If you don’t know me personally, it may surprise you to learn that I do not have a college degree. After all, I am a highly intelligent, critical thinker with an excellent grasp of the English language, a knack for clearly expressing ideas, and a decided lack of modesty.
I was discussing this not too long ago with my (Harvard PhD, university professor, and scholar) dad. He said that he heard a man on a news and opinion program say that having a college degree basically means 2 things: 1) That you were smart enough at the age of 18 to get accepted into college, and 2) that you were willing to conform to the rules of society enough to get the piece of paper. And my dad said it finally made sense to him why I dropped out of college. Because I have never been one to conform for the sake of conforming.
Then a few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I were sitting at the kitchen table and he said that when we were friends as teenagers, he had been fascinated by the fact that I “just never gave a f*** what anybody else thought.” (He meant it as a compliment.)
To a certain extent, this surprises me to hear about myself. I am used to thinking of myself as a people-pleaser. I just really wanted you to like me. And I have been dealing with my “Good Girl” since I got control of my eating. Learning to keep an eye on her. Making sure I don’t let her make any decisions. (She has terrible judgment.)
But I can also see what my dad and my boyfriend were seeing in me. It’s true, I have never been one to do as I am told without question. Partially because I have generally had a very strong sense of what I wanted. And enough willfulness to insist that I would make my own decisions, right or wrong.
Yes, many many of them turned out to be wrong. But mine.
But then when I look at giving up sugar, I can see what a gift it has been to be a non-conformist. And that my willingness to flout convention was one less obstacle to my sanity around food.
Because for whatever reason, people are very uncomfortable with those of us who don’t eat in a way they consider “normal” or “acceptable.” I am sure vegetarians, vegans and everyone else who has their own self-inflicted boundaries around food, have an experience of this. People behave as if they have a vested interest in what I put into my body. And what I don’t. And they often give unsolicited opinions and/or advice (both of which I consider rude and insulting.) They often try to disguise it as care and worry. They often use pointed questions to challenge my choices. As if I will suddenly be struck enlightened by their intrusiveness.
When I first put boundaries around my food, before I knew that seemingly everyone in the whole world was going to have something to say about it, it never occurred to me to worry about what people would think of my eating habits. I had never cared what people thought before and I was not about to start now that my life, health and sanity were hanging in the balance.
But I can see now that a lot of people who want to put boundaries around their eating do care. That before they can save their own lives, they have to get over their fear of disappointing society. Their fear of embarrassing their loved ones. Their fear of being singled out and shamed.
Being a non-conformist means that I do not feel compelled to answer other people’s questions. I do not feel the need to explain or justify myself. Being a non-conformist means that I can just say no. Or it’s none of your business. Or I can say nothing. I don’t owe society anything when it comes to the way I eat.
As I have mentioned before, I don’t think we humans have a lot of “either/or” to us. I think we are a lot of “and”. And I definitely have both “Good Girl” and non-conformist aspects to me. And my non-conformist has not, in retrospect, always led to me making the best, or wisest decisions. But I love my non-conformist nature. I love that it allows me to live a life I love. Because it lets me look for what I love without reference to how the world at large will take it. And it lets me be true to myself without guilt. And it lets me like myself as I am, rather than pine to be what I am told to be.