Friday, June 4, 2010

Mama On: Labels

"Don't let labels define you."

The first time I remember hearing my mother say this I was really young, maybe five or six years old, and I don't remember what it was linked to. But I do remember being ten years old and having my earnest parents try to explain the 'n' word -- and for some reason, my mother felt the need to tell me that the 'n' word was a label. She also told me that it was a label that I would always have control over, that no one could ever apply it to me if I didn't allow them to.

I liked that. As a matter of fact, I took it to heart and have applied it to all other areas of my life. This bit of Mamaknology allows me to hold my head high and live a life of dignity in spite of the ugliness I have to traverse to get to who I am meant to be. I really like that.

And it makes sense to me. I don't understand why others don't get it.

Okay, in the real world, maybe I do understand. But I don't want to. I don't want to understand that people are so desperate for attention that they will subject themselves to criticism, ridicule, vulgarity, and even assault to get it. I don't want to understand that people think so little of themselves that they will objectify themselves in an effort to claim an identity.

Case in point: I was on the train and a young(ish) woman boarded. She was short and carrying a good bit of weight. She wore tight jeans and a tee shirt with her label on it. On the shirt, in BIG letters, splayed all across her ample bustline and thick torso, her label said: "I've Got An Ass That Can SWALLOW A G-String!"

And while the observation was obviously correct, why did she think she had to share it? Now, I know that the trend is to embrace the obvious, but this was ridiculous. Faced with less than respectful treatment, we all know that this woman would have objected, but yet there she was out in the world labeling herself. And while her shirt might have been an intimate joy to be shared with a significant other, was it really meant to be dsplayed on public transportation?

The Mamaknologist in me has to agree with my mother. This was a label that, especially if she enjoyed it, should have been kept private. For some reason, this woman didn't get the idea that the label she was willingly applying to herself was going to define how she was received in the world, that people would treat her in the manner she showed herself to them. She didn't get it that if she showed herself as less than valuable, she would not be received or perceived as valuable.

I'm gonna guess that this goes back to childhood (so much does, right?). That maybe this woman lacked nurturing... Okay, I feel you rolling your eyes. At some point we have to nurture and cherish ourselves. At some point, we have to take stock of the labels we are willing to accept and act as whole people to realize them. I don't want to be known as the dirty, the crude, or the stupid one. And goodness knows, I don't want to be known for my behind's facility for swallowing g-strings.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you, the woman wearing that tee shirt was the recipient of several off-color comments before she got off the train. Not only did she try to ignore the comments, she even seemed to be offended by some of them (but you already knew that, didn't you?).

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