Wednesday, November 9, 2011


One of the big talks that I was given at least once a year in school regarded labels.  Jock, nerd, slut, prep, theatre kid, hipster, fat, indie.  I've read some interesting articles about how calling someone fat or a slut isn't technically an insult.  It's just calling a person what they are, and because our culture so stigmatizes those words, they  become insulting.

And the point that calling something what it is isn't a very creative insult is valid.  But, saying something shouldn't hurt because it's true is verging on the edge of ridiculous.  My friends always used to teasingly say, "It's not mean if it's true" (thankfully I haven't heard that phrase in awhile).  I have to vehemently disagree, that's why I think labels can be so incredibly harmful.  In many, many cases, saying something that's true can actually be more vicious and more harmful.

The reason?  If a person has a trait commonly construed as negative in popular culture, than I can promise you that they are painfully aware of it.  I know I'm fat, I am thoroughly aware of that fact and do not need it pointed out by every single person I encounter.  "Stereotypes are stereotypes because they have some truth" is another truism that I've heard and I agree to an extent.  Generally, a person isn't going to be given a nerd label or a jock label or a slut label without there being some truth to that statement*.  But labels and stereotypes take a person and brew them down to one particular quality and amplify it a thousand fold.

Thus you get the harmful mindsets like a football player can't like art because that's not how football players work.  Or nerd can't be failing biology because nerds are smart, everyone knows that, duh.  A fat person can't be healthy or play sports because they're overeating, lazy, slobs.  The fact that some people can't lose weight despite exercising and a healthy diet completely is invalidated because that's not why people are fat.  A slut isn't sleeping with people because they enjoy sex, but rather because they have deep-seated insecurities and a constant need for attention.

A person is more than their label.

*This is not to say that people aren't given labels that they completely don't deserve and this can be just as harmful.  A person who is the given the label "slut" but is actually a virgin has fallen victim to the assumptions and simplifications that go along with that label.

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