“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Dr. Seuss
We were all born with our own unique identity, a creative mind and no boundaries. Through childhood, many of us were conditioned to believe we should ‘be’ a certain way. Boundaries were set according to our upbringing, and we may have been taught to work hard at school, always try our best, speak nicely, have good table manners and be kind to others. This would be our set of tools to help navigate our way through life and be accepted by society.
But what happened along the way to make us feel we should fit in to be accepted? What is this ‘perfect’ body that is dressed, seen and acting in a way that may not be authentic to its owner? In a liberating time of free speech, are we really being true to ourselves? It is possible to feel a sense of belonging, without the need to fit in. These distinctive emotional and physical features we were born with should be celebrated, not crushed.
Our fear of judgement plays a big part in this, which isn’t surprising when unwelcome and potentially harmful opinions may be waiting on the sidelines. As a step in the right direction, Instagram has introduced an anti-bullying tool that asks users, “Are you sure you want to post this?” before pressing the button on an abusive comment. The idea is to give them the opportunity to rethink their actions. Society has reached a critical point; we simply won’t stand for it anymore.
You can belong without fitting in
I spent years trying to fit in whilst wanting to stand out. At school, I was afraid to speak up in fear of being ridiculed. I always needed a best friend for reassurance. Being a yes person, I often said what I thought people wanted to hear, rather than what I felt. I thought this was the way to happiness. In all honesty, it had the reverse effect. I would frequently end up in situations I didn’t want to be in, and spent a little too much time worrying about what others thought of me.
Despite being very self-critical of my body (like too many of us), when it came to fashion I was a complete contradiction. My style was quite inconsistent as I flipped from dark and moody rock chick (I blame my first boyfriend for this one), to embracing the blindingly bright neon of the eighties. But this is all part of growing up, right? Once I started earning (ok, so the student loan may have made a small contribution), the fashion world was my oyster. I was always up for a new trend and realised that having my own style (albeit an ever-changing one) gave me individuality, confidence and a sense of belonging. Like anyone, I had my idols and appreciated the styles of people around me, but I didn’t want to look like everyone else. I did however, feel the need to keep up, and shopping was a great distraction from the pressures of life.
Influencers should inspire you, not define you
Before social media (yes, I can remember such a time), we looked to glossy magazines for inspiration. Quite frankly, none of us were ever going to pull off a pair of skinnies and a black waistcoat quite like Kate Moss. So we welcomed YouTube, Instagram and the influencer. Finally! Someone we could relate to whilst being inspired by; someone like us. Supermodels will always be out of reach (for most of us anyway), but influencers are on our level. We can dress like them, look like them, even communicate directly with them. But this can also lead to an unhealthy obsession with their lives; ours will never quite match up. Filters and perceptions of the perfect life can play havoc with our self-worth.
Learn to love who you are
So is it possible to just be yourself, in a high-pressure society where success is measured by materialism and perfection? Aside from the first world essentials, I now realise that material things make me smile but they’re not going to solve my problems. Filling an online basket and receiving a box of soft items is a well-earned treat, rather than a routine event. I will always love the excitement of stepping outside for the first time in a new pair of trainers. But a quick fix soon fades, the trainers wear down (will I ever find a way to keep the white soles spotless?), and real life is still there. Actual contentment goes much deeper.
It starts with being happy with who you are. I have learnt that by being comfortable in my own skin (which took a while), and knowing my own mind, I no longer feel the need to be this person I think others want me to be. Accepting my body (with the inevitable changes of time) has given me a great sense of freedom. I pretty much know what suits me and have lost interest in mindlessly filling many online baskets. Seeking perfection is a thankless task, whilst embracing your flaws is incredibly liberating. We all have them (even Kate Moss), and they make us who we are, so why fight them? Stop giving yourself a hard time, and treat yourself as you would a friend.
Social media is an invaluable source of inspiration. A particular look can open your mind to try something new. Style it yourself; bring in some ideas of your own. It’s much more fun, and you can then inspire others. Unless you’re the influencer’s mystery twin, you are never going to look exactly like her. Trying to do so is only going to lead to more self-criticism. Isn’t it better to just be yourself, and allow others to accept you exactly as you are? I assure you, those who matter will, and you’ll be a lot happier for it.