I’m an organisational freak – I’m a huge fan of lists, and labelling, and alphabetical order. Quite honestly, if someone handed me a P-Touch you might not see me for a week. As I dried the dishes the other day, I thought about how easy it is to categorise things when you have multiples of them – like knives, forks and spoons. When I dip into my utensil-drawer however, it all starts to get a little messy. Servers, stirrers, spatulas, mixing tools, basting spoons, brushes and more. I have this huge variety of objects and only three compartments. This lead me to subcategorise them into plastic and wooden and stainless steel – sorted by their manufacture rather than their function. This works most of the time but there are always those things that don’t neatly fit. Like the funnel that’s simply an awkward shape, or the spatula that’s both plastic and wooden and the potato masher that’s plastic and steel-
Wait! Come back. I’ll stop talking about kitchen implements. Promise.
It’s human nature to categorise. We label things daily and seek order in chaos. This is fine when we are talking about forks or buttons or paperclips but a whole deal more complicated when we start labelling people. There are two problems with this. The first is, we often don’t fit exactly into any category so we generalise, create ‘averages’, create statistics that help us find ‘normal’, implying that any deviation from it is abnormal. Even to say it is human nature to categorise is already a generalisation – for some this does not come naturally at all. The second is, we associate those categories with judgements or presumptions on the basis of our experience, upbringing and understanding.
Apart from pondering the organised structure of my kitchen, one big inspiration for this post was the front cover of this book by Tara Moss where she shows us her labels.
As Tara says, we all have labels and some we wear willingly. These are my three most misunderstood labels that have led to negative judgements or feelings of inadequacy.
White. It’s a descriptive word. My skin is white. With my mixture of Irish and English ancestry, I’m as pasty as you can get, except when I’m ill in which case, miraculously, I can go paler. I don’t tan, I burn. I burn and peel back to white. I’m really not designed for an Australian climate. As a child, I was teased about my lack of colour and my peers encouraged me to tan.
Skinny. I’m thin for the same reason I’m white – genetics. I have thin-white genes. I’ve been both mocked for ‘eating whatever I want’ and accused of having an eating disorder. It is sometimes presumed that because I’m thin, shopping for clothes is a doddle. Not so. I’m short and I still lack those ‘ideal’ model-proportions – I struggle to fill clothes out in the right places and I need to shorten most things intended to be ankle length. And I cannot emphasise it enough when I say – thin does not mean I’m healthy. It is still in my interest to make healthy dietary choices and to exercise. I commented once about healthy eating and someone said, ‘But you don’t need to lose weight.’ Who said anything about losing weight? Don’t get thin – get healthy.
Childless. The labels I had before this one were Single and then Unmarried. I am now Married and Childless which appears to be a combination most people cannot relate to. People ask me if I’m having children and expect me to reply ‘yes’. They ask me as though it’s that simple. It’s not. The responsibility of raising a human being is wholly frightening to me and I take the prospect so seriously it has eclipsed any cluckiness. The closest inclination I have is curiosity so when people ask me, my answer is ‘I don’t know’. [And while I’m on this subject, for some women this is not a question of choice, it is a painful reminder of their failed IVF treatment, or their miscarriages or their infertility. Please be thoughtful.]
On the flip side, I’ve probably been judged positively for these things too. These judgments can be equally misguided but they can be harder to see. I first witnessed it as I followed my brother through school and teachers formed generous opinions me as his sister. Often without meeting me. Some remembered me as his sister rather than by my own name. Of course, I strove to be as lovely as my dear brother but teachers had to realise we liked different subjects.
What are your labels? How are they misunderstood?