I used to write for a company that made labels… all kinds of labels. We had a catalog of (you guessed it) labels. One of the best selling features of the labels was how they stuck around… how everyone could see (and remember) them. Ironically, real life labels… the unflattering, meant to put you in your place type… appear to have just the same properties.
When the label is flattering, that’s not much of a problem — who objects to being labelled beautiful or talented? People who love their work don’t mind being labelled with their profession. Same goes for athletes.
But when the label is less flattering… an observation about physical appearance, for example, a commentary on financial position or place in life… well then it becomes something that can be pretty damaging… a chain around your neck, chafing and confining.
These are the kind of labels I mean.
It’s been my experience that when someone affixes a label (especially an unflattering one) to you, there’s a very good chance it will stick. Be picked up and used by others, be shared with strangers or in circumstances where it has no possible relevance. For good or ill, your name and the label are forever linked. No exceptions.
You can act (or become) the opposite of an unflattering label time after time (for years or a lifetime) and still that label sticks hard and unyielding, just like the paper kind I used to write about. Which leaves me to wonder — are some people so utterly stupid that they don’t get it? Unflattering labels (relating to body type, political viewpoint, religion, race) hurt. Labels like this only speak to one part of a person, and don’t begin to cover all they are.
But then, some minds just can’t handle more than one idea at a time, or understand that people (and circumstances) change. And some affix a value to their own cleverness that’s inflated beyond all proportion. Some are just bullies who like to put others down so they can feel better about themselves.
The strategy I’ve come up with when a particularly unflattering label is used is not to rise to the bait — simply do not respond. Consider the source. There’s no reason to dignify an unflattering or ill deserved label with a response, defense or show of temper. Justified as you may be, you’ll look out of control, like the label got under your skin. Like it mattered one bit and even if you’re dying inside you can’t give them the satisfaction.
We who bear unflattering labels must learn to be deaf to the word every time it’s used, no matter how publicly or frequently. No matter the circumstance. Go to your happy place while remembering those who routinely use labels for people have a limited mental capacity — like dogs (and cats), or 5 year olds.
Time to treat them as such.