I absolutely hate being stereotyped.
No one wants to be labeled, categorized, or put into a box, and although we’ve all probably had stereotypical thoughts about someone we just met, it always baffles me whenever someone shares their oversimplified idea of me to my face.
I never know how to handle it. My first response is typically to make them feel comfortable because it’s always so darn awkward, then I’ll smile and even agree with them.
Later, after I’ve processed what happened, I’ll get really worked up and I’ll wonder why I didn’t challenge their belief or stand up for myself. Why didn’t I value myself enough to speak the truth?
I cared more about their feelings than my own.
I cared more about keeping the peace than having a fierce conversation.
When I was in college and cheerleading for football I used to dread going up in partner stunts as it brought us really close to the audience. I was close enough to see the look of judgement pass over certain faces—usually the girls sitting next to their boyfriends.
I’d imagine how they were sizing me up as some dumb, blonde, partying, slutty cheerleader when I knew I spent all my free time in the library, never went to a single party, never drank alcohol, and waited for marriage to be intimate.
Looking back, it reinforced the life lesson that things aren’t always as they appear to be.
From as young as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be seen, heard. and understood, and I’ve resisted labels. Like the time in third grade when I beat all the boys at pull ups and pushups in PE and one of the boys made fun of me on our walk home.
He told me because I was so strong I would have pecs when I grew up and boys wouldn’t like that. The message: It’s not attractive or acceptable for girls to be as strong or stronger than boys. I didn’t let his comment get to me, though.
I had a lot of moxie and responded with some snarky and witty comment back, but I never forgot what he said.
I think we label and oversimplify people. We put them into categories so we know how to respond to them or where to place them in our core beliefs, and that gives us a (false) sense of safety, order, and control.
The truth is each person is complicated, unique, layered, and truly individual. I’m drawn to the depth in a person and I always feel honored when someone feels safe enough to open up and be vulnerable with me.
Because of my experiences being judged, categorized, and stereotyped, I try to come from the mindset of really getting to know someone before sizing them up and deciding who I think they are, instead of only going off my external observations.
Several judgmental situations that happened a couple weeks ago inspired me to write about this topic today. I was reminded of how hurtful it is to be labeled when:
-I was called money-hungry for taking a new job to support my family
-I was told by someone I’d just met that people with cancer give it to themselves (right after I told them my personal story)
-I was insulted for my “lack” of intelligence by someone who had a 10-second conversation with me at a conference
-I was called an adult child that needed parenting (I’m 33, by the way, and this person wasn’t even one of my parents)
By the end of the week, I was emotionally beat down, in tears, and ready to go back home to my comfort zone, but it hit me that day that this is the world we live in.
There are always going to be stereotypes. I can’t change others minds and behavior, all I can do is change my own and remember how it feels to be boxed in. I can choose to not allow people’s limiting beliefs about me to become my own.
I was reminded most people are drawing their conclusions from their own experiences and pain, and it is never personal. I can choose to not allow it to affect me. I can choose my words, which impact how I make others feel.
In all of the recent scenarios where I was labeled, I walked away politely, not saying anything. I don’t know if how I responded was right or wrong, because I don’t know if standing up for myself would have changed their beliefs about me.
What I do know is that having the power to not take on someone else’s limiting beliefs of us is one of the most empowering choices we can make.
If you relate to my post at all, I want to encourage you to not allow people’s stereotypes, labels, or categories of you to become your viewpoints of yourself. You are one-of-a-kind, unique, individual, and there will never be another you, so value yourself.
You are a child of God, holy and dearly loved. Walk in that truth and don’t let what other’s say stick, let it roll off. You, my friend, keep growing, keep doing you, and keep moving forward! Onwards and Upwards.