Who Do You Think You Are?

by Belinda Munoz on March 8, 2010

identity

In American politics, when you run for office, you have to have a sizeable war chest in order to define yourself.  Otherwise, your opponents will define you and therefore defeat you.  It’s not enough to: 1) have actual experience as a legislator, 2) know how the law works, or 3) have a decades-long record as a proven leader.   Sometimes, you may not have or be any of these three things.  But if you have the cash to get your carefully crafted message out to the voters, regardless of how good a legislator you’d make, you can win.

Is this democracy, you ask?  Great question.  This is precisely why I’m not a politics blogger.

In real life, we don’t need massive amounts of money in the coffers to define who we are.  I don’t need tons of experience, knowledge or a long track record to call myself, say, a blogger.  I blog, therefore I’m a blogger.

TITLES, SELF-IMPORTANCE AND ADVERTISING

But sometimes, defining ourselves can have the crazy, circus-like peculiarity similar to making sense of politics.  When change in status occurs or when our definitions of ourselves collide, the resulting confusion can lead to an identity crisis; a whacked out sense of self, if you will.

Some human-made or artificial titles and successes are bloated enough to take over our whole identity.  Take this currently-famous hip-hop artist called Drake, for example, and his idea of empowering women (his words) as he describes one of his new songs taken here:

“…It’s a song for the non-famous woman to make her feel special and just to let you know that even though I’m up here and have the option to mingle with these ‘upper-echelon’ women, if you will, that sometimes I’d rather be with the girl from back home or a student or a girl that works at Wal-Mart. They don’t have to be a star or rich or anything like that; that’s kind of the gist of the song. It’s an empowering song for all women.

I had to re-read this quote several times to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  I wonder what he means by up here, empowering and all women

Expensive, meticulously machinated advertising infiltrate every channel by which we receive information.  To varying degrees, we all fall prey to an expertly engineered illusion, lie, propaganda or commercial  that seemingly answers our questions, prayers, hopes and dreams.  It’s business as usual for industries whose main goal is to convince us  that we want, no, need their hyped-up peddled products.

They get to our psyche by making us think they know who we are.

They get to our wallets by selling us happiness, health, fulfillment, etc.

When we believe that these things are worth having, we see possibilities as to how we can become better fathers, leaders, human beings.

But when we believe that we don’t already have these charmed, coveted words as facts of our existence, that they are just out of reach and can be attained for the low, low price of $99.95 (installments welcome), something sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

Still, too often we get sucked in.  (One day, I may tell you how Suzanne Somers sold me a ThighMaster many years ago.)

EVER EVOLVING

However, getting sucked in doesn’t have to be our default reaction.  We don’t have to forget that the allure (or sometimes siren call) of better does not mean we have to fork over our life savings or lose sight of the many facets that are part of our identity.  It does mean we have to have the willingness to see where we currently stand.

Because we’re ever evolving beings, it’s a given that most of us are drawn to wanting to improve ourselves.  We don’t simply want to be a man or a woman.  We want to be good men and women.

Part of evolving is our capacity for reinvention.  We may identify with a label for so long, but this doesn’t have to mean that one day we wake up and lose our right to pursue a different path; attach ourselves to a different label.   Think of Arnold Schwarzzenegger.  Actor one day, Governor the next.  Or, think of Bono.  Rock star one day.  The next day, Person of the Year.

GROWING INTO A LABEL

We may not all be like Bono, smudging and transcending labels and partisanship.  Sometimes, a label sticks.  Some of us are quite comfortable calling ourselves “struggling artist” long after we’ve been able to make a living from our art.  (Once my husband and I hired a moving company called Starving Students.  They were clearly neither starving nor students.)

Sometimes, we grow into a label.  I recall visibly cringing the first time a teacher referred to my classmates and me as “women” in the ninth grade.  I survived the year prior as a girl, was completely comfortable with this label, and hadn’t anticipated that I would be called a woman after that summer.  I wasn’t prepared for this new label and all the intricacies woven into this word.  But overtime, I grew into it.

RECLAIMING AND CHOOSING OUR LABELS

And now, many years later, no thanks to Drake’s “empowering” words, I proudly identify with this label, woman, notwithstanding all its historic baggage and elephantine hurdles left to cross.  I grew into it just like I grew into being a wife and a mother — two other very special words I adore being called.

How tempting to call these labels just words.  Simplicity gurus may have us believe so, as though we’re automatons.  But these three words are more than just words.  The make me smile, they make my heart swell, they make me want to live up to them the best way I know how.

More than that, they build bridges, linking me to every woman, wife and mother and consequently to every man, husband and father.

These basic labels anchor my existence and help me be secure in who I am.  And by being secure in these labels, I feel confident in branching out.  From time to time, I veer from woman, wife and mother so that I can dance around idealist, activist and dreamer.  And so many more.

To be able to choose our labels, I call this a blessed perq of being human.

Human.  Ahh, another label I consider a privilege to attach to myself.  And, hey, so should you.

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What about you?  What do you think of labels?  What do you like to be called?  What labels do you respond to?  What are your anchoring labels?  What labels would you like to grow into?

If you’re a woman reading this, Happy Women’s History Month!

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Image by B.Romain

{ 3 trackbacks }

Ivy League Loser | ivy league insecurities
March 9, 2010 at 6:00 am
Labels! UGH! « Nicki's Thoughts, Art & Friends
March 12, 2010 at 6:17 am
movers web » "starving students" movers blogspot 10/21
October 28, 2011 at 8:02 am

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eduard @ Ideas With A Kick March 8, 2010 at 5:07 am

And this is why I like personal branding. Because it’s about knowing yourself, understanding your strengths and putting yourself out there in a strategic way. But good personal branding is also about authenticity and not doing false advertising.

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2 Tisha Berg March 8, 2010 at 5:31 am

Hi Belinda,
I’ve always prided myself on not being a follower, so people throwing around labels or chasing after the “next, new shiny object” always annoyed me. I do realize, however, that labels represent for many a way to feel connected with others or define themselves to the world, warts and all. In doing so, I guess we’re attempting to take our stand for something, to improve ourselves and give meaning to the world around us.
In our house, my husband and I chose not to have a television because we wanted our young daughters to choose labels based on their own ideas – not Hannah Montana’s or the kids from High School Musical. Granted, they will go out into the world at some point (they’re just 3 and 5 now) and be affected by and more intimately connected with the world around them, but hopefully they’ll have a strong enough foundation of connection FIRST with their own thoughts as a basis for deciding what labels they will give themselves, if any, or who and what experiences they will choose to connect with. Thanks for a great, thought provoking post!

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3 Tony Single March 8, 2010 at 5:37 am

Belinda, until I read this I had always thought of labels as a negative thing. You may have gone some way towards changing my mind! :P

I think my label would be “Christian” for those who want some sense of where my beliefs lie. However, this is where a label might be lacking because not all Christians are the same, if you get my drift. When looked at in the broader sense, seen one Christian seen ‘em all, but when you look into the finer details… well, the idiosyncracies gradually become apparent.

Perhaps you can sense why I’m not usually a fan of labels…

So, while it is certainly true and accurate (in a broader sense) to call me a Christian, I prefer the label “transient”. I’m someone who remains here for only a short time. Like a tumbleweed I roll through the dustbowl of this world with nothing to anchor me but the detritus of perhaps long abandoned thoughts and beliefs. Some of these thoughts and beliefs may get dislodged (and lost) as I am bumped and shuttled through life by the winds of circumstance.

And I’ll stop there before the metaphor becomes more twisty and torturous for its own good. :P

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4 Fatibony{self help Motivation} March 8, 2010 at 7:08 am

Very Interesting Post Belinda, I have heard and known about Branding/Labels and your post has just shed some more light on this area for Me . My Personal label is “Fatibony” I had built it out of my name. I am still working on it and exploring this whole area of branding and anchoring labels …. Hv a grt week ….. :)

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5 Eva March 8, 2010 at 11:06 am

Another great post, Belinda! I love how you take these big ideas and make them so easy to understand. I totally remember when teachers started calling us women or ladies instead of girls. Funny.

The part that sticks with me is the inspiration you describe from being a woman, wife, and mother. “They make me want to live up to them the best way I know how.” Beautiful.

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6 Patty - Why Not Start Now? March 8, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Hi Belinda,

This one sure got me thinking. I read it this morning and had to go away and ponder awhile before commenting. That’s good! I think labels are similar to naming, that process of activating our inner magician. Self-naming is a powerful act that allows us to claim who we are or are becoming. It helps to solidify our identities, and as I considered it more today, it occurred to me that it’s also a way we connect to others and feel a sense of belonging. (You blog, I blog, therefore we are bloggers, and we feel a kinship.) Of course, the problem is when someone hands us a label that doesn’t fit, or we feel confused about our labels. I’ve felt confused before about my professional label, since it sometimes seems like a stereotype that doesn’t fully capture what I do. From that I’ve learned that my label requires me to constantly educate people about its meaning, which can be draining at times.

I know this comment is long already, but I can’t skip the important words you’ve written about making the transition from girl to woman. Your claiming of your labels of woman, wife, mother is so heartfelt and beautiful. Lately I’ve been learning more about the initiation into those deep, archetypal masculine and feminine energies, and the consensus pretty much is that our culture doesn’t do a very good job with that. It’s mostly shallow, surface stuff. So I’m thinking maybe that’s Drake’s problem! Not only has no one taught him what true masculine energy looks like, he’s also missed out on connecting with the mysterious feminine energy that resides in him. When I think of it that way, I feel less torqued by his comment!

Thanks, Belinda, for another great post.

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7 Belinda Munoz March 8, 2010 at 9:59 pm

@Eduard, makes sense to me. I would also add that, because of our organic, ever-evolving nature, we should acknowledge that there are certain labels we’ll surely outgrow. And the flip side of that are the labels we aspire to, future selves of ours we’re cultivating. In other words, us-in-the-making, which I wouldn’t necessarily call false advertising, but just labels we’ll grow into. Thanks for stopping by.

@Tisha, welcome to The Halfway Point! I have a little one, too, the extent of his time in front of the TV is only when he watches certain parts of his favorite dvds. I love what you said about wanting your children to “have a strong enough foundation of connection FIRST with their own thoughts as a basis for deciding what labels they will give themselves”. Because that foundation isn’t built in when they’re born. It’s our job as parents to make sure they have that foundation. Thanks!

@Tony, great alterna-label you came up with. Your description is beautiful and poetic it reminds me of some powerfully spiritual moments I’ve had in Joshua Tree (California). And I totally understand your reticence to attach. It doesn’t take much to sully a good label. It doesn’t make it right to assume anything, but we know people will assume things anyway. Incidentally, “Christian” happens to be my mother-in-law’s maiden name (and my husband’s middle name). There’ve been times when we’ve said, “Oh, they’re Christians?”, with an obnoxiously incredulous tone, referring to long lost relatives. Who knows what was being assumed about us by those who’ve witnessed these conversations. Thanks!

@Hi Fatibony, I’m glad you’ve found this piece helpful. I have yet to learn how to pronounce this personal label of yours and I’m also curious to hear where the last two syllables come from. Thank you.

@Eva, thank you! I guess it’s just about writing what interests me. Believe it or not, I took a blogging class and have repeatedly broken every rule I was taught to follow. And yeah, calling me a “lady” at 14? Who were they kidding! Thanks.

@Patty, you are too awesome for any labels! Your interpretation of Drake’s comment is so much more understanding and mature than my initial reaction when I first read it. I am immensely grateful that I’m alive now, where women have a much better space to claim, instead of say, 100 years ago. But, two steps forward, one step back is still the sad truth today. And I, too, have some major issues regarding labels that are thrust upon me. Draining is the perfect word. I sometimes am tempted not to deal. And yet to absolve myself of the responsibility would only make matters worse and would be a missed opportunity to help others have an enhanced perspective. Thank you.

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8 Phil - Less Ordinary Living March 9, 2010 at 2:18 am

Belinda -

Thanks for making me think. How would I label myself? Human, conscious, husband, friend, coach, cherisher of light in others, simple, complex, liver of life!

Self-labeling is such an interesting topic. We create an identity for ourselves from the labels with identify with and the stories we tell about these. Buddhists and many in the self-awareness movement would say that these are simply labels and stories and not our true self. They’d reckon that they are the cause of all our suffering and drag us into identification with our thoughts and emotions – take us out of the present. To some extent that is true – yet as you say we need to live in the real world too.

We can use our labels to empower us, to behave appropriately, to fine peace and happiness and to be great human beings. I love your strength and identification with woman, wife, mother – it makes me feel affinity for you as living breathing organism. You radiate with your labels – how can that be a bad thing?

Phil

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9 Nicki March 9, 2010 at 5:06 am

Labels are something that bother me. I do not mind labels that I choose for myself but I dislike labels that others place on me. My thoughts on this are so lengthy and varied – a fight within myself – that I best go off and contemplate all of them. I shall return.

You, Belinda, are beautiful within the labels you have chosen. To evolve and change those labels is a choice not all women, all men, all humans have. Enjoy the labels and the evolution!

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10 Keith Davis March 9, 2010 at 9:50 am

Hi Belinda
“They get to our wallets by selling us happiness, health, fulfillment, etc.”
Perhaps as bloggers we should add Affiliate maketing, top rank in Google, increased Google page rank, thousands of links for doing nothing.

But that’s OK.
That’s what makes the world go round. And we all know that.
I guess that I figured out a long time ago that there is no point learning the tricks of the trade… you have to learn the trade.
And that takes time and hard work.

As for labels?
At my age I’m not too bothered what people call me.
As long as my mother doesn’t hear. LOL

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11 Trece March 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

I am not a huge label fan either. When pressed, I’ll admit to female blogger. I also happen to be a Christian, a wife, a mother, a home educator, a lipstick republican, an NCIS fan and an obsessed pen collector. But none of those labels do more than identify one facet at a time of my being. Excellent post.

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12 Sara March 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Belinda — Interesting post and I agree with Patty one that requires a bit of thinking. I believe some labels are central, the hub of the wheel for me — like woman and mother — these stay consistent.

Others circle around the hub, sometimes changing out and sometimes not. In addition, to add to the confusion, I have labels that are expressed out loud and those that I keep to myself; these are the shy ones I’m not quite ready to expose to the world:~)

I also agree with Eva. You do pick very interesting concepts and then make them into thinking adventures. I loved this chance to explore the concept of “labels” and how you made me see them in different ways. Thank you:~)

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13 Rudri March 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm

Interesting post. I shy away from labels because I think they perpetuate stereotypes. If I am “this,” then I can’t be “that.” I know that sometimes labels are a necessary evil, but I find it liberating to not use them. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I also appreciate your comment on my entry.

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14 Belinda Munoz March 9, 2010 at 10:21 pm

@Phil, beautiful! I especially love simple and complex because we do live in an abundantly grey world instead of a black and white one. Yet even though we all know this, we still demand black and white; we want for things to make sense when they don’t, more often than not. And you’re right, I haven’t figured out how to live a purely spiritual life with a very physical presence so yes, I’ll take the labels in my real world, real time existence. Thanks.

@Nicki, I hear you. Some labels will never sound good to me even though to some, it’s the only label they’ll see attached to me. Will others ever understand (or care) why I reject these labels? And you’re right, what about those who don’t have the luxury of choosing their label? To be able to do so is an immense privilege not to be taken for granted. Still, having experienced being defined by others taught me to reclaim parts of my identity that can be distilled into a label so that I can effectively define myself. I think blogging helps with this in a way. Thanks.

@Keith, but if they’re calling you good labels, then your mother should hear : ) Thanks.

@Sara, I love how you said that: the hub of the wheel while others circling it may remain or change. And I love that you gave voice to the shy ones — the ones we keep for ourselves until they’re ready to debut. I can surely relate! And the term “thinking adventures” — it so good it sends me on one right now! Thanks.

@Rudri, welcome to The Halfway Point! You’re right, they do perpetuate stereotypes. I felt that way for a long time until I saw the first copy of the magazine called “Bitch” ten years ago or so. I loved how they reclaimed the word as an empowering one and it really helped me see labels differently and at times, defiantly. Thanks for stopping by.

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15 Motivational Speaker - Craig Harper March 10, 2010 at 2:33 am

Everything you do (and don’t do) says something about your brand (label) – who you are; your communication style, your habits, your values, how you present yourself, what shape you’re in physically, how you deal with different situations and challenges, how you manage relationships, how you resolve conflict, how you interact with your staff / work colleagues, your ability to get stuff done and the results you do and don’t produce.

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16 nothingprofound March 10, 2010 at 5:45 am

It’s nice the way you put a positive spin on labels. it shows there are two sides to everything. I just ignore labels and words in general. I don’t think they mean anything.

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17 Lauren March 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

I love this exploration of identity and the labels we attach to ourselves to create meaning in our lives. I remember when I was younger I wanted so much to be a “good” person with integrity in all my actions. In fact, I think I pretty much wanted to be perfect. Became a little stifling to say the least.

Later, I learned to relax and be “good enough”. Whew, what a relief. By the way, did you ever notice “perfect” people are not really very fun to be around. And, hey, isn’t fun a great benefit of walking the face of the planet!

We are multi-faceted and life contains such richness. Our uniqueness is a tapestry, an interwoven blending of qualities. We are alive, not static, which is why any one label will never adequately describe who we are.

Yet, as you so poignantly remind us, certain roles (labels) bring us great joy and pleasure. I would like to have these labels: authentic, a lover of life, a friend to and lover of children, an irreverent playful wild woman, a person who plays well with others, a person who leaves others feeling a little more joy-filled after our encounter, a contributer, an uplifter.

Thank you for your contribution and for guiding us into exploration. I always get a lot from your words.

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18 lauren March 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm

“The make me smile, they make my heart swell, they make me want to live up to them the best way I know how.” I love this. I am a new mom, and the word “mom” – my new name, my new identity – makes me grin. Glad to have found you!

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