IN: Labels

“Could you define your identity in one word? Maybe. Personally, I can’t. My identity is made up of lots of things. My occupation, family, educations, hobbies and values are all contributing factors to how I describe myself. I would say that it is near impossible to describe  yourself using any single category or label.

I recently attended an event which taught attendees how to design a ‘verbal business card’. In the professional world it’s really important to be able to articulate what you do in a quick and clear way when networking (your elevator pitch). You are competing against other candidates or potential service providers and you’re trying to sell your skills! In these circumstances, labels might be necessary.

We can’t get away from the fact that humans have this need to categorise. We categorise objects in order to understand and identify them. In the same way we categorise people, including ourselves, in order to understand social environments. When we are able to understand people and add some context, it tells us more about them and we learn more about ourselves. With categories come social norms and behaviours that allow us to assign others and ourselves to groups.

I have mixed feelings about this. Generally, without having to give it much thought, I would say I’m not a big fan of labelling other people. Those assumptions we make can be restrictive and oppressive. Stereotypes and presumptions are never good. For some people, categories or ‘labels’ are really important for their identity and where they feel that they belong. The difference here is that they are labelling themselves. The label is the choice of the individual to describe their own identity. When the label is being forced upon them by another person and society, this is where it gets dangerous.

For me, whether or not a label is a good thing depends on its purpose and who is benefitting from it. If it helps an individual learn to love themselves and have a sense of belonging, I am all for it! If the label is pushed onto an individual, born from ignorance and laziness, I’m not a fan.

“My sexuality is not the most important thing about me”
Cosima Niehaus, Orphan Black

Another important thing to remember when talking about labels is that we can all have more than one. We all belong to a diverse range of categories. It can be really frustrating when others fixate on one label you identify with. Labels and categories are rarely mutually exclusive. Allow yourself and others to explore different labels. These can also change over time, identities (whether that be sexuality, gender, religion or values) will grow and develop as you do.

We are all complex beings, made up of a mass of contradictions and that’s a big part of what makes humans so beautiful.”

I am thrilled to be able to say that this article was published in the first edition of the #THISISME magazine! Read more about it here. 


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