Last year, I wrote an article about how I don’t really vibe with the typical college student’s version of fun. My college years so far have been filled with revelations such as this one. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I simply won’t find happiness doing everything that everyone else does. Although I make some compromises, I still stand by my stricter boundaries, and I will never apologize for it.
My experiences have made me very passionate about advocating individuality and non-judgment, so it should be no surprise that I am bothered when statements of social difference, especially those made on the Internet, are met with sarcastic comments like “wow, you’re so quirky and different!” or “you’re such a pick-me!” Tik Tok comments are the absolute worst. Young teens posting innocent 60-second videos are ridiculed by strangers for mentioning a unique aspect of their personality or appearance that they enjoy. Everyone has the right to be a critic, of course, but why is it a bad thing to be “different” and proud of it? With all the ridicule that non-conformists face for not conforming, it should be no surprise that they clap back by owning their individuality, but somehow people have found a way to tear them down for that as well.
As a sociology major, I can understand why people are put off by those who claim that they are different from others. We are all accustomed to certain appearances, behaviors, preferences, and topics of conversation that are considered normal, and any deviation from that is frowned upon. I don’t know if those who are scornful toward social deviants are just unsettled by the violation of social norms or if they are envious and wish that they could also break free, but are fearful of the social consequences. Maybe neither of these hypotheses is true, but regardless, it bothers me how people resort to humiliation when confronted with nonconformists.
Let me illustrate with the concept of “cringe culture.” Cringe culture is defined by Urban Dictionary as “the culture started on the Internet of making fun of people and/or insulting them by calling them ‘cringy’ or ‘cringe’ for doing something which doesn’t harm or somehow insult anyone nor anything.” This “something” being people’s interests or preferences.
The things that are labeled “cringey” can be behaviors, but are often interests and preferences based on elements of culture that fall outside of the mainstream. This can be genres of music (e.g. so-called “girly” music), genres of TV (e.g. anime), styles of dressing or doing makeup and hair (e.g. cosplaying, the “emo” look), extracurricular or leisure activities (e.g. playing “childish” video games, reading books). These are not things I find cringey, but things that I have often seen being labeled as such. Think of the stereotypical Hollywood nerd and all the common tropes surrounding this type of character.
So what happens when something someone likes is labeled as cringey? The person feels embarrassed and ashamed for liking it, and either tries to hide it or chooses not to indulge in it anymore. Now, that person will align themself with what has been deemed socially acceptable. The “labeler” has achieved the goal of correcting the deviant’s behavior. Shame worked! But at what cost? I argue that giving in to forces like cringe culture comes at the expense of your happiness, your self-esteem, your well-being, your reason to be alive! Why would you give up what makes you happy to appease others?
If you’re comfortable keeping your preferences to yourself, or if you really do fit in with the majority of people, that’s chill. If not, do yourself a favor and make a valiant effort to not let people stop you from being you. So what if other people make fun of you for stating your individuality? Embrace it. So what if they think what you like is cringey or weird? Their opinion does nothing to you. You’re having fun. You feel cool. I’ve made some of my best friends and fostered the closest relationships with people through mutual interests. What if I had hidden those interests or actively chosen to not engage with them because I was afraid that others would find them weird and make fun of me for it? I would miss out on opportunities for my brain to release that sweet, sweet serotonin.
This isn’t all to say that you should adopt a, “I’m not like other girls/guys/people” mentality. That can sometimes be toxic—I guess that’s where the hate is coming from. But that hate is often unwarranted; there is nothing wrong with being shameless about your quirks and uniqueness and sharing it with the world. Be unapologetically you!