If you’ve heard of ONE OK ROCK then this blog’s title may be ringing a few bells for you. If not, then you’re like me before I went to Japan and learned of the bilingual lyrical genius of Moriuchi Takahiro. I came to love this band for multiple reasons. Their pop-punk music nostalgia-whacked me back to hours spent in front of Kerrang! music videos; their mixing of Japanese and English gave me hope for language learning and their lyric and music style combined to make the listening experience consistently inspiring. The first song that I listened to was Stand Out, Fit In – where society’s (and our own) judgy tendencies are brought to light in how they impact other people. Have a listen and let me know what you think!
I wanted to use some of the lyrics from this song as a structure to break down some of the detrimental, contradicting demands that we put on other people and ourselves.
‘Big boys don’t cry/ Good girls don’t fight’
Gender, gender, gender. The expectations we apply to the binary gender system aren’t just narrowing, they’re pernicious. This is something that we’re slowly but surely coming to realise as a society, but those pesky stereotypes still linger, even if they’re tucked away in the corners. Take the ‘big boys don’t cry’ example; this is more than calling lads soft for tearing up at Titanic. It’s a wide-reaching issue with even wider reaching and sinister impacts – from shame-filled suicides to rage-filled femicides.
Supporting the safe presentation of emotions from a young age is important rather than shutting down conversations. I have to say this comes with a disclaimer for women who are charged with emotional labour as ‘norm’. Encouraging communication across all genders should reduce this pressure.
Speaking of women, we get mad. Just like the suppression of sadness in men, the suppression and shame attached to anger in women is detrimental for their mental health. Allowing women to be mad, to say that they’re mad and talk it through, rather than suppressing it to the blank-stare grin and eye-twitch while saying ‘it’s okay, don’t worry about it’ needs to happen. This broadens out to the association of women and the physical, from hobbies and interests to career choices. I hesitated to start kickboxing after some negative experiences as a little girl practising karate. Once I addressed and processed, rather than avoided and suppressed, how shallow the views are around women and physical fitness, I started kickboxing and I absolutely love it.
‘Shoot low, aim high’
‘Yeah, I didn’t do it either’. ‘I haven’t even opened the PowerPoint slides’. ‘I didn’t work that hard’.
We are obsessed with creating ourselves to be the underdogs of our own stories. One reason is that we think that we can control the behaviour of others with how we present ourselves (this is a form of Magical Thinking, a negative thinking style common in anxiety which is addressed and reduced with CBT workshops/therapy). We use this magical mind-reading assumption in a competitive way- by under-representing how hard we’re working, we hope that others won’t put in as much effort. We think that they think that if we haven’t worked hard, that they won’t either and so they won’t be able to outperform us. Heads up, they’re probably doing the same thing as you.
Another reason is our good friend, the fear of failure. Telling ourselves ‘ah well, I didn’t spend that much time on it anyway’ cushions the blow if we don’t succeed, instead of ‘I did everything I could and tried really hard but still didn’t get the result I wanted’. Even though that latter sentence is more uncomfortable, it actually allows us to progress and thus increases our chances of success down the line. Acknowledgement means that we can ask questions like why did I get the result I did? Is this what I really want? What can I do differently next time?
Being honest and open about your efforts is going to build your confidence, allow other people to trust you more and over time will increase your chances of success.
‘Eat up, stay thin’
This one comes quite close to home so heads up for the anecdote.
In March 2020, I developed my Golden Triangle fitness regime as a means to aid my mental health and grief from losing my dad. It came as a breath of fresh air, with my body’s needs being put first rather than my body’s image. Usually my body’s appearance would be the main driving force for my eating and fitness decisions (as is common with women who are consistently valued based on how they look). After some time working with my Golden Triangle, I started to feel physically and mentally stronger and as a second, my body looked better.
I lost a decent amount of weight, which people noticed and commented on. It was nice to feel supported and encouraged by friends and family for my hard work- but my underlying inbalance hadn’t been fully addressed. I started to use people’s comments about my weight as pressure to keep the weight off and my focus shifted away from mental wellness until it flipped completely. I also started to give more value to people’s comments than necessary, meaning that I was more impacted by the confusing contradiction of being praised for the weight loss but scolded for choosing healthier food options or turning down treats.
After some time, I started to reflect on why this contradiction was happening and, more importantly, what impact I was allowing it to have on my life. In most cases, people just wanted me to enjoy myself and saw that being too strict can be just as damaging and that everything in moderation is best. Less often, there were people who, like we talked about with plant-based eaters, gain satisfaction at the thought of people ‘slipping’. This instance is quite rare; it’s easy to become suspicious of other people’s intentions, don’t. As I’ve said before, you decide which comments have power and you control your decisions so even if there are some people who want to see you fall, they don’t have as much power as you imagine them to. So, if you want to eat chocolate, eat it because you want to, not because someone has convinced you to, and hopefully some of that guilt will already start to melt away.
When I came to think about the impact of focusing on my weight and how I took on comments from other people, I needed to accepted some hard-to-swallow facts. I accepted that my relationship with food can be obsessive, especially during times of stress or low mood. It made sense because when things are feeling out of control, the easiest thing to control is what I eat- so that can mean either being super healthy or super unhealthy and then feeling guilty. Unhealthy relationships with food impact a lot of people, 1.6 million in the UK alone struggle with eating disorders and 75% of those are female. This is more of a reason to consider the ‘eat up/ stay thin’ contradiction and how you may be impacted by/ contributing to it.
The cure for this contradiction begins with questioning our relationships with food and our bodies- and appreciating that we and everyone else need food for physical and emotional nourishment. It also requires sensitivity. Comments about other people’s eating habits or body shape is usually not your concern and it can be detrimental not only to the people you’re talking about, but also to the people you’re talking to and to yourself. Comments construct expectations.
If I say, ‘oh my God, I could never eat as much as that woman over there’ it creates the rule that whatever portion size that woman is eating is excessive. The next time you or your friend eat a portion of a similar size… boom- you immediately think it’s bad. The comments you make can have a long-lasting impact. To help with this- when thinking of making a comment wait until after the situation is over; by then you’ll probably realise that the comment wasn’t that important anyways or you’ll have time to question why you wanted to say it.
If you have a rocky relationship with food, I’d recommend doing some research. I’ve included some links at the bottom that might be helpful. Plus, you can always chat to me- just drop me an email or message.
‘Be you, dress right’
‘Express yourself, but make it digestible and likeable.’
The way we present ourselves is performative, so don’t let anyone else tell you how to organise your performance. You’ll find that if you do face criticism, it’s more because people are uncomfortable with your confidence- that’s a them issue.
‘White face, tan skin’
Racism still exists in all forms. It’s reproduced by our actions and behaviours, especially those from people with privilege. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is a good book to learn (and unlearn) some of the main problematic principles.
An area that isn’t discussed as often as it should is racism in the beauty industry. Women’s beauty is dominated by white faces, makeup palettes are tailored to paler complexions and black beauty products are often security tagged in shops, criminalising those who buy them. The view that beauty comes in the form of a white body, kissed with the golden tan of a long holiday or the ‘exotic’ body of a lighter-skinned person of colour regurgitates age-old themes of racism. Awareness is key so dilute your social media with non-white influencers such as Demi Colleen, Linnygd and Amberthevegan (and subscribe to their Patreons). These guys discuss the impact of a whitewashing beauty standards. Also, support brands that encourage diversity. There are some lists at the bottom of this post to help you get started.
‘Stand out, fit in’
Standing out sounds good as an Insta quote, but it can look quite different in reality. We get scared of standing out in case we make a mistake, because if we do then the whole world will see, right?
People care more about themselves than anyone else. Think: how much time do you spend thinking about what you need, how you feel, if you’re hungry/ tired/ have sore legs, if you want to watch a film or have sex or eat a full bar of Dairy Milk Caramel. Now think how much of your day do you spend thinking about the girl who walked past you at the train station wearing platforms, or the black guy with a curly moustache or the plus-size woman reading a book in the park. See what I mean? Hours vs seconds.
With the right support systems in place and a strong, confident foundation, we can grow to be brave enough to be ourselves.
‘I am who I am no matter what.’
We all make mistakes. We say and do things that we don’t mean to out of insecurity, defensiveness or a want to feel accepted. We know that it can cause pain to others and it’s something that we can work on gradually and with self-forgiveness. In the meantime, remember why people are saying or doing what they are. It’s coming from a lack in them, not in yourself. Diluting yourself isn’t the answer. Don’t steal away your beautiful self, in all its bumps and grazes, from the world. Being brave enough to be yourself helps you to live, not react to life, and it inspires other people to do the same. I hope that one day standing out becomes so normal it feels like fitting into a kaleidoscope of different coloured tulips. I love you for who you are and you should too.
Recommended reading – Abject Relations: The Everyday World of Anorexia by Megan Warin
Recommended reading – Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Article version)
The Face article – ‘Why are Black shoppers made to feel like criminals?’