An Over-Analysis of My Obsession with What You Think of Me (Part 1)
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been driven by a desire to fit in with the crowd. In third grade I took my mom to Dillard’s to buy a pair of truly heinous purple slip-on sneakers I never would have liked but for the fact that two of the most popular girls I wanted to be friends with had them. I wedged myself into conversations I had no business participating in so I could be seen talking to the cool kids. I wore the Limited Too camis I was supposed to wear, watched the Full House reruns I was supposed to watch, and listened to the Chingy I was supposed to listen to. I cheered for all my sports-ball teams with gusto, whether I knew what was going on or not (I didn’t).
Fast forward to college. I joined a sorority, something I said I’d never do, because that was just what one did where I went to school, especially when one was a white girl who didn’t know how to make friends and cared immensely how strangers stereotyped her. I majored in Communication Studies and Public Relations, a practical field of study for practical people who wanted to ~join the workforce~ and gain ~marketable skills~ without having to do the math required for an actual business degree.
Boy did I ever market those non-math skills! Two months before graduation, I secured a well-paid desk job at a shiny corporation in the sports-ball industry! Thank god, cause I was gonna need something objectively impressive to bring up at all those networking events and Bachelor watch parties I’d be going to, or whatever the hell else it is one does in their post-grad free time.
I wanted so badly to fit in, to master the art of doing what one is supposed to do and look effortlessly cool doing it. But that didn’t mean I wanted to blend into the background. Au contraire, my amigo! I wanted you to know how skilled I was at keeping with the status quo. I wanted you to look at me with my Ray-Bans and my white Converse high-tops and my latergram about the mimosas and beignets I had on Saturday and be like, “Damn. She’s the most normal.”
I’m not sure I convinced anyone else, but I did a fantastic job convincing myself all those things I was doing were really “me.” Looking back, it’s comically difficult to discern which life choices I made because I actually wanted to and which I made out of some perverse sense of expectation- or trend-based obligation.
Did I really think closed-toe Birkenstocks were cute? Or Sperry top siders?? Or Tory Burch flats with aggressively large logos??! Why did I start parting my hair in the middle? If I liked Full House so much, why do I now despise any show with a laugh track? Did I ever actually care about sports?? And does it even really matter why I got into something if it ended up being a thing I genuinely enjoyed? I still wear my white Converse high-tops because they look objectively good with most things, for example, and I do tend to enjoy marketing how skilled I am at non-math-related communication.
Fast forward again. It’s been almost four years since I graduated college, exactly two years since I quit my respectable, salaried job to be a nanny and focus on my writing self, about ten months since I left the kids and my life in Dallas to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, four months since I moved back to Dallas and into a house with a buncha dudes, a little over three months since I started a full-time retail job at Buffalo Exchange, several weeks since I’ve worn makeup in my daily life, and four days since I’ve put on a bra. What a contrast! How unconventional! I think it’s pretty obvious I no longer care at all what anyone thinks of me.
Haha. No. I still care… so much. I think the main difference now is that I’ve expanded my definition of what makes an acceptable aberration from the norm. And maybe I do care a little less, but I’m still multiple universes away from what you’d call boundary pushing or limit testing or radical or rebellious… I mean I’m a straight, cis, privileged, white lady. I drive a Volvo. I’m vegan but I cheat. That kind of thing. Pretty much what you’d expect, no? But at least I’m doing it for me, I… think?
A few weeks ago, one of my new coworkers asked what I learned from being out on the trail, and without pausing to consider the question, the first thing I could think to say was, “That I care too much what people think about me.”
Social media hasn’t helped the situation. Scrolling through Instagram a couple weeks ago, I found myself simultaneously annoyed at and eager to participate in the #TenYearChallenge that’d been going around. I tapped over to my Facebook to see what 2009 had to offer in tagged photos of me. I found 51 photos, none of which I found interesting enough to actually post, all of which were pretty hilarious when I attempted to reoccupy that sophomore-year-of-high-school headspace.
No matter how stupid I feel for how much I still care now, it’s really nothing compared to how desperately I craved back then to fit perfectly into my perceived place in the world. What’s more, I see it now in a way I didn’t see it then. In high school and college and the couple years after, I saw fitting in as a requirement for happiness. I’ve developed enough awareness of myself and the world to be an outside observer of how much I care and to assess those feelings appropriately. It isn’t always as obvious as I’d like it to be, but most of the time I can tell whether I’m making a decision based on what I actually want or what I think I should want. Ugh. “Should.”
I don’t always deem it bad or wrong to go with the status quo. Sometimes I go with it wholeheartedly, cause it’s fun to participate and connect and feel like you know what’s up. But I like being aware of when I’m making that decision. I like it a lot more than being plagued by and wrestling with some obligation to adhere to a set of standards I never set for myself. Though I clearly haven’t pried myself completely away from a years-old obsession with normalcy, I can see it for what it is: flawed thinking.