A friend recently sent me slightly condescending meme about tattoos. She was trying to be funny, but I reminded her that I have over half a dozen (although none in such obvious places as the picture). I thought about it while I washed my hair—and
about how my hair was also once purple. I wondered what kind of memes could be found about people with bold hair choices or pierced noses. Other than the first two tattoos, I did none of these things in my youth. All were in my 30s.
Currently, my hair is a plain brown color, styled in a sensible cut. My tattoos are all easily hidden by most clothing and only my ears are pierced. As this decade closes, I have made efforts to dress more professionally, drink less, stay on top of the laundry—although I still refuse to make my bed and talk at an appropriate volume level. Yet, I only look back on my purple-haired days with longing rather than regret.
I used to do those things to be different.
A Desire to Be Different
Sometimes, I felt just a little trapped by my suburban life. Although perfect, it felt a little too predictable. I felt like I was going to lose myself in Starbucks cups, Target bags, and privilege. Other times, I just wanted to feel different. But I didn’t know how, so I’d at least find a way to mark it. I’d mark it on my wrist or the top of my foot with a symbol to remind me. I’d go buy a box of just-a-tad-too-red hair dye and hope that looking different would be the same as feeling it.
In either case, I was no different than before…I just had some new ink or a bad dye job.
I’m glad for every permanent mark. I’ve learned that hair always grows back as you are, not who you want to be. Marks, be it tattoos or scars, always tell a story. This I know. I can’t promise to never get another tattoo or always keep my hair close to my natural color, but I will tell you that I feel very differently about wanting to be different. I don’t need to feel that way anymore.
People who want so desperately to be different, never really have been.
When you actually are, all you want to feel is just like everyone else. At least that has been the case for me.
But We Still Want to Feel Accepted
A year and some months ago, I remember feeling isolated in so many ways. I had a new unusual health diagnosis and did not know anyone with the same condition. I could have really used a friend to sit down and have coffee with and ask a million questions. I hurt physically and emotionally in ways I never had before. All I wanted was for someone to relate. I felt different and isolated in the worst way because it was actually true: I was different.
In a way, my differences were easier than most because, for the most part, no one could spot them on the outside. No one could judge me for them. No one could kick me out of church or deny my rights. I found groups of people like me online. It is no cup of coffee or hug, but occasionally I have a forum where I can ask questions or just scroll through when I feel pain.
Growing up there is such a tension between wanting to be different, but not so different that we weren’t like everyone else. Wanting to be you, but wanting to fit in. To still have a place. To still feel accepted and included.
Teenagers constantly walk in this tension. I guess I took a little longer to grow up than most. I don’t mind. You have to be at least 18 to get a tattoo anyways. And I probably needed to be at least 30 to be able to afford it.
We’re All Different—And that’s a Good Thing
Not always, but for a long time now, I have made an effort to love people who are different than me. To include them. To march for them. To learn from them. I actually prefer it and the more I listen the more I realize how un-different we are.
I’m pretty boring and can use all the perspective I can get. I still think it is a place where I fail all the time. I want so desperately to be different, but am sometimes afraid of it. Afraid of what to say. Or do. Or doing it wrong. That it will rub off on me.
Afraid that other people will judge me as different as well.
God, I hope they do.
Even if my hair is brown.
Sometimes we struggle accepting with who we are because we lack confidence. If you can relate, this video is for you: