Standing out to fit in

Image from fluffy_steve on Flickr.
Image from fluffy_steve on Flickr.

How being different can make you the same

By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor

 My hippie aunt was recently telling me about something she noticed while out with her partner, Doug, at an event. I find it interesting how many people strive to be different, but at the same time, need to be a part of something. For example, we went to a biker event a while ago. The place was wall-to-wall black leather, chaps, Harley Davidson logos, and hair. I got to thinking how, on their own in the general population, these guys really stand out. But, in fact, they belong to a group, and what makes them stand out elsewhere, is a uniform of sorts. When together, nobody stands out. Curiously, that day, it was Doug and I who stood out. And we weren’t trying to.”

My aunt made a good point about the tendency to simultaneously want to stand out and blend in. While there’s a rebellion to looking and acting differently from the rest of society, there’s a comfort to being one of a group. It’s a push-me-pull-you mentality that is the basis for cliques and a near-obsessive aversion to being like the rest of society. The classic example of this is hipster culture.

I love hipsters. I know disdain is in the air over hipsters with their oversized glasses (I want a pair!) and their irony (I like puns! I like wordplay! I like irony!), and their inclination to hate anything mainstream. Here I stop with my praise, because I genuinely can’t understand the hipster hate of anything that is “mainstream,” or “so not original,” or that they liked something before it was cool. Even more confusing about the hipster’s aversion to any and everything “cool” is the fact that these characteristics—the glasses, irony, second-hand clothing, and abhorrence of the mainstream—unite them into a definitive, definable group.

The people who make up groups like this almost stop being individuals in the pursuit of difference: you can’t be a hipster if you like One Direction or Twilight; you can’t be a biker if you don’t own leather; you can’t be a hippie if you aren’t wearing tie-dye on a regular basis. These are often the characteristics that define them as one of a group, but those characteristics also ignore the personal preferences of the individual. A hipster “can’t” like Twilight, but in reality, anyone could like the series. A biker “should” wear leather, but they could be vegan. Here, those things that would make these individuals different and unique are ignored because they would separate them from their group.

Wanting to be yourself is great, but not if your goal is the pursuit of uniqueness to the point of ignoring your actual tastes. That goal—to be unique, to be different, to stand out in society—becomes a front when it begins to negate actual individuality. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a part of a group: there’s comfort in knowing you don’t stand alone, and few people can pull off Clint Eastwood’s lone wolf squint. Still, I think it’s better to be unabashedly embarrassing than limited by shame.

I’ll grant you, there are plenty of things I hate myself for liking: I shouldn’t like Pitbull’s music, and I shouldn’t be so tempted to watch Dance Moms. I acknowledge that I have woefully terrible taste in a multitude of ways; my friends know this about me, they forgive me for my sins, and we move on with our lives. Being different for difference’s sake is contradictory to what idiosyncrasies are meant to encourage: to like what you like, be who you are, and leave it at that.