays it is easier for people to find similar friends and explore their interests online.

There are many different ways to be a person, and many ways to be a girl, or a boy, or a woman, or a man. Nobody should feel that their way is wrong just because they don't match someone else's standards of "normal".