Written By: Rachel Fong | Edited by: Nicole Friets and Abi Koh | Photograph by: Abi Koh
One Saturday night, I lay huddled alone in bed watching the 80’s teen flick Pretty In Pink, frustrated by the idea that I, a 22-year young adult, was probably going to fall asleep before midnight with my social life limited to Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy. In one scene, Mr. Donnelly of Meadowbrook High School advised protagonist Andie Walsh, “If you give off signals that you don’t want to belong, people will make sure that you don’t,” to which she so brilliantly replied, “That’s a beautiful theory.” I hit pause.
Belonging – it seems to play a fundamental part in ensuring happiness in everyone’s lives, doesn’t it? The line that separates the inside from the outside, the boundary between the validated and the alienated – it’s all so artificial, but all too real at the same time. Mr. Donnelly believed that this line is drawn based on the choice of the individual – whether you choose to belong or not. But Walsh, like many of us, unfortunately knew that it’s just a wonderful ideal. Reality follows more of a rule-out than opt-out society. If we fit the standards of those on the inside who belong, we are embraced with a nice, comfortable place in society. If we deviate from these standards, we get stuck outside, regardless of whether we have our nose pressed up against the glass looking in and yearning to be a part of it, or whether we accept ourselves as those who walk a different path from the rest.
These standards – of beauty, of wealth, of smarts, of anything we can use to judge another person – are mostly inherited. The details evolve with time, but the standards mostly stay the same. We call ourselves a progressive society, but the traditional ideas of social standards and social standings have been embedded in our cultures for far too long. Occasionally, we come across the admirable attempt to reform these standards. For example, Dove organised its Real Beauty campaign to redefine our narrow impressions of beauty. However, we fail to confront the bigger question – why should we base our happiness off a need to belong or a need to feel like we’re good enough for everyone else? Acceptance shouldn’t be based on whether we fulfill their expectations, but whether we find happiness and satisfaction in our own awesome selves.
I know this sounds all too idealistic, but I think Mr. Donnelly got the “choice” part of it right. It’s not about trying to change society, because that’s a challenge not even Kanye West could dream of overcoming. It’s not even about eradicating the concept of society or belonging either. It’s about changing your perspective. It’s about making your own social norms and social worlds instead of aiming merely to belong to the general masses. Cliché as it sounds, there are some amongst us who choose to walk to their own irregular rhythm instead of the usual 808 sound (another Kanye reference!). Redefining boundaries to allow more of us into the Cool Club doesn’t seem like much of a solution, and maybe we should in fact look to the content outsiders for some answers. They appear to believe that the Cool Club is not a tradition we need to continue; that the art of acceptance is within us and not based on external standards. Whether we belong in society is not so much up to us, but the choice to accept what and who we are – well, it looks like there is plenty of room for our own say.
So I guess, the term “accepted” applies to all sorts of people; both to those who “belong” and to those who don’t. And that Saturday night, after about fifteen minutes of pensiveness and ridiculous introspection, I believed I belonged under my too-childish-for-a-22-year-old sheets with my teeth brushed, watching a movie about American teenagers going to prom. I got pretty stoked about myself. I hit play.