It can be tough to grow up in a culture that tirelessly pressures us to be just a little bit more like everybody else. Whether we’re all buying the same products or bullied into acting like the rest of our peers, many of us often feel stripped of those little qualities that make us unique—that make us “us.” Those qualities that others view as “weird.”
But without our “weird,” we wouldn’t be creative, innovative, or forward-thinking. Let’s stop suppressing our weird and learn to embrace it! We asked Kate Peterson, author of the new interactive journal YOU’RE WEIRD, exactly what being weird means to her and how it’s helped her creativity.
What was the inspiration behind the concept of You’re Weird?
I set out to make “you’re weird” a compliment. Advice to “be yourself” and platitudes like “different is beautiful” are everywhere; but equally ubiquitous is the evidence that many people don’t truly believe it, from schoolyard hierarchies to the insecurities that plague us all. Most people seem to secretly want to fit in a variation on the ideal mold shaped by our culture, and as a result, it seems to me that our cultural idea of “different” isn’t actually all that different at all.
I want to spread the word that you don’t have to dress a certain way or project a certain identity or come from a particularly unconventional background to be unique; you just have to look at what made you who you are today and embrace it. In that way, we’re all weird. And that’s a really lovely thing to celebrate.
To ask one of the questions posed in your book, what is your definition of weird?
My definition of “weird” is this: unapologetically unique. I picked the word “weird” as the centerpiece of this book because it goes farther than “different” or “special” or “unique,” and I want us all to go farther in how we think about and embrace uniqueness. Right now, most of us have gone as far as “be yourself,” and we have a very little idea of what that actually means. The command form of it seems to imply a sort of performance, but to say “I’m weird” is to just accept all the little aspects of who you are right now and let them hang out. I also love that the archaic meaning of the word “weird” relates to the Fates and means “one’s destiny.” It’s an invitation to take what makes you different and find purpose in it. Carpe weird!
You started illustrating for fun and are now a full-time artist, selling your prints and cards under the name The Dapper Jackalope. Do you have advice for artists looking to turn their passion into a paying career?
Forget what you think you’re “supposed” to be doing or making. The best thing you can do when you’re starting out—or far down the road, for that matter—is to follow your creative impulse as authentically as you can and not judge yourself for what comes out.
My favorite story about the rewards of embracing a different way of doing things comes from when I was first teaching myself the basics of watercolor painting. Watercolor can be really tricky, and I kept getting so frustrated because I couldn’t achieve detail with it. One day, I thought of drawing the detailed aspects of a piece on a separate sheet of paper in ink and colored pencil, and then cutting them out and pasting them on top of a watercolor background. I liked the result, but it really felt like cheating, and it gave me some anxiety as a self-taught artist—it was as if I’d failed at watercolor. It took me weeks to realize that I hadn’t failed; I had actually just made a totally unique mixed media collage! It became a signature style of mine, and I still smile whenever I think back to how something that felt like failure at the time became one of my best methods. So, take what you do differently and own it. When it comes time to market your work, those unique aspects are what you’ll pitch; but no matter what, it has to start with recognizing and mastering whatever makes you unique.
Do you have words of encouragement for anyone who is being bullied by their peers?
What saddens me the most about bullies is the fact that they take the coolest and most interesting things about the coolest and most interesting kids and try to turn them into negative things, all because they feel bad about themselves. Just remember this: the person who is bullying you wants to make you afraid and sad by calling you weird, but if you believe—really, truly believe—that being weird is awesome, all the bully’s power goes away. All you have to do is be proud of who you are (and, chances are, if you’re being called weird, you are an extra interesting and unique human, which is something to be proud of!). So, take out your journal and make a list of the things that make you weird and why you appreciate them. You can reread that list anytime you need a little reminder of why it’s awesome to be you. And finally, remember that the kids who are most different from everyone else grow up to be really awesome adults. Being different means you’re on the right track, and if you don’t have people around you who see that right now, believe it extra hard yourself until you do.