Boston College is a school that likes reflection and talking about reflection. Lately, our campus-wide reflection has been focused on authenticity. Perhaps this is because we attend a school where authenticity requires a constant evaluation of our real selves against what we’re told is homogeneity at its best, or perhaps it’s because we live in a society that still hasn’t accepted the elasticity of the concept of “normal.” Either way, the question of authenticity is one asked a lot here.
We are constantly being asked to reflect on our true selves. I do this kind of reflection well (often at 10:15 p.m. mass), checking in with myself to make sure I’m doing what I love and tackling what I fear, that I have friendships that matter, and that my behavior matches the kind of woman I want to be. It seems problematic to me, though, that the experience of others’ authenticity is so unusual for us that we’re only comfortable with experiencing it in the mediated forms of Facebook pages and published reflections. And when we do encounter someone brave enough to reflect on him or herself, he or she becomes a kind of unicorn.
I bring this up not to disparage any writers’ reflections, but to bring into focus a discussion that’s rarely had about authenticity: the unfortunate need to defend our decision to be authentic.
Authenticity, to me, is less about proving that my complexity as a female can exist within fixed descriptions of femininity (or that my being a human who fails and who doubts can also fit in with the description of a BC student), and more about rejecting the notion that femininity implies one thing or another or that a “BC student” implicitly means something more than simply a person who attends BC.
None of us should have to defend our choice to be our authentic selves, nor should we have to prove how we fit into the molds of femininity and masculinity or the mold of the “BC student” or the mold of “normal.” Although having the courage to reflect on those selves publicly is always positive and gives others the guts to do the same, we cannot ignore that the viral popularity of those reflections shows us just how unfortunately rare they are.
Authenticity isn’t about how well you break the BC stereotype, and it isn’t about how well you fit it, either. Authenticity is the understanding that you need no apology or explanation of how you fit into an image of what we’re supposed to be.
If we really listen to what our school encourages us to do, the only stereotypical BC student will be one whose authenticity is paramount, regardless of what he or she wears or what he or she does. Too often we decide who we are by our set of likes and dislikes, the clubs we’re a part of, the books we read-but authenticity is more than that. It is having the courage to make that set known and accepting the beautiful vulnerability that accompanies showing our authentic selves.
Making the leap from promoting the same reassuring BC buzzwords to embracing the “un-BC-ified” stories of those with whom we share a campus is the first step in accomplishing this. The second is recognizing that our job isn’t finished until we no longer need formal efforts at promoting authenticity. Until then, efforts at authenticity must be at once what they are and a meta-discussion on the state of authenticity-we must notice moments of authenticity while simultaneously noticing their standard absence. Only then will we realize that breaking our own stereotype will require more than insisting that people wear something other than pastels and J.Crew.