Emerson once wrote, "whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist". I didn't realize how true this aphorism was until I went to my youth group's convention, in the fall just after my sixteenth birthday. I walked through the clear glass doors of the Sheraton Hotel in Norfolk acting like a simple carbon copy of everyone else attending the convention, and I left knowing that I could be an individual if I just acted on my own impulses instead of obsessing over what other people's perceptions of me were.
Before this convention I hated youth group activities. Nobody knew me and I was too self-conscious to introduce myself. Instead I became a shadow of the only person I knew attending the convention, and watched as everyone else enjoyed meeting new friends. I observed my peers as one would watch a TV set or a window, as if I was looking in from the outside. And everyone treated me like a window or a television, something to look at, but not someone to talk to or build friendships with.
My perspective changed at this convention when I met Viva, the most self reliant, nonconforming individual I have ever met. She was wearing two-inch platformed flip-flops, large, baggy pants that covered her legs all the way down to her toes, and a light blue shirt that glittered when it hit the light at just the right angle. She had a loud personality to match her clothes as well, which showed as she introduced herself to every single person she met along the hallways on the way to her room.
I became Viva's shadow, hoping some of her self-confidence would rub off onto me. I hoped her excessive colorfulness would mask my colorlessness. Soon enough the transformation happened. I watched Viva unpack, and at the bottom of her suitcase were four cold, metal cans of nonpermanent hair dye. I shared with her my secret, long desired wish for blue hair. Before I had time to reconsider, Viva transformed my ordinary brown hair to the color of a smurf's nose. Then I could no longer consider myself insecure and colorless.
Whoever said that blonds have more fun obviously never experienced the joys of having blue hair. I skipped throughout the hotel like a five year old on a playground. With blue hair I completely forgot about my goal of blending in with the crowd. How could I possibly fit in with electric blue hair? Knowing that I was going to stand out no matter what I did, I resolved to take advantage of this opportunity and not worry about what people would think of me. Then later, I could always blame my actions on the fumes I must have inhaled from the hair dye. While my hair was blue I introduced myself to as many people as I could, made a ton of new friends who I still keep in touch with today, judged a spitting contest from the balcony of the third floor, started a deep, thought provoking conversation at dinner about the nutritional value of a package of Sweet & Low, and during a discussion session I announced to a room of people that I was holy because my hair was blue. By nonconforming I was being myself in a wild, somewhat extreme way.
The next morning after washing out the blue hair dye nothing changed. The self-confidence that came from having blue hair didn't wash away with the dye. Even without the outward appearance of nonconformity, I was still nonconforming in my actions. I still skipped instead of walked, talked to almost anyone, and was generally more outgoing than I had ever been. And, surprisingly, the friends that I had made with blue hair were still my friends when my hair was brown. This experience taught me that if I act like myself, believe in myself, and trust myself, true friends will like me for who I am, no matter how unoriginal or eccentric my hair color may be.
Emerson's aphorism, "whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist" makes sense to me now looking back on this situation. Nonconforming made me feel more capable of expressing myself, which made me feel more important and involved in my community, and thus more like man. Nonconforming doesn't have to involve looking eccentric, it is only about self-expression. When I dyed my hair blue I learned to be a nonconformist by expressing my own identity, thus I became my own woman, proving Emerson's aphorism to be true.