I had a few long conversations with a friend this weekend about what labels are doing to women. Mother, daughter, sister, wife.
I’ve watched mothers that I know give up everything for their children - and let the label of “mother” encompass their whole being. I’ve seen women succumb to their family’s definitions of what they should be for so long that they forget how to make decisions for themselves.
In short, I’ve watched women let the labels others give them define them, instead of defining themselves. We’re in the middle of a major identity crisis.
Labels do not define you
First take a moment to think about the labels that you or others have placed upon you. I am a wife, daughter, friend, employee, caretaker. I have also been labeled as a woman, and not always in a nice way (in a “remember your place” kind of way).
But those are roles I play. The actress behind it all is Emily. I have unique thoughts, desires and dreams that you couldn’t guess just by looking at the labels.
After years of acting in relation to everyone else, it can be tough to find out who we are when we stand alone. A whole list of fears can crop up - what will they think? Can they manage a day without me? How will they react when I do something for myself?
There is no easy way to reclaim our unique selves, other than by trial and error. We have to get used to going out on a limb and falling a few times before we can reclaim that glimmer of self.
For example, I’ve been trying to reconnect with my own dreams and desires instead of letting what others expect of me to dictate where I’m going. So I’ve made some drastic decisions: getting rid of almost half of my stuff and moving across the country with my husband. But guess what? I’m still not there yet.
Defy the labels
I believe that it is an act of bravery to act in opposition to the labels people have put upon you.
If people see you as someone who follows the rules, go ahead and break some. If people see you as put together, go ahead and fall apart for once. Disobey the expectations for yourself, not for anyone else.
The daughter or sister in you might tell you to live close to your family at all costs. The wife or mother in you might tell you to care for your family first before taking care of yourself. But what, dear reader, do you want?
I still have a long road of doing unexpected things before I can fully feel myself again. I’ve been slowly adopting some practices that help me rediscover my intuition and my personal values:
- Meditating for five minutes each day
- Spending time alone in coffee shops
- Running (and not talking to my running partner)
- Exploring new recipes and going outside my comfort zone with food
- Freewriting - I have a few Google Docs filled with ramblings and musings
If you're looking for a little extra motivation, check out this essay on being a "Too Much" Woman. It will awaken new and old desires and encourage you to live as fully as you want.
You can play those roles, yes, but those roles should never become labels that define who you are as a unique and beautiful human being. Don't let unwelcome outside expectations dictate your trajectory today, this week, or in your whole life.
Finally, don’t let questions stop your progress - you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you are doing something that they consider unusual. But if it’s an explanation they want, consider this your permission to answer “because I want to.”