How Gender Norms Instigate Insecurity

Courtesy of Stop Standing Still

I miss being a kid. We were innocent, blank slates making no distinction between the hues of skin or popularity. We just made decisions on a whim, based on bright colors, yummy foods. And as we grow older, our surroundings shape who we are, how we think, where we go, what we do.

From day 1, girls are given dolls and pink plastic kitchens to play with, while boys are given racecars and superhero-themed trucks. It has always been the question of beauty vs. brains for girls, and no doubt, this has been a recurring theme in movies and TV shows for as long as I can remember. Why can’t it be both?

I used to be super confident in myself because I never knew the concept of popularity and smarts and why they were always separate in school. She was just as cool as he was; he was just as cool as she. But, as we grew up into middle schoolers and high schoolers, invisible, divisive lines appeared.

I’m not the prettiest in my grade nor am I the smartest (despite my Asian origins). I never thought I was smart enough “for an Asian.” But, I am an example of an outgoing and relatively smart girl. I’ve noticed that, for some reason, many people consider introverts to be smarter than extroverts. Mind you, if someone asked, “Who’s the smartest person in our grade?”, I wouldn’t be the first name that comes to mind. And this frustrated me for a long time.

I used to think, “Why can’t I be a tri-season athlete and play five instruments and volunteer 20 hours a week like ______ does?”

I could never put a name to what this feeling was, and it hit me.


Even though I’m not a tri-season athlete, I’m a proud 5-foot-tall volleyball player. Usually, the first thing people notice about me is my height. But what I don’t have in height, I have in strength. Because of my height and my overall physique, many people don’t think I play a sport. It’s incredible to see the surprised and priceless expression on someone’s face when I say that I play volleyball. I like defying the stereotype that only tall, thin girls play volleyball. Short girls can play too! Yeah, I’m short. Yeah, I’m shorter than 90% of the other girls on the court. But I still play volleyball.

Even though I don’t play five instruments, I play the clarinet. And even though I don’t volunteer 20 hours a week, I give back in ways where I feel warm on the inside when little children with worried gray eyes look up at me and smile, free of worries in that moment, because I give them a tray of warm food.

And I realized that a lot of people feel compelled to fulfill society’s expectations of them, whether that is the expectation to do 10 different activities and excel at them while getting straight As or even in the bigger picture, acting and looking a certain way to conform.

And I’ll tell you something: If you don’t feel comfortable conforming, defy expectations. You don’t have to be hide parts of your personality because you feel like other people are not okay with you. You are the only person who has to be okay with you. Nobody should tell you who to be.

So, yes, I’m not the prettiest or smartest in my grade. But I’m the prettiest and smartest and most athletic that I can be. And I’m okay with that.

-Ayushi Jain