To Conform or Not to Conform?

Art by Melody Jean Johnson. Photo found on

I’ve always been the sort of person who doesn’t want to be just like everyone else. I remember walking through the mall in college and seeing a shirt I liked in the window of The Gap. Even though I loved the shirt I wouldn’t buy it, not because I didn’t have the money or had a moral objection to shopping at The Gap but because I felt it would be too mainstream of me to wear a shirt from the window of such a popular retailer. Now that I’m older, and hopefully at least a little wiser, that seems silly. Being unique and original isn’t about what you wear or how you look.

There’s a misconception, especially in young people but some adults too, that individuality is an outside trait and one that must be shown by looking different from the norm. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to wear a scarf in the summer or be covered from head I toe in tattoos to assert your originality. (Not that you shouldn’t do those things but more on that shortly). The interesting thing about people who try to rebel against the mainstream is that they usually just trade one kind of conformity with another. Becoming a goth (for example) doesn’t make you unique, you’re just conforming to a different group. One of my favorite movie quotes is from SLC Punk “You wanna be an individual, right? You look like you’re wearing a uniform, you look like a punk. That’s not rebellion. That’s fashion.” Now to be perfectly clear, I am not opposed dressing any way or belonging to any (non-violent, non-prejudice) group if that makes you happy (or possibly melancholy in the case of Goths). Dress the way you want to dress because you love it and not out of some misguided attempt at individuality. So go ahead and cover yourself in tattoos and piercings be a goth or punk or hipster or steampunk or whatever as long as you love it. Actually, totally be steampunk, their clothes and accessories are awesome (okay, that’s just my opinion). Or dress in the latest mainstream fashions if you want too, it doesn’t stop you from being an individual because in the end we are all individuals. (Again more on that in a second. This may not be the most organized post).

It’s true your outside can reflect your individuality within but it’s not what makes you, you. And I have to say if you do choose to get a tattoo(s) I would recommend getting something original and not something you saw on Pinterest, and think long and hard about anything that’s going to be on you pretty much forever (again, my opinion). I also think buying actual original art, whether it be jewelry, handmade clothes or wall art can be a good way to show your originality on the outside and support artists. (Shameless plug alert) If you do that you should totally buy some of my mom’s art because it’s awesome (that one’s straight-up fact).

Back to the “we are all individuals” point of this whole post. Remember how as children we were taught that we are all beautiful unique little snowflakes, well it’s true. And since this is a Kindergarten lesson I’m going to quote a children’s book, On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman “For never before in story or rhyme (not even once upon a time) has the world ever known a you, my friend, and it never will, not ever again…” No one has had the exact same experiences as you. No one has the exact same thoughts, feelings and actions as you. The only way to not be unique is to really try to blend in. Yes, people have similarities and common threads that tie us together. Some people have more original ideas than others. But in the end, however you look, you are an individual. One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes is often taken out of context and used to mean “be selfish” but in context it means quite the opposite. Here’s the whole quote “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then prove false to any man.” Polonius is a bit of a pompous fool but I have to agree with him there. He’s basically saying if you’re honest and true to yourself, you will be honest and true to others. I think that applies here too, if you are true to who you are inside, you can’t help but show that to others, regardless of how you look. So embrace your normalcy and your eccentricities and go out there and be that beautiful, unique snowflake they said you were in Kindergarten and I know you still are.