Richella Simard, New Hampshire Portrait by Lori Pedrick

Richella Simard, New Hampshire
Portrait by Lori Pedrick

why be normal?

When I was growing up I had a red and blue bumper sticker that hung in my room saying “why be normal?.” I always thought I understood this phrase but in retrospect I think I misunderstood it just as much. I rebelled through dress because I felt it was a way for me to reinforce this saying. I reflect back now and think I judged the “normality” of other people’s appearances, regarding them as if they denied themselves true expression. I was comfortable wearing anything that people would question. I tried to purposefully defy the laws of what’s considered normal by dressing in all black, in rainbows, even wearing vinyl. I wore glitter heavily, dyed my hair consistently, and had a pixie cut. This was an effort, a daily effort, to be perceived as different. I wanted to leave a mark, a memory, or to just be defiant. 

       I was judged based on my odd behaviors and appearance but I often wonder how much I judged as well. I was labeled many things like freak, goth, lesbian, and weirdo. These labels were always painful but so are the words that I was using to label others: preppy, jock, spoiled. Did I just assume that these words were ok because they in fact fit the bill of what was both visually
and culturally projected as “normal?” These words reflected the persona which I felt my father wanted me to be each time he requested to take me to Macy’s to buy me “regular” clothes. But I did not want to fit in.

       Going through adolescence was hard for me, but is growing up ever easy? All I really wanted in my youth was acceptance but I also had a desire to act against it.
I debate with myself about whether some of this behavior was rooted in being born a twin; I was in search of my own identity, growing up in a small white suburban town. In my adult years I feel as though my morals are far more compassionate to encompass all and to not view our differences as something that identifies us, therefore questioning my own search for an identity in my youth. I often look back and think maybe I was scared: maybe I feared being forgotten. 

       In high school a friend’s mother told me a story about checking out at the grocery store while a young man was bagging her items. She looked at him—piercings, colored hair, strange attire—and she thought of me and my positive, uplifting demeanor. After that thought, she started conversation with him only to find how wonderful a person he was. She told me that I had changed her perception. She said knowing me helped alter the original judgements she had placed onto people of this dress and expression. This sentiment has warmed my heart for all the years that have followed. 

       Since those times, I have grown, evolved, and become more well rounded than I was in my youth. I have been in education for ten years now and am working in the same High School in which these stories occurred. Watching my students—what they wear, how they act—I think back to my times when I was young and I think, I was normal. There is no normal, there is no perfect, society cannot set these standards for us. I realize now in my adult years that I was all wrong. I wonder why I was so devoted to the endeavor of reaching for abnormality? Stereotypes are everywhere, during any age, and at any time. We are surrounded by them. We fall into them, we judge by them, and we are the sole creators of them. Can we be the sole eliminators?

       My “why be normal?” bumper sticker held a lot of weight for me during my youth. I looked up to it. Today I see myself in so many of my students, and I know I was normal all along, my kind of normal. The general definition of the word normal is natural, something that comes naturally to you. It is from my adult perspective now that I see that we are simply who we are; this is something you can not change, you can only be and love you.

— Richella Simard