Fitting in has never been so passé. Now, more than ever, we are in the age which glorifies the outsider, which pushes mantras of ‘be yourself, do what makes you happy’ and various other slogans that can be pasted on laptop stickers and overpriced t-shirts.
At first glance this is a fine message, even something to be encouraged; it gives the impression that we want to foster individuality in people and let them know they don’t need to conform to the dreaded mould in order to be liked or accepted. ‘So what’s your issue, Ash?’ You ask, ‘Why can’t you let people be happy for once without stomping all over their joy on your contrarian high horse?’ And I see your point, yes, maybe I should step down, let people feel vindicated in their eccentricities. However I won’t do this because, as much as I appreciate the sentiment of it, (and believe me, I do; I fall as nauseatingly outside of the box as the next humanities student,) I think the elevation of the misfit has the exact opposite effect of what it intended.
For all we push this idea, it’s not something that applies to everyone. Our whole attitude is riddled with inconsistencies and double standards despite us reassuring ourselves and each other that we accept everyone. This vision of the celebrated oddball seems to only apply to the (un)conventionally attractive: Oh, so you’re vaguely overweight and can’t fit into a pair of Brandy Melville Jeans? That’s awesome providing that you’ve got the bubbly, vivacious personality to match! You’re a girl who likes video games? As long as you’re skinny and somewhat attractive that’s fine by us! Do you regularly indulge in some form of popular culture or media? As long as all of your opinions have been safely vetted by the majority and don’t even border on controversy then we love you for it! Individuality is fantastic providing that it falls into our idea of what that should look like and you manage to fit into some sort of niche we can easily catalogue.
The juxtaposition of mini skirt and Donna Tartt novel does not make you special, sunshine.
So do we really value the individual or are we just attracted to the idea of identity which can be neatly labelled as ‘unique’ because it's a relatively new trend that makes us feel special if we participate in it? I think the latter, personally. From what I’ve seen, it’s only a select few ‘individuals’ who are celebrated for it and the rest, those who are unattractive or problematic, are shunned in the same way that a nerd is stuffed into a locker in a beloved noughties teen flick.
The irony is, of course, now that everyone is scrambling in order to stand out, they’re all doing it in the same way so that all that’s happening is that they’ve created a new normal. A new niche to break out of in order to start the cycle over again. We’re all different in the exact same way and yet we are patting ourselves on the back for not fitting in.
We all want to feel special. We all want to feel that by being ourselves (whatever that means) we are inherently valuable and wanted. This, however, is a massive fallacy that we keep perpetuating because of how comforting it is. Existence alone doesn’t make anyone special unfortunately, and it seems to take a lot more work than we bargained for in order to develop any kind of personality and even then, sometimes it would be better to scrap it and start all over again.