The Etiquette of Nonconformity This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 1, 2010
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High school has become an arena of judgment, a place where teenagers are analyzed, defined, and then sorted into groups or categories by their peers. Recently, a phenomenon has overcome our recognition of what is socially acceptable: the idea of uniqueness. Many people today proudly proclaim to the world that they are confident enough to be who they are. Somehow, however, this seems hard to believe coming from someone wearing American Eagle who happens to have the same musical interests as the rest of Americans ages 13 to 25.

We all have it: the Facebook picture in which we are surrounded by our friends, probably laughing or sticking out our tongues. The caption underneath declares what dorks we are and how strange our friends can be. But in a society that has been taught to celebrate uniqueness and scorn weirdness, we only do this because it is an acceptable form of dorkiness, a mainstream style of individuality.

Society tends to stand on the safe shores of normalcy, clinging onto the one thing that cannot be ridiculed: commonality. More recently, it has stuck out a toe to test the waters of being beyond average and explore how being different can be used to our advantage, to make us “cooler”. But we are afraid to take the dive into a void where whole-hearted celebration of uniqueness is actually real. Our constant fear of judgment drives our careful balance between being acceptably weird and deviating too far from what other people want us to be.

People have come to think it’s cool and interesting to do some ridiculously unnecessary things, solely for the sake of seeming quirky and interesting. One such trend is adding extra letters to words in texts and Facebook posts, turning simple messages that really don’t say very much into long, inarticulate fragments of the English language until, congratulations, the poster has successfully skirted the risk of appearing intelligent. Heaven forbid they use proper grammar, or write something that requires both thought and prior knowledge. Now that would be outside the lines of socially acceptable abnormality.

Many teenagers claim to embrace uniqueness, and take pride in their acceptance of others and their ability to let loose and not be afraid to look like a dork. But as soon as actual dorks decide to show their dorkiness, it’s not socially celebrated, it’s just dorky. Unless our outlandish actions and words fit into the narrowly defined parameters of individuality, that which is seen as mainstream eccentricity, they are ridiculed. Maybe we are taught to “embrace uniqueness,” but society forgot to tell us what kind of uniqueness. Is it the glamorous kind of peculiarity that makes us quirky and fun, or the offensive kind that shuns us from the oppressing eyes of those who define what is cool and what is not? Teenage society has come to equate popularity with individuality, two things that, by definition, cannot remain true simultaneously.

All of this is wrapped up in a mixed message and handed to a market that presents it as one simple rule: be weird, but not too weird. It is socially acceptable to be a fake dork, but not a real one. Being weird is fun, but being different is frowned upon. It is truly a challenge to go against the expectations that society has of us, but one that we should all accept with conscious and proactive determination.

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Bethani said...
Jul. 5, 2010 at 12:13 am
I couldn't agree more! :) Another stereotype I come in contact with is that guys who have religious beliefs won't take advantage of you. That's not true for me. It's happened to me and my aunt. Don't buy into these lies! This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jul. 10, 2010 at 11:30 am
i am sorry that happened to you... and you are right... stereotypes are never completely true.
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