You’re in an ominously large supermarket. You push an empty cart, waiting to be filled up with every ingredient that makes up you. You begin to navigate the endless stocked shelves. The first few aisles have exactly what you need, and it’s easy to mindlessly toss things into your cart. Some people eagerly move ahead, accumulating so much that their carts are one item away from toppling over.
But for you, each upcoming aisle gets more and more confusing, all with products you have never heard of — and they mean nothing to you. But you are told that you cannot leave the supermarket with a complete identity unless you shop at every aisle, and it looks like your only option now is to keep pushing the ever-growing pile around in your heavy cart.
For those less fond of metaphors, we’re increasingly pressured to define ourselves under specific labels. Nowadays, there is a special term for almost everything under the sun. At a first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that — we are merely expressing the parts of ourselves that we find significant enough to share with the world. However, there seems to be no limit to what is being deemed as significant.
First things first, let’s acknowledge that certain labels have an immense amount of importance. Especially in cases like sexuality, gender, and race, labels help those who were and are still oppressed regain a sense of pride and ownership over their identities. Labels moreover allow members of such communities to connect with each other and strengthen that commonality.
But within that sphere of good intention is the scramble to find some box to fit into before you are even sure whether you like that box — or whether you even want to be in a box in the first place. Coupled with that pressure is the universal desire to be “unique.” With the ongoing expectation to somehow be both categorizable and unconventional, we’re left to either succumb to that pressure or to overstate our ordinary selves as extraordinary to obtain that legendary status.
That is not to say that it’s not okay to experiment with labels, even if they may just seem initially like a way to differentiate yourself for spectators. It takes a lot of time, effort, and self-discovery to figure out who you are and how you want to present yourself as an individual. With how diverse and complex people are, it is hard to find a way to describe all that nuance in just a few words. But you should not take this as an opportunity to assume a label just for the sake of having one. It takes away from individuals who really do identify with that label, and this often demeans the label altogether.
Finding your label is a fluid, dynamic process. You should assume terms that you think may apply to you, and let them go when you realize they no longer fit you. Obviously, all is easier said than done, but intent does make a difference both in terms of yourself and the entire culture of self-labeling. If you describe yourself in terms you truly believe in, then not only do you align your self-perception with your identity, but you are able to present an accurate picture of yourself to others.
Labels are only empowering to those who truly believe in the ones they take on. For others, it may be more comfortable to float around or in between specific terms. We’re all stuck in a giant supermarket with tons of possibilities. But we can decide what we do with our shopping carts — whether we meander with it from aisle to aisle, fill it to the brim, or leave it entirely empty. While some of us strive for a definition to give ourselves purpose, that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to exist for the sake of existing.