MORE THAN JUST A LABEL


I’m a bit of an organised ‘filing system’ freak. I love sorting things into categories, filtering, grouping. Sometimes I lie awake at night and can’t help but get up out of bed and re-assess some of my earliest selections and move things around until it all fits perfectly and my thoughts are placated. If something doesn’t match up I create a new folder, but sometimes I lose sight of the fact that not everything ‘fits’ and indeed not everything should


Labels. They are everywhere. We wear them, we represent them, we are them. We mentally file away everyone around us with a quick sweep of elevator eyes. I happen to pop out wearing my slightly oversized glasses (I’m only going to the shop; why bother with contacts?) and it’s a bit chilly out so I chuck on a crew-neck jumper over my buttoned up blouse and immediately I am a hipster. A trip to Camden prompts a more generous dose of eyeliner and black attire; I am an emo. Donning a cream and navy v-neck and some soft brogues for a walk in the park and I become preppy. On nights out I may transform into a label that generates frosty glances from the girls and appraising looks from the boys: the slut. Everyone I meet files me away into their own little cranium compendium. The thing they don’t seem to realise, and I myself am guilty of this also, is that I am not any of the labels above; I am a chameleon. No one person belongs to one label and no one can be defined by a single phrase. Just as our emotions and characters are ever changing and constantly developing so too is our outward appearance and clothing preferences. We need labels to help us to understand many things and in some ways they help us to feel a sense of unity and completion, but they are also a rather risky business. Unfortunately we cannot escape them; after all even anti-fashion is a fashion ‘label’ within itself.

So Cara Delevigne is a lesbian. Is she? All around us media is coercing us into labelling everything. A relationship status on Facebook compels us to evaluate our personal relations with people and to name them, to identify which ‘stage’ we’re at, to question: are we moving too fast or too slow? Is a 21-year-old girl who has dated guys but seems to be having a fling with a girl really a lesbian? Or even bi? Is she not, in fact, just a young woman acting carefree and experimenting with her sexuality? When she’s 40 and married to some bloke with kids will she still look back and say she was a lesbian? Or just shrug it off and say she was having a good time? We are very quick to label these things, and the people within that particular label who actually fit there often seem very far removed from the newcomers. I often look at this consistent compulsion to label as a fad. It’s edgy to be bi. It’s cool to be different and seen as something distinct or controversial. In a world where no one bats an eyelid at such things as plastic surgery and cross-dressing is no longer frowned upon, we struggle for autonomy. In this century where anything goes, we are finding it increasingly difficult to establish our own unique selves. Someone can get exactly the same haircut as us, buy the same clothes, create a Marilyn Monroe beauty spot with the stroke of an eye pencil, or even go under the knife to copy our endearing dimples or sexy full bottom lip. The rise in the popularity of tattoos is a clear indication that our generation is screaming out for a way to express themselves and their own individuality. We are constantly trying to claw our way out of the filing cabinet we’ve been put into; the filing cabinet we at first strove to be a part of, and into which we mechanically place others on a daily basis.

Which label will I be associated with today? The number one question that for me is most prominent, however, is: does it matter? Why do we feel this compulsive necessity to categorise and file away absolutely everything? Yes, it helps us to grasp the diversity of human nature, but is it necessary to try to force everyone and everything into a lever arch inscribed with a permanent marker? Next time you’re out in public, take a look at that boy or girl crying out to be slotted in somewhere. Toss them in with the others into a big pile over which hangs a large blank tag. They are more than just a label, and so are you.