The shoe that didn’t fit
The story of Cinderella and her shoe always fascinated me. All the women of the entire kingdom tried to fit into that one shoe. Picture books of the story show women wailing and lamenting because they could not fit their foot into that one shoe. I somewhere read further that there were women who cut of their toes or otherwise mutilated themselves in order to fit into that one shoe. No one ever thought of refusing to try on the shoe.
Well at least they wanted to marry the prince. What excuse do we have in wanting to fit the ‘shoe’? We all live our lives under constant stress and often put ourselves through misery wanting to fit the proverbial shoe.
No matter how much we deny, we all are afraid of being a misfit in the circle that is around us. We, like all the maidens of Cinderella’s story try our best to fit in, sometimes at great discomfort.
It starts very young, this need to fit in. I remember a young kid, about five years of age, who did not really enjoy birthday parties. He preferred playing with his close friends and sibling than be surrounded by a huge crowd. However, he insisted on having a birthday party inviting all his classmates just because ‘everyone’ did that. He was miserable throughout the evening, almost in tears by the end of the day because he was forced to play games and do things that he really did not enjoy.
A preteen forced her parents to take her to a dentist and fit her teeth with braces because all her friends had one. She was convinced that people will stop being friends with her because she would be misfit among all the girls who wore braces.
A teenager forced himself to change his moral and political views because they were different from those of his peers. Though he was strongly convinced about his own views, he often wrote and spoke against them. He was afraid of being the odd one out from his group. He felt that he would lose his standing in the group for being different.
A young girl stayed in an abusive relationship because she didn’t want to be the only one without a partner. A man chose a different career than what he really enjoyed doing because it was not a career option chosen by men. A couple chose to have a child though they really didn’t want one because everyone around them made them believe that they were the odd couple.
This desire to fit in, to be like those around us, seems to be a big determining factor in the decisions. It has more power than our likes, interests or logical possibilities.
So why is it that we try to fit among those around us? One of the reasons of course, is our social learning. The society has always frowned upon those who did not fit into the norms. A person who deviated from these norms was often termed ‘abnormal’ or at the very least considered a misfit. Such a person often faced ridicule, isolation or bullying. This fear of being judged and facing those consequences kept most people from deviating too much from the group norms. Even those who did try to do something different, kept within the outer extremes of the norms.
Moreover, people who deviated too much were often considered as ‘attention seekers’; they were seen as people who did things to become the center of attention and not because they thought differently. A person who ‘stands out’ too much is judged negatively.
Then is the fact that the need for approval and acceptance is basic to human nature. We all have this need; it is just the extent which differs from person to person. We want to be part of a group which accepts us and approves our behaviour. This makes us feel loved and wanted.
Being part of a cohesive social group, the feeling of being accepted and respecting societal norms is a good thing, but not if it comes at the cost of our emotional well being. A perfect fit, whether in shoe size or life, is a fit in which we are comfortable. Something we can wear for a long time, something that allows us to move around freely and achieve our goals. How long can we carry something that is not really our fit? Having to behave differently than what we are comfortable with causes something called as cognitive dissonance. A conflict between our thoughts or behaviours. It is a source of distress and anxiety. It is then for us to decide what is causing us greater distress, being the misfit or living with this battle within us.
Imagine living in a world where all of us were same. We looked same, did the same things, had the same opinions and felt the same in every situation. We would lose out on so much. No one will look at the cup of hot tea differently and write a poem about the warmth of shared love. No one will look at the snow covered land from another perspective and paint a pretty landscape. No one will look at a shoe and think of writing a love story from it.
Ironically, in the story too Cinderella was a misfit. She wore a shoe size that was different from the entire kingdom and it was this uniqueness that set her apart. We all construct our world differently. We all make choices that are different from others at some point of time. We all are misfits in some way or the other in some aspect of our life. It is this misfit that allows us to add our own essence to the society. It is this difference that gives us our identity and place in the world.
Being different does not make one a misfit, unable to accept this difference does!
Isn’t it better to wear a shoe that is our own rather than trying to fit into someone else’s shoes?