American writer and activist, Rita Mae Brown wrote, “I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.”
Conformity is our default method of gaining acceptance. We force ourselves to be what others want. Then, we feel ashamed about what differs from their expectations. It is a common theme in any system of domination and control. If you do not comply, you do not belong.
It is also a common theme in society where we feel pressure to measure up through our appearance, financial worth, where we live, who we relate to, etc. Common expectations include: women should be slim; men should not cry or express their feelings; men should work and women clean house.
However, conformity fails to deliver acceptance. Firstly, because we must deny our authentic self to meet others’ expectations. It is impossible to experience the acceptance of others without self-acceptance. Secondly, conformity does not make others happy. We cannot change people with our behaviour. Those who demand conformity make us feel that we are falling short of some standard. We become enslaved to the mindset that we can never measure up, and will never be accepted.
For me, the consequence of non-conformity in the church was alienation. This pressure had a negative impact on my self-image. I already believed that I was inadequate, now God was telling me that I was not acceptable if I remained fat. If God could not accept me, then I was worthless.
Using God to reinforce society’s dysfunctional beliefs about self-image was one of the most damaging experiences of my church life. It compounded my shame about my weight. The message I received was that God agreed with the mistreatment I had received and I should be forced to lose weight.
I now know this is not true. My weight loss was the result of self-compassion, not conformity. My experience of love led to self-acceptance and then to healthy decisions which changed my life. It also developed my faith in a healthy way.
Conformity will never deliver the satisfaction we can experience through self-acceptance. We can still be happy with ourselves if we do not conform. Pleasing others did not give me wellbeing, self-respect did.
Be yourself amongst others. Instead of seeking external approval, try self-respect. Measure your wellbeing by your internal thermometer.