So, against my better judgment, I ended up watching the Harry & Meghan docuseries on Netflix. This post has nothing to do with it, except for an almost imperceptible line when Meghan said she did it all to fit in.
To fit in.
It was said so quickly, and yet it struck a chord deep within me – a chord my therapist invited me to explore in our last session.
I have never consciously done anything to fit in. In fact, I have always been secretly proud of my seeming ability to resist blatant peer pressure. I don’t have a problem saying no to engaging in behaviours and trends, and in the grand scheme of things, don't really mind what most individuals might or might not think of me.
However, I realized as I kept tugging on that thread, that in many ways I have been relentlessly trying to fit in somewhere. Not with meaningless trends or specific behaviours, but with my being, my likings, my natural inclinations, my interests, opinions or desires.
During those crucial and formative teenage years, like perhaps most people, I shape-shifted constantly to accommodate my latest obsession but often did so with little success. I was never able to go full-fledged emo or punk chic because, though I loved Avril Lavigne and Hot Topic, I also really liked Hannah Montana and Telenovelas.
This pattern has basically continued my entire life. While I may share some characteristics with a group, I’m never able to go "full in" because no matter how much I try to "just go with it," the pull to not betray myself is always stronger.
I have always been frustrated with myself for this. I sometimes wish I had more clear-cut lines in my life of things and people I identify with, to feel like a part of something. But the truth is, I seldom have.
I'm inching closer to thirty and still searching, coming to terms with it perhaps being a lifelong quest. Of perhaps never finding it fully on this side of life.
On the introverted/extroverted scale, I am pretty far down the introverted side. So much so that I often fear how comfortable I am by and with myself. Yet, said introversion does not nullify the need and desire to belong and to fit in. If anything, it often highlights how much I feel like I don't.
So what does that have to do with me wearing black?
My choice of clothing has often been one of the most obvious manifestations of this more profound inner struggle.
I grew up in a culture that values hyper-femininity. While that seems to be shifting somewhat with the rise in popularity of athleisure and streetwear, I would say there is still a strong sense of how a female should look. The church culture I grew up in further accentuated this ideal, though with some notable differences, particularly around modesty.
So when I was just twelve or thirteen, I was already teaching myself to apply makeup, wear 5-inch heels, and forcibly submitting my hair to different forms of torture to look the part. I wore dresses, skirts, sandals and colourful, puffy shirts. I got manicures, pedicures, and hair-straightening keratin treatments.
And then I moved to Vancouver, Canada. The rules of the game had changed – and not only because I now needed to factor winter clothes into the equation. Here, women wore all sorts of things, from leggings, combat boots, and jean and leather jackets, to flowy summer dresses, shorts, sneakers and full outdoor gear.
So the transformation slowly started taking place. As I gradually renewed my wardrobe, more and more pieces that fit in with the local style – however varied and disunified it seems – started filling my drawers and shelves, almost all of them black and more loose-fitting.
The trappings of those earlier versions of me were replaced with clothes I'd never thought of owning, and clothes that always felt quite out of place as soon as I opened my luggage when visiting home. So for a while, I kept some clothes there, ready to transform myself as soon as my plane landed. My untanned skin and dark clothes a reminder that I was, or perhaps just felt, out of place… that I didn't quite fit in.
The thing is, as much as I had 'absorbed' Vancouver's fashion, I still liked some aspects of the style I'd once had back home. For instance, I loved big, striking rings, big necklaces and long, heavy earrings. I loved red lipstick and bold nail polish. And I had abandoned those things in Vancouver because for whatever reason they didn't seem to go as well here. So again, I obliged.
Mind you, most of these things were never even said to me outright. It just came from observation and an unspoken pressure to conform that becomes so hard to resist after some time, like the proverbial frog in boiling water.
Maybe none of this makes sense to anyone else. I have such a tendency to overthink, I often wonder if half the things I sense are even based on any objective reality. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way though. The mere existence of fandoms such as the Swifties, Little Monsters or BeyHive proves how much people want to belong to something. The rise of online communities centred around increasingly niche interests reflect, I think, our inherent desire to fit in – to connect.
So in 2020, I took my first step toward moving past these deeply rooted notions of how my appearance determined my femininity and my femaleness and I shaved my head.
I have never felt so free, so beautiful and… even powerful.
I brought out my red lipstick and big necklaces again. I wore leggings and I wore leather jackets. I wore heavy makeup and chunky Blundstones. For once, I felt like my exterior reflected the contradictions and blends that were inside of me.
Since then I have embarked on a journey – an often solitary one at that – to stop trying to fit in and just be. This process encompasses so much, it's both exhausting and exhilarating. It's rewarding and sacrificing. But it's also not something I am doing alone.
I hope you understand, this is more than just about clothes…
For so long I believed that not fitting in meant there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Why else would I be a teenager who preferred to go read at the library during her lunch break than stay with her friends dissecting the latest class gossip?
I don't believe that anymore. For so long I ignored that God's good design in my life also included my personality, my gifts, and my natural inclination towards certain things (writing over sports, for example). When Psalm 139 speaks about how we were fearfully and wonderfully made, it is not only referring to our outside appearance, adamant as some may be to emphasize only this. Wonderful and mind-blowing as our physical and anatomical design may be, if we were truly created in the image of God (Gen 1:27) with eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), then there must be more to who we are.
And as such, I realize now that I am free to be who God created me to be. Whether that means I fit in or not with certain groups, in certain situations or with certain people. I no longer need to seek acceptance and identity in belonging to a group by adopting their codes and customs.
Cue breath of relief.
Of course, I still seek belonging and connection – as we all do. But learning how to not approach this need, this desire, from a place of fear and inadequacy is already making a big difference in my relationships. I no longer need to be enslaved to a need for approval or to the fear of not meeting someone else’s standards.
So, dumb as it may sound, it has been that realization that has freed me to… wear black and stop apologizing for it.
To continue dancing to reggaeton as I cook and to rock as I write.
To read gothic novels and then smile like a fool with a hallmark romantic comedy.
To want to be by myself all week, and then find myself in a crowd, laughing and dancing with friends.
To laugh so hard my neighbour hears it while watching tv and then silently cry as I open my journal, all within the hour.
To walk in love – of God, of others, but also of myself. To set some boundaries as needed and say no even when it hurts and goes against my hidden and deepest (people-pleasing) instincts.
And ultimately, at the deepest of levels, to walk in the assurance that thanks to Jesus’ work on the cross, I already belong to His church and the family of believers. And regardless of whether I share every like or dislike with any of them, what unites us is far stronger than what divides or differentiates us.
I’ve come to realize it's okay to like this and that. It's okay to go against the grain. It's okay to be me, to be who I was created to be even if that means not fully “fitting in” – whatever that means – anywhere else.
And while we're at it, it's okay to prefer dark, industrial-style decor over pretty white and pink; to hate shopping and crafting; and to be completely unable to get anything you post to look aesthetic – Pinterest boards be damned.