“You’ve got to have wit to be ‘it’ “, my daughter pronounced sagely a few days ago. “Whatever do you mean?”, I queried.
Her explanation was brief and went along the lines of: if you weren’t extraordinarily pretty, or sporty, (or rich even- swimming pool in the back garden, rich) then the only thing that gained you admission into the ranks of the ‘cool girls’ was your sense of humour. Now admittedly, a GSOH is seen as a very admirable quality in both men and women. And wit, more or less, is the best form of humour, particularly if its a self deprecating one. So,my daughter developing this particular trait (plus an ability to be an excellent mimic) did not worry me in the least. What bothered me was this unspoken desire to be seen as one of the flock.
This need for social acceptance transcends age, gender, class and cultures. We need to be a part of the fabric of society. So we look for our particular niches, and aspire to those that seem superior. In trying to fit in, we often cut out that which makes us who we are.
I remember watching ‘Grease’ the movie with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John when I was a very young girl. It perplexed me no end that it took a complete makeover of Sandy for her to win the affections of the Brylcreamed, snake hipped hero. Out went the swing skirts and the pony tail, and in came the skin tight trousers (that she was purportedly sewn into), artfully blow dried hair and a cigarette dangling from the freshly painted lips. Sandy, the effervescent, lovely heroine was replaced by her ‘cool/hot’ alter-ego who bore little resemblance to a plain Jane, thus sending out the message that to grab a man, you needed to upgrade yourself to a femme fatale.
Cut to a much more recent teen flick- ‘Mean Girls’, it once again highlights the disturbing trend of denying your true identity in order to conform. Lindsay Lohan’s character infiltrates the cool gang at school, only to find herself slowly shedding her uncool persona and remodelling herself at the behest of the queen bee. As it was a Tina Fey film (a quirky modern day feminist who uses humour as her arsenal), Lohan’s victory lay in the defeat of the ubiquitous social hierarchy and a re establishment of her own off beat identity.
Progress? Yes. But a long way to go yet.
If conformity= acceptance, then do all non conformists become social pariahs? What message must I give to my daughters? Try and fit in, or stand out and risk being a leper?
To be happy, truly happy, you can only serve one master. That master has to be your own self. In being true to yourself, you may alienate those who do not agree with your vision, or those who want you to follow theirs, but you are also likely to align yourself with those who share a similar philosophy. Being a slave to groups or trends takes you away from living your life in an honest manner.
This is a message that I hope my daughters can live by. It is a message that I hope other mothers are imparting to their sons and daughters as well. Our only true legacy to our children is the sense of self-worth we imbue them with.