A couple of weekends ago, my husband Paul and I did a big charity walk. It’s the biggest walking event of the year, and on the 1st Saturday in May 2400 people walk from one end of Bermuda through the railway trails to the other end, 24 miles later. It raises millions of dollars for various organizations around the island.
We’d done it before and it was a bit of a disaster. Something about one of us (okay, me) thinking the walk was in kilometers not miles, and totally misjudging how long it would take us, and possibly one of us (okay, also me) saying yes to playing a gig at 5:30 that afternoon–making the last couple of hours a painful mad-dash to the finish line–Hobbling right past the beer tents and live music, in order to get on the ferry to make it home in time.
So we swore we would do it again someday, and just enjoy ourselves. No rush, no time constraints, just a whole lot of basking in the community atmosphere and having fun.
This year, as the weekend approached, I saw on the calendar that we didn’t have any plans for Saturday, and it was going to be a stunner of a day. So on Friday afternoon I walked into the registration area in town and signed us up. I paid our entry fees, was given our bibs, and then handed over to the nice swag folks to get our bright green race T-shirts only to be told that there was only 1 shirt left. The very last shirt available for the entire event was a Men’s Large.
No problem! I said. My husband can have the shirt. I don’t need one. Bright green isn’t really my color anyway.
But the next morning, as we walked over to the starting point, seeing a sea of bright green shirts, I felt really out of place. I suddenly felt like my white top was sticking out like a sore thumb. I felt like Bridget Jones in her bunny suit.
Who cares? I kept telling myself. I’m wearing a number, I paid my race fee–that’s the important part! We’re all just in this together, doing it for a good cause.
But I couldn’t shake it.
I considered the Pros:
It’s a phenomenon we experienced all the time as kids–when it was essential to have the right clothes–the “whatever it is” that everyone was wearing that year. In my case, I wondered if my current Green-T-Shirt-induced discomfort was stemming from the requisite Guess jeans that my parents refused to buy me in 5th grade–causing me an entire year of ostracization from my peers.
But it shows up in adulthood as well, doesn’t it? The businesswoman with the right designer bag, a gaggle of musicians in concert black, the yoga moms in their lululemon.
Trends are about fashion, and they are about fitting in. They create a uniform of sorts. One that is changing and fluid, and isn’t always about clothing.
It could be a social media platform (I had a good friend who refused to join Facebook back in 2008, and as much as we all loved her, we all kind of lost track of her after that) or a device (iPhone, anyone?) hell, even water bottles now have names.
And while it all sounds absolutely ridiculous when I write these words down “out loud”, there is something a bit primal about it. An almost biological agreement within a tribe of people that we will adapt together, that we will wear the same war paint, eat the same foods, and behave in similar ways.
Does it keep us safer? Maybe. But perhaps this desire to “fit in” by looking like everyone else is causing more harm in the long run. Because if we are looking for the people who look like us to know who to keep safe, then what happens to those who don’t look like us?
By the end of our walk, I was exchanging knowing glances and smiles with the few others on the walk who, like me, were without a bright green T-shirt. We knew. We shared an understanding. We were our own special subset of the event. And now that it’s over, I’m just someone who did it and I’ve got the medal to prove it!
And Paul’s Bright Green T-Shirt will live forever at the bottom of his drawer, never to be worn again.
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