Google+ Authentic Parenting: Conforming To The Mainstream

Monday, June 7, 2010

Conforming To The Mainstream

The piece I wrote last week about appearance and expectation made me ponder why my look is so disconnected to the inner me. Actually it is quite simple. 

I never looked totally mainstream. Actually, when I was younger, a lot of people thought I was a foreigner, based on the way I looked and dressed and acted. 
I did some non-conformism when I was younger. I rebelled against the uniform at my boarding school by going overboard and wearing skirts and ties and military shirts, while everybody else just wore jeans and T-shirt.

So it has always been quite clear that I was different, but the problem - now I've grown - is that 
  1. my 'otherness' has as good as vanished or is hardly noticed
  2. if it is noticed, it is apparently misread
But what's the base of this discrepancy between how I look and how I feel?

I think I have figured it out.

I did try to unconform when I was growing up, yet almost every single attempt was stopped. Ok, I was allowed to dye my hair a little, but the big things, the splashes of personality seeking and rebellion/liberation I wanted were not allowed. Either by my parents or by school. (Although I did sneakily have almost-purple hair once). I wanted bright red hair, and gel nails and a piercing (which I eventually got when I was 19 and left my parents house to go live at my grandmother's) and a tattoo. I wanted sparkly clothes, but was put in a boarding school where uniforms were mandatory.
Every such question got a "you will never get a job if you do that" or "not as long as you are under my roof". 

Guess what. I never had a real job (considering a marketing internship doesn't count - and for which I did already have the piercing). I probably never will (at least I hope not). Disclosure: by real job I mean desk job that is totally boring and where you ultimately work to enrich another.

And how did it matter what color my hair was when I was 16, I wouldn't have been working for t least another 5 years. No color is that resistant.

Why don't we let our teens express themselves through their appearance? There is already so much conforming to do as an adult, let us give them that liberty, those few precious years. That important time when one constructs one's identity should not be bridled by societal expectations. Let them the freedom to seek their path, and the liberty to express themselves. The choice to conform or not, is theirs to make.



  1. I think many parents are living through their children and think "If I knew then what I know now... I would have done XYZ!" Except, the joy of living is, and always will be, in the journey and not the destination.

  2. I totally agree. My parents were a little more lenient, but I didn't really have a chance to dye & wear my hair or dress the way I preferred until college, and then I got a job at age 21 that limited most of that. I always said I'd let my kids look & dress however they wanted, because it's a lot easier to do as a teenager than as an adult if you're in the mainstream job market.

    The funny thing now is that I am one of the most plain looking among my group of friends, but even my "mainstream" looks have gotten remarks because I favor vintage or rockabilly type clothes and "different" hairstyles (partially shaved or short and spiky, or very long with Bettie Page bangs and sometimes ornate braids). I dyed my hair purple right after my son was born, but it's faded out now, and I'm worried if I re-dye it it might cost me clients when I go back to work. :(

  3. Oh yeah, when I started to work at my "real" job (it was a desk job of sorts, requesting lots of travelling and auto parts disassembling in labs and car testings, I loved it and I was paid for it ; while now my job is not a desk job even if I have some desk tasks to accomplish, it doesn't take me anywhere on the Earth and I am not paid for it but I love it too), so when I started my real job I enjoyed clothes that were mhh... sexy, and I enjoyed to paint my nails blue or green, and even walk barefoot from one desk to the other. The man who hired me was a very good man, I am still in touch with him so many years after, and he couldn't care less. He wanted the job to be done and I was very good. Then he took another position and new bosses came along, and my appearance was not really appreciated. I was told to please wear my shoes all the time, please wear longer shirts, please use other nailpolish colors. A chance I left my hair pretty much undone or they would have send me to the hairdresser to change my hairdo !

    Now, in my current job (being a housewife and a mother full time), I sew my own clothes, and I don't use nailpolish anymore (not good for nails !) except on occasions and I still like odd colors. My hair has gone back to the jungle it belongs. And my kids can pick their clothes or the fabrics I sew their clothes with and the model.

    Nice post, thanks !

    When I was a teenager, I was not really into this rebellion thing. Why is that ? I obviously have it in me to not conform. I have to think about it. Also, I don't consider it "rebellion", it is more expressing individuality.

  4. I agree that you need to allow children/teens to express who they are. When my oldest was 5, he announced he wanted a mohawk. His grandparents about had a conniption when I said "ok". Now he wants his hair blue, which his elementary school won't allow, but school IS out next Tuesday.... ;)

    My mom allowed a certain amount of experimentation, but not so much with my clothes.

  5. My daughter has dyed her hair bright pink and jet black; my son wears dresses and skirts. Both are off the mainstream here and have been clucked at a bit. But only a bit, because since I'm confident these things are fine my kids are too.

    I figure letting my kids express themselves without a power struggle leaves their minds and bodies and hearts free to pursue authenticity. I see a lot of kids obsessed with sneaking or supplanting their parents authority, which can become a identity all in itself. I don't want this for my kids.

  6. So now I am curious, what are you going to do to align your look with your inner over-grown adolescent? With no parents or desk job to hold you back, what is that outside goig to say about your inside? Maybe a fun make-over project? I need to consider one too. My apperance has not kept pace with my new role as a Mom, and I don't just mean the size

  7. Kelly, how great is that!

    @Canadiagaditana: I think I won't change that much. Pondered on the hair thing for a while, but it is almost impossible to maintain an artificial color here, and since my hair is extremely long, I am afraid dying might ruin it. Will probably be getting a tattoo one of these. And I am done caring if my african wardrobe 'passes' in Europe... To be continued
    However, I still think I look mainstream

  8. How I relate. People always thought I was Portugese, Greek, or something like that. And my clothes were always just too far off, living in a small town probably made it that much worse and I had a few 'interventions' from friends in my last year of High School. I was Satan's child and I wore pants to church.

    And then suddenly I am 32, with a little girl of 15 months and all that made me different is gone. Oh, I am still different, just not in a way that makes passers by stop and stare.

    oh well. We all grow up I suppose. Personally, I found strength and values that now come from inside, instead of being shown on the outside.

    I hope that when my daughter is a teenager, I can help her in a different way. I want to show her that your strength comes not from what you wear, but from what you are and what you stand up for. Although I refused to conform, even my rebellion was a form off seeking for acceptance in world that had no space for me (small town mentality does not allow for being different so I went large). I would like to think that I will be able to 'allow' her to wear what she wants without too much fuss, whilst instilling the core that she needs to realise she does not need anyone's approval, disapproval or support as long as she harms no one, she must just always be who she is.


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