Labels I’ve called myself and others have called me, in alphabetical order:
Northerner (down South)
Southerner (up North)
There’s more, but these labels are just the ones that initially come to mind.
Since my childhood and my teenage years, I’ve struggled to navigate each of these words. While I love some of them, and choose to define myself by them, others haven’t always been so sweet.
When I was a teenager, I struggled a lot with my weight. ‘Fat’ was a word and a label perpetually stuck in my head, playing on loop. I couldn’t shake it, and to be honest, even if I woke up one day in size four jeans, it probably wouldn’t have stopped. Unsurprisingly, the ‘fat’ record triggered a fair degree of anxiety, disordered eating patterns, and ultimately, depression. Another label stuck.
It’s a lot harder to shake labels than it is to gain them. Maybe it’s because society has a habit of needing to categorise people. There is so much in this world that’s hard to understand, and that takes time to get to grips with– it’s easier to put something in a box than explore it properly. The problem is that doing this stigmatises us, and has an immeasurable impact on how we’re conditioned to view ourselves and others.
But people aren’t only their labels.
We each have labels we’ve come to cherish, and if we can use our own to champion our identities, then surely that’s a positive thing. But we have to be careful to remember what identity really is. It’s fluid, it’s made up of a million moments, experiences, and conversations. It’s even made up of something older than ourselves – history, or DNA.
Our own stories should remind us that identity isn’t about generic expectations. At the heart is the individual – and I’d challenge you to find someone who really is nothing more than a tired stereotype.
What we choose to identify with is up to us. There’s identities in this list that I’m proud to have claimed for myself. Yet more importantly – I’m not any of these things alone. I’m determined to add to and broaden the definition of these labels, rather than being reduced to them.
All of us have a list. Each of us also has a pen.
Let’s annotate, comment, redefine, subvert, stretch these words. Let’s make a statement about ownership. Free ourselves from the limits of each label, and connect the dots in-between.