If no one told you who you were or how you were to behave, who would you be?
Societal standards influence how we perceive ourselves, how we behave, how we treat others, what career path we choose, what we believe, how we vote, and whom we marry.
In my opinion, societal standards were created to control how we define ourselves. We were put into a box at birth based on our gender, race, culture, economic background, religion, and parental occupations. We grow up to fit into the box by making choices based on society’s expectations. Most of these choices are subconscious choices.
As children, we are always warned about “peer pressure.” What no one tells us is that peer pressure extends beyond your friends tempting you to engage in behaviors such as drinking and doing drugs. Peer pressure is the idea of societal expectations. These expectations influence our behaviors, even if they go against our values and principles.
You are not meant to fit into the world, the world is meant to fit you.
How many times have you heard the question, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Yet, we have somehow built a society consumed by fitting in, from beauty standards to clothing to hobbies to careers to the type of music we enjoy to the major we choose in college to the way we use social media. Somewhere along the way, society has decided that in order to be accepted, you have to be the same as everyone else.
Many of these standards were created for economic interests. They were created to feed your insecurities so that you may purchase products and make lifestyle changes that increase someone else’s bank account while diminishing your own self-worth anytime you step away from the box.
I let societal standards control my life for a long time.
Recently, I thought about how much time I have wasted comparing myself to supermodels, actresses, and influencers. I have exhausted so much time trying to change my appearance, from learning new makeup trends, changing my hair style, and redoing my wardrobe—not because I wanted to, but because I “needed” to.
The day before my freshman year of high school, I remember breaking down to my parents because I needed to change my hair color. My natural color was dirty blonde hair, and I was made fun of it in middle school. Other kids would tell me that it was not a “real color.” From the age of 14 to 21, I continually destroyed my hair by bleaching it every 2 to 3 months. But I needed to fit in.
In college, I forced my dad to watch makeup tutorials with me. I was crying, because other people were able to look society’s definition of beautiful with the perfect highlight, contour, and eyeliner wing. I, on the other hand, could not (and still cannot), so I felt ugly in comparison.
I even spent years battling anorexia nervosa trying to be “thin” enough. I woke up at 5am to workout before classes, walked 2 miles to class in 106-degree weather, and worked out till 12am every single day for an entire year. I starved myself, only allowing myself to eat 1 bell pepper and 1 cucumber a day.
In middle and high school, I was bullied over my blog and podcast, “Inspiring My Generation.” I would go through periods of time where I refused to blog and quit my podcast. It was not considered cool, so I started to give up on my dreams of changing the world for the better. In my high school advisor file, it said “Career Goal: wants to have a talk show like Oprah Winfrey and inspire others.” Yet, I felt like I had to hide that part of me for a very long time.
Do you truly love yourself?
When I look back at how certain societal standards influenced my self-worth and my behaviors, I see how much I hurt myself. I never showed myself any love, because I was focused on being whom society told me to be. Every day, I told myself all of the reasons I was not good enough, according to society’s expectations. A few years ago, I realized that of my beliefs were taught to me and all of the stigmas I had developed were taught to me. I continuously experienced anxiety attacks and panic attacks trying to fit into an impossible standard. Ultimately, I lost myself and my sense of purpose. In that brokenness, in that dark hole, was where I learned how the labels created by societal standards were the problem, not me.
Truthfully, I betrayed myself in countless ways. I became obsessed with who the world told me to be. Obsessed with the labels—beautiful, intelligent, cool, successful, athletic, normal, etc. I turned against myself, and I took it out on my own body. In fact, I completely destroyed my physical and mental health for years. Who I was and who I wanted to be were defined by the box society put me in, and I continuously felt like a complete failure trying to live up to impossible standards. Yet, I was trying so hard to not be labeled as “crazy, psychotic, mental, or deranged” that I suppressed it all inside.
Societal standards taught me to not love myself. They taught me to continuously compare myself to who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to look like. And they ultimately left me feeling numb.
Beyond labels, who are you?
Who are you? Without any of the labels that society has given you, who are you? Who are you not?
It is okay if you do not know who you are beyond the labels. It is not easy to discover yourself in a world telling you who to be, how to think, and what to wear. Take some time to yourself. Write down what is important to you, what you believe, and who you are. Then, write down where all of that comes from. Did someone tell you? You may find that most of who you perceive yourself to be was defined by someone else.
Your loved ones, your foes, society, nor the people around you get to define or label you. Only you can define yourself. So, I will ask you again: Beyond all labels, who are you?