No Normal: We need to stop calling people weird as an insult

Being different isn’t something to be ashamed of

hand holding a fidget spinner
Everyone is different, but we're taught to hide it. PHOTO: charlesdeluvio / Unsplash

By: Olivia Visser, Opinions Editor

Growing up, there was one insult that I remember receiving often: weirdo. Being called weird might not strike everyone as the most insidious remark, but it’s a term that alienates groups for not fitting into the social standard we know as normality.

There’s no such thing as normal, and I couldn’t agree more. Everyone’s got something that differentiates them from the rest, yet somehow we’re still taught to suppress our individuality. If you were ever told to just “be yourself” growing up, you probably realized that’s easier said than done. When tactics like shame and humiliation are still commonly used by teachers to manage students, it’s no wonder young people are so preoccupied with the idea of fitting in.

As an undiagnosed autistic child, I was frowned upon by peers for missing a lot of social cues. Making silly noises, being hyper, and talking about the same thing repetitively were behaviours I showcased frequently. At some point, I became aware of the fact that most of my classmates were laughing at me, not with me. I was labelled as weird and this label came with stigma. Faced with the choice of pretending to be someone else or shutting myself in, I picked the latter.

Conformity is a coming of age phenomenon that affects many school aged kids, but it continues into adulthood. I assume this is why so many people poke fun at “weird” individuals: because they themselves want to conform or feel they have to. We see people make fun of adults for “childish” interests or less common mannerisms. People who avoid eye contact, fidget, or have speech impediments, are judged as “difficult” or odd. In reality, these people may be neurodivergent, shy, or just different. No matter how you look at it, calling people “weird” as an insult is harmful. It suggests that upholding the status quo trumps individuality and self-expression. This mentality is why so many neurodivergent people have years of unlearning to do when it comes to accepting their differences.

Society’s current age of social media encourages conformity. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to be themselves without worrying about the judgmental eyes of their peers. What was once a clique of bullies in elementary school is now anonymous faces on an app with millions of users, and this isn’t without consequences. One analysis of 16 studies found a strong correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and symptoms of depression. Social media might not be inherently harmful, but our cultural obsession with upholding a perfect image is.

There’s nothing wrong with being different. Framing inevitable differences as character flaws is harmful to everybody, because I truly believe there is no such thing as “normal.” Those who single out other people’s differences are probably dealing with some internalized conflict themselves. Nobody is normal, so is anyone really weird?