Sup with labels
Mon, 19 Jul 2021 22:17:40 +0000
I always thought I didn’t need labels.
I always thought (and still do), that labels come with too many side effects. Once you label yourself, people will assume that you - the whole of you - fit in a box with very specific boundaries.
If you’re vegan, you must be into yoga.
If you are a minimalist, surely you only wear black and white outfits.
If you’re polyamorous, you sleep around.
If you’re a zero waster, you’re obviously a hippie.
When I first started dating my current partner, my friend Oonagh asked me if we had defined our relationship yet. We were at the very early stages so I told her that we hadn’t, and that it didn’t bother me too much.
Oonagh said that that would freak her out. I need to know!, she said. I need labels, I need certainty.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I realised I have been labelling myself my entire life, while insisting that I wasn’t fussed about calling myself anything.
What a big fat lie.
I also need to know!
I reflected on the fact that I’ve always had this urge to classify everything. I make lists like, Things that everyone loves but I hate, or, Words I can’t pronounce in English, and although this is mostly for fun or zine-writing purposes, I wonder whether putting things in writing sets them in stone. It’s like you’re committing to an opinion and giving up on the option to ever making an effort to change it.
Labels are convenient. Labels make it easier for people who just met you to get an idea of who you are.
On the downside, labels make it easier for people who just met you to get an idea of who you are. Our brain naturally likes to classify things, so it’s not a surprise that we tend to assume what box a person fits in when we met them (or at any point).
In my case, labelling myself comes in handy when I write on here, as I want my readers to have a clear idea of what my website is about. I also use labels to find other content creators who are interested in the same topics I write about. Labels make it easier to find your counterparts.
However, I find it essential to constantly revisit your labels.
Labels become tricky when you don’t allow yourself to stretch their boundaries. When you force yourself to behave a certain way because if you behaved differently, you wouldn’t fit in the category you’ve assigned to yourself.
Calling myself a vegan is the perfect example to explain what I mean.
When I first turned vegan, I went in head first. I was a hard-core, militant vegan for a long while. I identified with that label so much that I wouldn’t allow myself to “cheat” even when my body clearly craved animal products.
It took me a long time to realise that no one had stuck that label on me, and that I had the power to revisit what being vegan meant to me. I was still healthy and wasn’t missing any nutrients, but I was restricting myself. So I dropped that label and ate a bunch of cheese.
I now prefer the term plant-based, but again, I just stopped calling myself anything when it comes to what I eat.
Another interesting concept is that there are people who are vegan, zero waster and minimalist and… they don’t talk about it. They just eat plants, shop second hand, and literally live their lives, and that’s just who they are.
I live with someone who’s way more of a minimalist than I claim to be, and he doesn’t have a blog about that.
I am always surprised when someone cooks a meal for me and it turns out to be plant-based, and I had no idea they were vegan at all.
I love sharing about my journey with minimalism and zero waste because it keeps the conversation going, and I learn heaps from other people who are going through the same learning curve. But sometimes I wish I could just shut up. I wish I could make my own deodorant without having to tell everyone about it.
Labels can be controversial. They make some aspects of my life easier, but I hate that they come with assumptions.
I think the whole point is that labels don’t have to be permanent. If you label yourself something, you’re not setting anything in stone. You can always go back and revisit it. What a particular label means to you might not mean the same to someone else. The safest way to use labels is to make sure they are fluid and flexible and subject to reassessment.