In celebration of being uncool
I’ve long believed myself to be a little left of normal. In high school, my supposed weirdness was a major source of insecurity. I know, right? Total shocker. My insecurity basically stemmed from the fact that it seemed like everyone had already developed their own taste, as far as their entertainment choices, and I, well, I just hadn’t. From my wallflower perspective, it seemed like my peers had figured things out and, at least music-wise, divided up into a couple of fan factions, typically leaning towards hip-hop and rap or indie rock. Show tunes were cool too, for those heavily involved in theater or show choir. But me? I was all Top 40, with a bent towards Disney Channel stars. And let me get something super clear, when you’re in high school “popular on a national level” definitely does not spell “cool.” My first iPod was stocked with the sounds of Britney Spears, Hannah Montana, and Jessica Simpson. My tastes in general leaned towards anything girly and “pop,” from Seventeen magazine to Lindsay Lohan movies. I certainly wasn’t discovering hip new artists and setting trends.
From the outside, having such mainstream tastes could sound like a non-problem. It’s called Top 40 for a reason, right? The whole point is that it’s very popular. Certainly if I’d opened up, I would’ve found at least one other someone at my school who truly enjoyed Ashlee Simpson’s debut album. However, at the time, I relied on my internal jury to make decisions. This jury was the imaginary audience that began convening in my mind around middle school and passing judgments on all my decisions and attributes. And the jurors ruled definitively against my entertainment choices. Your tastes are so lame, so childish. If you liked obscure bands, THAT would be cool. But Fergie and the Jonas Brothers? That’s just lame.
My jury mellowed out a little bit when I went to college, as evidence began piling up in my favor. It’s hard to hide the truth of who you are when you exist in the small space of the dorms. As it turned out, my freshman-year roommate wasn’t bothered by my ritual of sitting on our fluffy pink rug, painting my nails a sparkly color, and watching the Disney Channel; she even willingly went to the Hannah Montana: The Movie with me. My other close friend was not only down to go to the Lady Gaga concert together, she suggested we dress in costume. It was awesome.
However, as much as I was starting to embrace my “weird” or “lame” interests, I wasn’t doing so completely. My true weirdness, I believed, came out in my writing. Don’t get me wrong, my jury totally believed writing could be cool, just not the way I was doing it. My first writing venture was an anonymous blog, loosely based off the format of Gossip Girl. It provided analysis and celebration of girly pop culture, as well as advice and reflections on self-esteem and body image — all in a very bubbly voice and on a pastel and polka-dotted web page. Weeeiiirrrddd, said the jury.
Weird as the jury ruled my writing, it was my passion. So, after college, I applied and got into a creative writing MFA program. Naturally, I wanted to write about what I loved, so I titled my thesis collection Girl Culture. While my jury couldn’t stop me from going to school, the general consensus in my inner self was to not let me feel too proud of my work. Whenever anyone — including family members and friends — asked what I was working on, I was intentionally vague. What, you really think you can tell people you’ve spent hours upon hours writing an essay called “The Barbie Philosophy,” about your experiments with hair dye and the psychological component of makeovers? Please, that’s so embarrassing. So I managed to make it all the way to graduation with very few people knowing what I was doing, or why.
Then, something big happened. At my mentor’s prodding, I sent my work off to a well-known website. At her suggestion, I sent a follow-up email every single week. After a few weeks of no response, I began to feel I was in a He’s Just Not That Into You situation. Still, I had nothing to lose, so I kept emailing. To my surprise, just when I was about to officially give up, I heard back. The editor wanted to publish one of my essays, about — what else? — my weird and conflicting relationship with teen and women’s magazines. The day it went live, I was so over-the-moon that I shared it on Facebook without really thinking about how big of a deal such a share was. This was it, the big reveal, my weirdness for the entire world (or at least, my entire world) to see.
The story was a hit. I heard from my closest friends, with messages to the effect of: Holy cow, I didn’t know this is was what you were doing, but I love it. Some of the girls I looked to as examples of cool in high school “liked” it, or even shared it with rave reviews. For about a week, I checked the article every day (ok, multiple times a day), and according to the counts on the share buttons, tons of people I didn’t even know were viewing it, tweeting it, liking it. Just a few months later, two more of my essays were picked up and met with similarly positive responses.
As the commotion began to die down, I could hear one small voice from an otherwise stunned-silent jury: Huh, that wasn’t so bad after all. As it turned out, I was hiding my “weird” self, my “unusual” passions, for all these years for no good reason at all. People didn’t judge me for my interests, I was the one judging myself; and that had to stop.
Part of me couldn’t help but wonder, what if I’d accepted my “weird” interests all along? What if, at 17, I’d been open and confident enough to say, “Yeah, the main event of my senior year fall break was going to the Hannah Montana concert with my dad, and I loved every minute of it”? It’s easy, in hindsight, to believe that would be a better version of this story, led by a much braver and more self-assured protagonist. But this version is really good as it is — I learned who I really am.
Today, I have a new best friend, my twin soul it seems, who gets as much joy as I do from One Tree Hill and Keeping Up with the Kardashians marathons. I have a boyfriend who is not only willing to watch Cinderella and listen to Taylor Swift with me, but who enjoys those things too. And perhaps most importantly, I’m comfortable with myself and my interests. Above and beyond all that, I also know now that my writing, “weird” as my jury may have branded it, can have a positive impact on more people than just myself.
Of course this doesn’t mean my jury has left completely; my internal jurors still meet for deliberations from time to time, and occasionally deliver a harsh verdict. But their rulings don’t affect me as much, because I have an acceptance of myself that I never had before. I’m happy. And there’s nothing weird about that.