Resisting the Pressure to Conform

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Aren’t you hot? Do you have hair under there? Can you hear with that thing on?

Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, these are the usual questions I get when I go out wearing the hijab.

Many cannot fathom why I make such a religious commitment and feel so obligated to my religion.

However, I don’t oppose these questions. Explaining the meaning of the hijab not only allows others to understand; it is also a reminder for me of why I believe what I do.

But nothing leaves me so disheartened, offended, and miserable than one particular question I received: Why don’t you just take it off? Maybe then you will be treated like an actual human being.

It started as a regular day at high school. As I was sitting, bored, during first period listening to my science teacher drone on about renewable energy, when we were interrupted by an announcement:

Attention students. After recent devastating events, this is a reminder to be kind and respectful to one another, regardless of race, gender, and religion. Remember our high school’s core values: Respect, Integrity, and Kindness. Discrimination isn’t one of them.

What could that possibly have been about? I asked my friend sitting beside me.

Didn’t you hear? There was a shooting at a Mosque yesterday—50 people were killed.

With 30 seconds left to get to my next class, I rushed to my locker. As I was collecting my books, I got a tap on my shoulder.

Did you hear the news? Your people are getting killed. Taking that thing off is better for everyone’s safety, and maybe then you will be treated like an actual human.

My heart sank. 

Thirty seconds. That’s all it takes for your confidence to completely crumble to the floor.

I felt furious and exasperated.

After collecting my thoughts and overcoming my disbelief, I smiled and responded: “You’ve got it all wrong.”

Many people are afraid to express themselves as a result of society’s constant pressure to conform. This is particularly prevalent in schools, where students are afraid to voice their own opinions and beliefs for fear of judgment from others. In a recent survey from Next Generation Politics, 60% of students surveyed said they have felt they could not express opinions on a subject because they feared how other students, teachers, or the administration would respond. 

A great example is how the pressure to conform plays out through clothing. 

It feels like every season there is a new “it” item—if you do not purchase it, it will cause you to become a social outcast. High schoolers love the idea of having a “unique” persona, claiming that they do not care what others think, yet they tend to dress in the same toneless outfits. We forget our personal preferences because we are terrified of being ridiculed for our image.

Fortunately, many students like me are building our confidence to freely express ourselves online. With the rise of protests and activism on social media, we use social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to share our thoughts and feelings.

However, self-expression beyond widely accepted opinions on social media is very constrained. According to the survey findings from Next Generation Politics, 59% of high school students are uncomfortable expressing their views online, and only 9% of students report being very comfortable expressing an unpopular opinion via social media. This is worrisome, particularly given how vital social media has become during the pandemic, with so many of us at home using technological devices.

Self-expression is an undervalued commodity. It cannot be purchased, sold, or marketed— whether it be finding your voice, clothing style, or even the music you like to listen to. Hiding behind others to fit in shows no character and camouflages you.

Today, I still have barriers in connecting with others due to what I believe and how I dress. Even so, I’m determined not to allow society to hold me back from doing what I need to do in order to thrive. Although I may sometimes feel pressure to conform or remain silent, I choose to exercise the freedom to express myself.

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