I recently read a quote that said, “Not all girls are sugar and spice and everything nice; some girls are adventure and beer and brains with no fear.” It bothered me. Can we be both? The statement suggests that one type is better, and that the attributes listed simply cannot co-exist.
Culture pressures us to choose which type of girl we are. But what if we like both beer and sugar? Can we be both adventurous and nice? Am I allowed to identify with both? The statement implies that certain attributes are mutually exclusive; we either fall into one category or the other. Typically, once we’ve identified our category, we start behaving how our type is supposed to.
I’ve spent the majority of my life adhering to this unwritten social ideology. It began when I met my best friend, Elle, at age four. I could tell even then that she was a certain way, and I clearly was not whatever she was. Though life-long friends, we embody the word “different.” She is, by nature, a cupcake with sprinkles; I am, by nature, a margarita on the rocks.
Our differences manifested themselves most in social contexts. She instinctively functioned as the nurturing, mother figure of the group while I instinctively vied to be the court jester. Our friends began to expect these behaviors of us. She was the sweet one; I was the spicy one. We met their expectations. While we both thrived in our distinct roles, we operated under the pretense that the attributes accompanying these personas did not overlap. She was sweet, nurturing, joyful, and optimistic, and since we were functionally so different, I concluded that I simply wasn’t any of those things. I fell into a trap that so many of us do, and used comparison as a sort of metric system: “If she’s nurturing, then there’s no way I am.”
I fell into a trap that so many of us do, and used comparison as a sort of metric system: ‘If she’s nurturing, then there’s no way I am.’
When we allow others to define us, we develop beliefs about what people expect of us and act accordingly. When I’m told that I’m funny, I become the tireless comedian and keep the jokes coming. When told that I’m sweet, I begin competing for Miss Congeniality. Likewise, when told I’m a hot mess, I become irresponsible and incapable. When teased for my scattered-brain, I forfeit effort all together and chalk it up to, “That’s just how I am.” Just as I have embraced what people have told me I am, I have also embraced what they’ve told me I’m not. This has potential to be either incredibly empowering or incredibly limiting.
The main issue arises when we modify ourselves to fit “the mold.” We adapt in effort to present the version of ourselves we believe is desired or expected. This chameleon-like behavior, while highly effective, comes at a cost.
In striving to meet expectations — be it those of our friends, our culture, or worst of all, ourselves — we become self-fulfilling prophecies. We quite literally confine ourselves to the parameters of the expectation. We behave how we are supposed to, rather than how we might want to. In looking to others for our definition, we risk losing, or worse yet, never finding, our true selves.
This chameleon-like behavior, while highly effective, comes at a cost.
Can we identify as the confidant, the intellectual, the hostess and the beautician simultaneously? Sometimes they seem mutually exclusive, like we need to know ourselves, pick one persona and stick with it. We can polarize these personas with our own perceptions of what each type is probably like, what they probably enjoy, and what they probably wear. When we don’t meet our own expectations of what we believe a true confidant or a welcoming hostess looks like, we conclude that we simply are not that type of girl.
We are complex, multifaceted and multitalented creatures, ladies. I can quote Shakespeare and squeal over a puppy in the same breath. So why do I feel the need to qualify my TSwift playlist as a “guilty pleasure,” as if enjoying pop music betrays my intellect? Sadly, most often we are the ones who polarize and categorize and confine ourselves, along with other women, to a list of attributes. This could create a façade of unity with those who seem to share our characteristics and distance with those who don’t.
Enough of that. Let’s take some self-inventory, recognizing that our identity (who we are) is not merely a compilation of our attributes (what we are like).
May we unapologetically own up to it all: Who we are, how we are, and what we like. Let’s activate those attributes lying dormant within us, acknowledging that each of them will look different from person to person. How freeing! May we start striving for authenticity rather than striving to meet those limiting expectations of our culture, our people, and most of all, ourselves. And may we come to know and love our truest selves.
Is there a persona that you think you overly conform to? What seemingly opposite parts of your personality do you love?
Images via Anna Howard