Mean Girls has been out long enough that this won’t be a spoiler:

The cliques break up at the end and everyone is doing their own thing.

The chief lesson?

It is OK to be different.

It is OK to stand out and have the courage to be yourself.

More than OK, it is vital to your overall health.

First impressions matter

Research shows people make up their minds about us in less than a minute after we walk into a room.

Less. Than. A. Minute.

Within seconds, they’ve decided our status, our intelligence, our sexual orientation and our level of promiscuity.

In a job interview, they’ve even settled on our ability to fit into the job description and the company culture.

They’ve created a story about us before we’ve even opened our mouths to introduce ourselves.

Once we do start talking, their brains are unconsciously looking for data to support the opinion they’ve already formed.

And then we notice their reactions.

We know they’re judging us.

Because we look different.

Because we dress different.

Because we don’t fit into the mainstream version of what is “normal” for looks, weight or fashion.

We might be too fat or too thin.

Too old or too young.

Too something.

Ultimately, we aren’t just challenging their definition of what is “normal”; we’re challenging their definition of themselves.

When their stories are negative, it makes them feel better about themselves or at least on the same playing field as you.

They’re coming from a place of ego and/or fear.

Steven Pressfield wrote in The War of Art that those who criticize and judge are doing so because they aren’t being true to themselves.

When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.

Our judgments, he said, come from a resistance to be who we really are.

Trouble is, those criticisms can be cruel and harmful to the people who are being outcast.

The courage to stand out

The world needs different people.

Without them, we would have no creativity, no innovation, no change, no challenges to be great and take charge.

We would have ourselves a very boring existence.

And yet when we oddballs are singled out — whether by body language, criticism or outright exclusion — we feel pain.

American psychologist Abraham Maslow set “love and belonging” as one of our basic human needs. Social acceptance, he said, is a prerequisite to developing self-esteem and confidence.

maslow hierarchy

We find normalcy, comfort and community when we’re with people who look like us, think like us and dress like us.

HOWEVER … (and I capped that because it’s a big “however”)

Until you can find that group where you are accepted, your authentic self can be in conflict with the mainstream.

You are the odd man or woman out.

And it can create conflict within you.

If you’re in an environment where you are continuously at odds with the mainstream, you are regularly facing criticism — verbal, physical or implied — and it will wear you down.

You may start to doubt yourself and buy into others’ definitions of you.

In turn, those judgments and criticism will create conflict and stress.

You may start to conform, just to satisfy your need to belong. If conforming truly goes against your authentic self, you will find yourself in physical, mental and emotional disharmony.

You may find yourself feeling:

  • Distressed
  • Sad
  • Unhappy
  • Isolated

Eventually, something will break.

The confidence to stand out

Canadian comedian and YouTube personality Nicole Arbor got herself some infamy last fall after posting a video entitled Dear Fat People. For more than six minutes, she fat shames people and tries to encourage people to lose weight.”

It turns out it was just a marketing scheme, or “clickbait,” but Arbor is unremorseful regarding the harm she may have caused.

Research conducted at Florida State University proves it. The abstract says:

Discrimination based on age, weight, physical disability, and appearance was associated with poor subjective health, greater disease burden, lower life satisfaction, and greater loneliness at both assessments and with declines in health across the four years. Discrimination based on race, ancestry, sex, and sexual orientation was associated with greater loneliness at both time points, but not with change over time.

If you’re an emotional eater, for example, the shaming, judgment and criticism could entice you to eat more to numb yourself to your surroundings.

If you’re someone with a visible skin condition — such as acne, eczema or psoriasis — the looks and stares may diminish your outgoing personality and confidence.

I had a client with a pronounced limp and I was coaching her to have a bigger presence on stage. When she was speaking, she anchored herself to one spot instead of using all the space available to her. It came back to her being shamed and judged as a kid.

She didn’t want her disability to be a focus point for the audience.

You see, how we’re perceived by others affects our behaviour.

Can I ever fit in?

Maslow identified 15 characteristics of the self-actualized person, the individual who is fulfilled and doing all he is capable of.

If you are self-actualized, you:

    • Perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty
    • Accept yourself and others for what you are
    • Are spontaneous in thought and action
    • Are problem-centred (not self-centred)
    • Have an unusual sense of humor
    • Are able to look at life objectively
    • Are highly creative

In perceiving reality efficiently and tolerating uncertainty, we learn to reject the judgments of others.

Trust me, it takes a lot of personal growth and work to get there, and I don’t think you can reject those criticisms completely. It boils down to how you allow those judgments to affect you and to what degree.

In my industry of wellness and stress management, first impressions are a big part of my credibility. If I show up to a presentation looking unwell and weighing more than what I consider healthy, it reflects upon my message.

How can I talk to people about managing my stress when I’m not doing it well myself? Or at least have people think I’m not doing it well. They may not even know that I weigh 40 pounds less than I did two months ago, but they pick up on other cues.

How can I talk to people about health and wellness when I’m falling victim to my own emotional eating problems?

The first step is to bring my inner self back to a state of congruence with my external self. I have to accept where I am and then take the steps to bring myself back to wellness.

The next step is to be vulnerable. I relate to my clients that I’m not coping well, that I’m struggling, right now in this moment. No, I don’t have my shit together right now but this is what I’m going to do to get back to that point, because I know these strategies work.

It takes courage.

Just like it takes courage to be different in any setting.

To resist the pressure to change and conform.

To stand alone.

To say “this is who I am.”

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]When you are willing to stand alone and be congruent with your core values, you discover others similar to you.[/tweetthis]

Others who are willing to be different and accept you for your uniqueness.

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