I was listening to an episode of The Balance Blonde’s Soul on Fire Podcast with Mary Beth LaRue (ep 23) and they made an interesting point about labels. They brought up this Instagram post by Sophe Jaffe which conveys the message that we should be living for ourselves, not for others. If we are doing what feels right, yet, we have to explain our thoughts and behaviors to those around us, there is something wrong in that situation. The insecurity we feel over what others will think weighs too heavily on our opinion of ourselves. Consequently, when we try to explain ourselves to others, we use labels to justify our way of thinking. Pre-set normative stereotypes might be a little part of what we are but they aren’t all that we are.
In my experience, when we use labels to fit in, we restrict ourselves from being our truest selves.
I have a history of trying to meet the expectations of who others want me to be. I like to think that I’ve always been a little more thoughtful and mature for my age but as a teen in school, that didn’t make me “fun”. So, I would look to what friends were doing to “fit in”. It feels good to fit in…momentarily. Though, it doesn’t take long to realize that trying to be who others want you to be isn’t fulfilling. Cue Best Coast. Even now as an “adult”, the peer pressure is still there.
Oftentimes, I feel the need to do exactly as Jordan (The Balanced Blonde) and Mary Beth discussed on the podcast: explain myself. I feel the need to explain why my interests are different. I justify why I don’t fit the construct of a “typical” college graduate, fit person, single female, or young adult. Yet, to embrace even more specific labels like anxious, introverted, creative, or even vegan involves a tie to a community. They help describe some of what I feel to others but there are expectations with any label. In some ways, I desire to be part of the typical case of one of the labels because then I’ll have a fellow community. Still, even if I’m some of those labels, I know I’m also more than those labels.
I’d like to think that our truest selves are so individual that labels don’t do us justice. We all have interests, talents, and abilities that make us unique. In an ideal world, we would admire ourselves for the spectrum of things we have to offer and be appreciated for the individuals that each of us are.
Admittedly, when you ditch labels and try to just be yourself, that doesn’t mean everything else will fall into place. People won’t automatically accept you for simply being “individual” and not “fitting the norm”. In fact, it might even be harder.
As a recent example, a friend of mine was getting on my case because I casually said to her that I couldn’t remember the last time I had a drink. She asked if I was totally against drinking. I’m not, I just don’t desire it. So, she insisted we needed to meet up with some other girlfriends and go to the clubs. I politely turned her down; saying club dancing wasn’t really my idea of fun. She then said, well, it isn’t fun until you get a few drinks in to loosen up. I shrugged at her to show my disinterest and said, I just don’t really like drinking.
Then, she pounced: HAVE YOU EVER BEEN DRUNK?! I said no, to which she rambled on about how I needed to; so we should go to the clubs and it will be so much fun! I mean…I can respect that that all might be her or someone else’s idea of fun but it isn’t mine. So I wish for my thoughts to be respected in return. I said to her that clubbing wasn’t my thing and she tilted her head and told me to think about it. Though, from the look on her face, she pitied me for not yet understanding what real fun can be.
Part of me wants to succumb to the ideas others have so that I can be accepted. If I follow what others, whom I respect, have in mind then, surely that would make me happy, right? Unfortunately, I would sacrifice the genuine qualities of myself if I try to just “fit the mold” of what someone else laid out. I owe it to myself to recognize that I have gut instincts and desires that are real. It is a shame to cover that up to satisfy someone else.
It certainly sucks when someone else doesn’t see what is real but I’m not living for anyone else—just me. I’m still learning to trust myself to make decisions after relying on others opinions for so long. For now, I take comfort in knowing when my thoughts and behavior are my own and I am being true to myself.