I found myself in a scene straight out of the cliché teenager flick Mean Girls. In the movie, it was a Halloween house party: all the girls were dressed minimally in what were supposed to be costumes, showing off for the jocks and popular guys. The crowd was clumped together in cliques sipping on red solo cups, the background music was bumping and making it hard to hear. Lindsay Lohan’s character missed the memo and stood in a corner, sporting a horrendous zombie bride costume. She was trying her best to fit in with everyone else but failing miserably. Who would have guessed I would ever have something in common with Lindsey Lohan.
The party I found myself in the midst of wasn’t full of high schoolers and it wasn’t Halloween, but the resemblance was eerie. The cozy three-person apartment was dim and packed—football players mixed in with crop tops and painted faces, most of them concentrated around the beer pong table in the middle of the room. Every once in awhile the front door would swing open and a few more stragglers would pile in to hellos and shouts of recognition. It was loud—there was music, sloshing jungle juice in plastic cups, and me in a tight black skirt. I was doing my best to hug the wall.
My basketball teammates laughed and conversed with some boys, motioning me towards them half-heartedly before going about their business. I was too sober to be enjoying the music and bravely pushing my way into the crowd. So I stood silently waiting, wondering when I could go back to my apartment and how in the world this was supposed to be fun. No one approached me in their drunken stupor. No one bothered to catch my name. And for the first time in my life I felt…invisible.
At that moment, as a sophomore in college and an athlete, everything in my head told me to forget my hesitancy, down a beer, and get in on the fun. Maybe then, if I let loose, hitched up my skirt a few inches, and swallowed my natural demeanor, I could get noticed and applauded for my party side. Perhaps then I wouldn’t be alone in this crowd of people.
It’s an age old question: to blend in, or to stand out. To conform and belong or to be different.
I had been to many college parties before—ones I got dragged to after a big win or ones in which I justified my general distaste for the benefit of giving my teammates and a few friends safe transportation home.
I knew the drill: get ready for an hour or two, drive somewhere to pre-game, then head to the parties. There was always booze, always the same few stops and venues, always pounding rap and a few people puking in the bathroom, always cops breaking everyone up after an hour or so because of a noise complaint. Same circumstances, different weekend.
So the real question wasn’t why I didn’t participate more or why I didn’t just learn to live a little, but why I was even there at all. My companions always had a blast and I always walked away wondering why I even bothered. The truth of the matter was that somewhere along the way I thought it would be better to be miserable at a party where I could fit in and gain others’ approval than to be myself and enjoy my time doing other things.
And yet, that night in the black skirt against the wall I realized that the more I went to parties looking for attention and others to notice me in the crowd, the more I felt as if everyone in the room could see through me like I was made of glass. And the craving for importance and relevance was still there, only stronger.
I didn’t realize it at first. When I saw the fake in the room, I might as well have been looking in the mirror. Somewhere in the mix of sweating bodies, shouting voices, and my personal desire of belonging and impressing others, I betrayed myself. It wasn’t just about going against what I wanted to stand and live for, which was much more than an instant gratification lifestyle. It was the cold hard fact that I was pretending to be something I’m not.
We catch ourselves doing it all the time. We change our interests and hobbies to impress a girl or guy we like. We change our personality so our friends will like us more. We act one way around our family, one way around our classmates and coworkers, and different ways around different groups of friends. We break ourselves down to build up others’ view of us. And all the bending and breaking can only result in one thing—we lose ourselves.
Thanks to the black skirt, I’ve learned one of the most critical lessons of life. Acceptance does not come from pretending or changing ourselves to fit others’ molds. Acceptance comes from embracing and living as the person that God created you to be.
Many of those friends still spend their Saturday nights in dim apartments. But contrary to what I thought going into college, going into high school even, they don’t think any less of me for choosing to do other things instead. If they did, they wouldn’t be very good friends. In fact, I think they would have a lot less respect for me if I continued faking it to force them to like me.
What makes so much of life worth living is the people, and what makes the people so worth meeting is the fact that we each have a unique beating heart in our chest, different stories that weave together, and crazy thoughts swirling inside each individual cranium. God didn’t create you and me the same, a bunch of robots or puppets on strings. You have something that no one on this earth has, so why spend the time trying to be like everyone else?
Living as you—doing the things that you love, spending time with the people you care for, and pursuing the goals that you are passionate about—not only makes you a magnet for likeminded people, but you will find yourself radiating confidence in your own complexity as well.
You don’t have to put on a show or wear a mask to impress anyone. If you are authentically you, you already will have.[pullquote]“I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” –Rita Mae Brown[/pullquote]