On Thursday, the online content editor (curator?) of a popular glossy ladymag emailed me, asking if I’d like to contribute a couple articles to their blog. I was surprised, mostly because I had a disagreement with this publication over No Makeup Week. The title of the article that they wanted me to write was “How to be one-of-a-kind.”
I thought I would never stop laughing. I emailed back “Okay, here’s the article: Step one, be yourself. Step two, repeat as needed for the next eighty years.” I mean, REALLY. A guide to being one of a kind? For people to follow? So that they can end up being the same one-of-a-kind person as everyone else who read it and took it to heart? Good grief.
I politely declined to write it, but I did start thinking. I was asked to write that article because I seem like a unique kind of person. I know I’m different, I’m proud of being different, I’m loud ABOUT being different. I haven’t always. I’ve had periods where I flirted with conformity. It never, ever worked and it made me miserable.
So really, I think a better article might be how to accept the kind of person you are. It’s all very well and good to say “I like myself and I’m proud to be weird in public,” but what exactly does that mean?
Here’s what it means. It doesn’t mean me or anybody else telling you what to wear, what to like, what to do. It’s not giving you a list of things to buy that will magically set you apart from the crowd. It’s a mindset, and it might not be a perfect one, but it’s been working for me since I was fourteen. So here it is.
You’re Already One-Of-A-Kind, SO EMBRACE IT: Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love being different.
1. Like what you like.
Don’t let anyone else tell you that what you like is wrong or uncool. Be really loud and brash about it. If you, like me, LOVE Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Taylor Swift–say it loud, say it proud, say it all the damn time. If anyone tells you that something you like is lame or tells you that you shouldn’t like it based on your age or gender or anything else, just say “Big deal, I love it/her/him/Picard.” That’s it. No further debate required.
I bought a really awesome pair of Frye boots around my birthday. Not everyone was as in love with them as me. One person said they made me look like “a dyke on a bike,” which I think was meant to be an insult. I can’t tell you not to pay attention to these sorts of things, because you’ll never be able to totally tune out haters. Just keep it in perspective and know that what people think about you isn’t nearly as important as what you think about yourself. Long hair, don’t care.
2. Don’t apologise or explain.
Last week, I was accosted in Target by a woman who had a problem with my fur coat. “How do you sleep at night?” she screamed. “Fur is disgusting! YOU’RE disgusting! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
Quiz time! Did I:
A) Attempt to explain that the coat I’m wearing used to belong to my mother and was secondhand when she got it in the 70s,
B) Be totally humiliated and run away, or
C) Realise that the crazy lady does not want to engage in an intelligent debate, she wants to hurt and humiliate a complete stranger; tell her that as a grown woman wearing pyjama pants in public, SHE is the one who should be ashamed. Walk away, brushing my shoulders off.
If you selected “C” you would be correct. I don’t have a problem with people not wearing or loving fur. I understand it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I do, however, have a serious problem with hypocrisy. For instance, this same woman who berated me for wearing dead animals was herself wearing Ugg boots. I don’t know where she thinks the sheepskin used to make those abominations came from, but there you go. I wear leather shoes, carry bags made of animal skins, eat meat and have a down comforter on my bed. I see no difference between any of these things and wearing a fur coat. I try to do all of these things responsibly–vintage fur, organic meat–but the end game is the same: an animal is dead. Or, in the case of the coat I was wearing, has been dead for a good fifty years.
What I’m trying to say here is DO YOU. Let small minds worry about what that might or might not consist of. The only time you should apologise is when you screw up, and the only time you should explain your actions is on your blog. Because, duh, that’s what they’re there for.
3. Know yourself.
Figure out what makes you tick. Do you like being alone or do you prefer being around a lot of people? Are you happiest in a monogamous relationship, an open relationship, a long-distance relationship, no relationship? Do you want to live alone, with a friend, with a partner? Are you happy working for someone or do you want to work for yourself? What motivates you? What scares you?
These all sound like really huge things to figure out, but they aren’t. These are the kinds of tiny building blocks upon which you can build fantastical sculptures, sensible brick shacks or, I don’t know, a metaphysical porno theatre. And the weirdest thing is that you might find similar threads running through these things, threads you otherwise might not have noticed were there.
For example: My name is Alle. I am happiest when I can spend long periods of time alone. I prefer monogamous relationships that allow me a large degree of independence. I would rather be alone than in a relationship with someone who doesn’t understand me, as that is the only time I ever feel lonely. I prefer living by myself. I am motivated by perfection: editing an imperfect article into a thing of beauty, finding the exact words to perfectly convey an idea, telling a great story in such a way that it becomes even better. I am scared of never being loved the way I want to be loved. I am equally scared of BEING loved that way, because if I screw it up and lose it, I’m pretty sure I would die. And I’m scared of finding that love and having everything I’ve ever wanted, and then WHAT IF I’M HAPPY AND I DON’T LIKE IT.
You see what I mean about similar threads. Also about being weird in public.
4. Be decisive.
Seriously. Don’t let yourself be talked out of something you really want and into something else, whether that’s clothes, jobs, dudes, chicks, anything. If you really want something, then you go, Glen Coco. Fucking WORK IT OUT. There will be people who try to naysay you. Sometimes even you will try to naysay yourself. Don’t. Pick a path and walk on it proudly.
Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t listen to anyone else ever. I’m pretty sure that if 90% of the girls from 16 & Pregnant listened to their friends, they wouldn’t be saddled with such loser babydaddies. So maybe I should say be decisive but keep your eyes open to the consequences. Maybe the shoes you love today will make you cringe when you look back at pictures in ten years. Maybe the dude you love today will turn out to be a dead end. Is that ‘maybe’ a price you’re willing to pay?
And here’s the thing about decisions: if one doesn’t work out, you can just make another. It’s been my experience that there’s very little in life that’s totally unchangeable.
5. Have fun.
No matter where you are or what you’re doing, make it a party. Wear something totally silly and awesome (for me, neon pink platform boots are a good place to start). Listen to fun music. Take an equally fun friend as your date to a boring event. Some of the best times I’ve ever had aren’t at fancy parties or trendy bars; they’re at a Starbucks, looking like something that lives under a bridge and shouting song lyrics with Charlotte. Plus, I think that if you’re having fun and being happy, you’re giving the people around you permission to do the same. Happiness is contagious. Choose to make yourself a vector for the positive.
6. Be kind.
A lot of these rules can, if followed to the letter, have rather nasty consequences. We all know people who follow their own self-interest at the expense of all others, who never apologise for anything, who are just out for a good time, who excuse their bad behaviour by saying “I’m a bitch, it’s who I am.” Those people suck, and I’m not advocating that anyone should act that way. All of your words and actions should always be tempered with kindness, which I really think is the most important virtue that can be cultivated. And that’s the beautiful thing: unlike so many other traits which are inborn and spontaneous, kindness can–and should–be learned.
Being kind doesn’t mean you’re weak or a pushover; standing up for yourself is always the best thing you can do. The difference between being assertive and aggressive is slim but definite, and it doesn’t always come easily. Look for it everywhere because it can look different each time you see it. Soak up as much of it as you can get. Practice being kind every chance you get until you have no choice but to be graceful in every situation. It pays off, too. Wait and see.
And that’s it. Go forth and wear a gigantic hat!