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What is Normal?

This is a Story of The Normal Myth

What is normal? How do you define what is and isn’t so? Is it an average? Is it a certain yardstick by which we must all measure ourselves? Is it a myth? Or a reality? Is it based on prevalence? Or is it universal? Oh no! It couldn’t possibly be universal, could it? Is universality even really a thing when it comes to people? The question of universality is one I will ponder at a later time. Now, I’ll just focus on the alleged myth of “The Norm.”

Yes, I looked it up in the dictionary and read most of the definitions I could find. Then I read a little description about the history of the actual word. Then I took a look at what I’ve come to understand as its meaning based on what I’ve done, felt, heard, thought, said, and seen others do.

I’ve come to discover, being normal is like being able to fit in a box…or a niche, if you will.  I think that the problem of abnormality arises when it is unclear with which box one is supposed to measure one’s normalcy. How do I embrace being different if I’m not sure to what I must compare myself in order to determine my level of normalcy? Who decides what the boxes are? Who decides what the niches are? If I were to create a niche and no one recognized it as a niche is it still one? Is it like human rights in that sense? (You can’t claim to have human rights if no other human recognizes/acknowledges that you do). If claiming to be normal weren’t like human rights, then I could claim that everything I say and do fits perfectly within a niche that I have created for myself and is therefore my normal. Would that fly? Would my personal normal be considered normal? That’s the big question, isn’t it?

So, is the norm just the box or niche with the most people in it? Is it about averages and prevalence in that way? Or is that understanding of The Norm based solely on our perception, which tends to play tricks on us?

This society is increasingly against conforming. Apparently mainstream is uncool, unhip, and dead (or is sentenced to death). But here’s a premise I found a bit confounding: if nobody is conforming, it follows then that no one is “normal”, and that simply cannot be, because there are certain traits, and behaviors that occur more often than others, and surely those have to be the norm. The Norm seems to be decided based on what’s prevalent. There are attitudes, beliefs, systems, and styles that may have been aberrant before now, but have now been made into the new norm due to the sheer amount of nonconformists who have taken it upon themselves to “not conform” by imitating a particular brand of the atypical. Therefore, the atypical becomes the typical if enough people go that route. You see, Normal is not a stagnant concept. Culture and Normal go hand in hand, and as one changes, so does the other.

What is The Norm if not the rule, as opposed to the exception?

I will use a simple fashion example to illustrate. Let’s hope I can keep it simple. Say, in the year 2001 you saw a regular 15 year-old girl (not a celebrity, not even popular in school) wearing shorts so short that she couldn’t possibly be wearing sensible underwear as well, would you not have been at least a little bit shocked? I would even go as far as suggesting that some people would have been outraged. No fifteen year old girl in 2001 would wear anything like that unless she were intentionally trying not to be normal – to be an exception. Fast-forward to America in the year 2014, some people still think wearing shorts that short is an act of rebellion, an abnormality, an exception, but all you really need to do to see otherwise is take a walk around a mall sometime. Short shorts are not, contrary to what some people may still belief, an exceptionally provocative fashion choice. So many girls have signed up for that style of fashion that it is now a norm. You see, once a barrier is widened, or a limit pushed, in order to achieve exceptionality and inspire shock or awe in others, one cannot rely on repetition – one has to go further. Short shorts may have been a boundary-pushing fashion choice on what women could and could not wear in public, but it is no longer an aberration. One must look to the future for even more boundary-pushing movements, like the one that’s likely to gather momentum with Rihanna’s recent naked dress. Glamorous nipples and fashionable butt crack in public?! I’m practically clutching my pearls!

If tomorrow I decide to take it upon myself to become a hipster, and I begin to frequently research what hipsters are doing in order to copy them, then I can never truly be a hipster. Because being a hipster involves setting trends, not following them. Being a true hipster is about making things cool, not about finding out what’s cool and doing it before most people. Then, a few questions arise – who defines what cool is? The hipsters, or their followers? Is the coolness factor added by the hipsters themselves, or by their followers who believe them to be the mavericks, the trendsetters, and the in-crowd? Are there even true Hipsters, or are they all just ardent followers and overconfident, possibly grandiose, snobs?

Bottom-line is, everything cannot be the rule all at once. We all wish (and might fight/advocate) for our differing and sometimes unique ways of living and perceiving to be acknowledged and accepted as normal, but that simply cannot happen. If everything were to be considered normal, then that word would lose its meaning. You could also say the same for the word aberrant – if we were all aberrant and abnormal, then we would all be normal in our eccentricities. Normal and Aberrant need each other in order to even exist – Given that all humans are not the same, if nobody is normal, then nobody is atypical, but if some people are normal, then it follows that some people must be atypical…

I must mention that I almost did not publish this because I was informed that it’s a bit too dense. I did try to make it less convoluted, and I had to cut myself off at some point (I really could have gone on). So, if you follow the thought processes here, and you have any questions, qualms, or contributions, by all means let me know in the comment section below!