The Identity “Rules” You May Unknowingly Conform To

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.’

The Identity "Rules" You May Unknowingly Conform To | DARLING

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.

The Identity "Rules" You May Unknowingly Conform To | DARLING

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



Sarah is a writer, a photographer, and an admirer of all lovely things. She lives in Dallas, TX where she juggles being a full time wife, writer, and friend.

7 COMMENTS
  • Rebie June 9, 2016

    Thank you for pointing this out! This is definitely something I’ve thought about before, but as I read, I realized ways I sometimes buy into the label/identity way of thinking… and it’s not for the better. This brought me life today! Fantastic article.

  • Kara June 1, 2016

    I couldn’t agree more with this article! I feel like I’m constantly conforming to the standards of other people. Sometimes people call me “quiet”, while others call me “friendly” and “loud” and I’ve always questioned which personality fits me better. But why can’t I be both? I hate being stuck to one category of “person” as if I’m just a piece of paper needed to be in a certain file. We should all strive to not conform and embrace the contradictions of our personality!

  • I think this is a great article. Last year, I came across Carol Tuttle’s, “Dressing Your Truth” Online Beauty Profiling System and it totally helped me understand myself and which of the 4 types I most closely belonged, too. Lots of friends and family did the system, too. The problem was that then, so many people started saying, “Oh, because I’m a 1” (Or 2, 3 or 4), I can only wear this, or feel this or say this.
    It drove me crazy (it still does!). We are too complex for all of that. We are too unique and unrepeatable to simply assign ourselves to a category and stay within it.
    Thanks for a great piece!

    http://www.thebusinessofblooming.com

  • Maggie Mahboubian May 31, 2016

    Better ponder these questions while you can because motherhood will slam dunk you into a multitasking-identity-shape-shifter with no time to reconsider alternatives 🙂 Honestly did not know I could get so mad and love so hard at the same time…

  • Sarah May 31, 2016

    There is so much truth in this article. Although I am privy to the same trap of absolute conformity to the personalities and styles and outlined and described in detail by society, our circle of friends and acquaintances, our horoscopes, and Meyer Briggs, I have been looking forward to the day when I can finally allow myself to be a person that I am happy with, regardless of what adjectives exist to try to stick to me and allow others to describe me as. I have some friends who are almost or already there, the girl who can enjoy her nerdy games in full freedom, who can be a beauty guru, a gay novel writer, a trend setter, a logical romantic, and a straightforward big mouth all at the same time, that’s my role model, not for who she is, but who she represents. Awareness has allowed me to not accept the excuses that my friends or significant other make that start with something like, boys will be boys, that’s just how I am, I have been doing this for years…etc…we dont always conform to society, but our parents dream for us, and our own habitual actions and attitudes, nurtured by ourselves and our past. We can never break from them, but we have to try to see beyond them. Thanks for writing, this was beautiful 🙂

  • Jody Redler May 31, 2016

    Wow! How amazing, coincidental, wonderful and affirming that this article should land in my inbox this morning. For days, weeks, months and years I have been struggling with what I perceive to be two very conflicting identities and this has caused me endless confusion and uncertainty for so long. On one hand I am a corporate business worker who thrives on being involved integrally involved in my place of work and preferring to dress in smart suits, high heels and everything that goes with that world. But when I step outside of my office, I am a woman who is most at home swimming in the ocean, hanging around with my dog, running in ultra-distance trail events and relaxing with a light-hearted novel. In these times I shun makeup, always dress for comfort and long to be away from the confines of a corporate existence.
    I never really thought that it was possible, or even desirable, to have these two sides of my personality and life-style coexist and to be able to embrace the various attributes that are associated with both. I was trying to force myself to make up my mind who I most wanted to be and then virtually eliminate, or certainly minimise, the other. How sad that would have been.
    Thank you for sharing your wise words and for making me realise that peaceful coexistence and acceptance is possible – and certainly desirable!!

  • Hannah May 31, 2016

    YES! This is an amazing article – such wise & insightful words. This really is the most important journey of every twenty (or thirty)-something-year-old woman, isn’t it? Learning and embracing our truest self, and engaging the world around us with confidence, courage and humility. Thank you for a great piece, Sarah!

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