Where Do You Belong?

In school, where your social life starts, who your friends are correlates directly to how you dress. We all know who belongs to which group, often at first glance. You can spot a jock, a cheerleader, the rock n’ rollers, the kids who are into rap music, you can tell whose parents earn the most money and whose earn the least. There are punk rockers, goths, stoners, thugs, preppy people – every part of our culture is represented in almost every single high school in America.

Which group do you belong to? Carrying its own cadre of friends, each little clique and sub-culture at school face off against each other like opposing military leaders arguing over neutral territory. Some territory has already been claimed, staked out, and is fiercely guarded by sentinels of the clique, guards who often change from one period to the next. Other places must be collectively shared, each group forming their own circles in small areas of a larger space.

It is often these early school friendships by which we base all of our future relationships. Some people from school we never lose contact with. Other times, our new friends remind us of people we once knew. But, years down the line, you’ll perhaps run into someone with whom you went to school that was in a different group. You’ll find you know nothing about this person, can hardly remember them, and share completely opposite memories of your shared school days.

Like is drawn to like, birds of a feather flock together, find any way to say it that you like: you are how you dress. Not only in school, but in life, people can glance at one another and usually know right away if they share the same interests in sports, music, culture. School campuses, which are blatantly divided into cliques and sub-cliques, are only a smaller picture of the whole.

People very often emulate their favorite singers, movie and sports stars through dress. Right away, for better or worse, this will mark you in the eyes of others. Those who share similar tastes will be drawn to you, and those who do not will stay away from you. There might be a hundred interesting things about a person, but if they walk around wearing leather and chains then a lot of people might want to keep their distance. All they see is someone deeply into hard rock music, and for some that’s all the information they want.

We will find our friends based on how we are dressed, for good or bad. Even if you consider yourself to be truly unique and different from the rest of the world, you’ll find yourself an entire group of friends who have all come together because they feel the exact same way. But does that mean that everyone fits right into an already-formed clique?

Sadly, no, this is very often not the case. Even if you look the look, walk the walk, and talk the talk, all the normal social rules still apply. One must first befriend a core member of the clique before they can “join,” or rather be accepted into the group. And if you don’t fit in, the pressure to be like everyone else can be overwhelming.

For the most part, no one wants to stand out. No one wants to be so uniquely different that they don’t fit in with anyone, anywhere, and everyone wants to feel they have a group of friends to which they comfortably belong. But what if, for you, there is no clique, no group?

Should you change your appearance, or even change who you are, just to fit in?

Nothing can make you feel more out-of-place than looking completely different from those around you, be it because of your style of dress or not. When everyone else seems to fit so neatly into these categories and cliques, it seems as though the only thing to do is try to be more like them. More than anywhere else, school campuses by their very nature put pressure on teens to belong, to fit in, to be like everyone else in the group.

First, you have to dress like them. What naturally follows is that you begin to talk like them, use phrases and words that they commonly use. Some cliques have their own slang and sayings that, once outside the circle of friendship, make little to no sense to the world at large. Once you look like, and talk like, everyone else, won’t you start doing the same things? Friends get together in packs, go out in packs, and hang out in packs – all enjoying the same things. If you don’t enjoy the same things as they, you have no place in the group.

And in this fashion, because of fashion, a whole new set of issues crop up. As far-fetched as it might sound, it isn’t ridiculous to think that a previously straight-and-narrow, type-A student will join the “wrong crowd” and suddenly get mixed up in a whole world of partying that involves drinking, drugs, or any number of unlawful activities. Why? Because above all else, there is always the underlying pressure to fit in and to belong.

Because it seems that everyone else does fit in, does belong, is part of a group. To walk alone in a world that seems filled with cliques is a painful path, and many will opt for the comfort and security of a group of friends. Some might feel they must do anything and everything to maintain their status as “one of the gang,” doing and saying things completely unlike their former selves.

So how do you maintain your identity and still find a place to belong? The fact is, no friend that forces you to do something you don’t want to do is a friend worth having. As unlikely as it seems, there is always another group to join. People are social creatures by nature, and it is this inherent animal nature that causes us to “pack up” and enjoy the safety of numbers. New friends, new cliques are never hard to find – only somewhat difficult to break into. But it isn’t worth changing who you are, compromising your morals or beliefs, or even breaking a law you think shouldn’t be broken, just to belong to a certain clique.

The pressure to belong may be intense, but everyone is just trying desperately to find their own way in the world. There is no one who couldn’t use the support of a good friend, and very often people are not as alone as they think. Once you get to know a person, you usually find that they are very different from your first impression of them. Once you get to know people based upon more than their style of dress, you’ll get the chance to forge the type of friendships that don’t revolve around being just like everyone else. And maybe then, you’ll feel more comfortable in dressing exactly as you wish.

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