If there’s one similarity between teenagers and Atlas, the titan, it’s the punishment of carrying a burden that we never asked for. In his case, it was the sky; in our case, we shoulder the burden of labels.
It seems to me that the moment we turn 13-ish, society feels free to put a tag on us like we’re clothes at a department store. Best case scenario, you’re labeled as cute, sweet, pretty, interesting, mysterious, or just so cool and charming that everyone wants to know more about you.
However, people can also be brutal and criticize your every move. You then get labels like superficial, slutty, easy, basic, or dumb. Even if these labels are untrue, they are easily believable because when you’re a teen it seems like everyone is entitled to define who you are, except for you.
Being a teenager is challenging by itself, but being a teenage girl is absolutely ruthless. It feels like every move we make is being watched by a cold-hearted jury, and if we fall out of line for a split second, we’ll receive a life-changing sentence that will stick with us no matter what we do next.
If you date a little bit more than you’re expected to, you become a whore. If you like romantic movies and care about your clothes, it turns out you’re dumb and superficial. The list goes on and on, but the point is that once you’ve been labeled, it is difficult to get rid of it. And I think we’ve gotten so used to it, we’ve never stopped to think about the damage those labels can cause.
Teenage years are crucial in defining who we are, even though they shouldn’t be, and there’s always this peer pressure to be like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way. They are also our most emotional years, and it seems like everything that happens it’s gonna be the end of the world. It’s a dangerous cocktail that, if mishandled, can end up in a massive problem that can last years and won’t be an easy recovery.
Even though it looks like it, caring too much is neither a sin nor a crime when we’re young. It is a natural reaction to our environment, and it shows what we’ve got inside, which is a good thing: caring shows our will to be better, to do better. However, there is so much energy inside of us, so much potential, and it’s sad to look back and see it going to waste because we try to focus on fulfilling everyone else’s expectations instead of our own. What should be our golden years end up being the reason most of us go to therapy, cry alone at night and just try to forget everything we did, said or heard because we were so eager to fit in.
Now that I am nearly eight years older, I look back and ask myself if it was worth it. I pretended to be someone I wasn’t and criticized other girls for being free and doing things I wanted to do but was too scared of what others would say about me. I schemed against people who only wanted the best for me, and I shut my parents out because I thought they would never get me like my so-called friends would. No, it was not worth it.
I realize now that I was scared to be true to myself because of the labels everyone put on me. Such as that high school teacher who decided I was too dumb for college and would never go far in my career because everything I achieved up until that point was “handed to me”. Or that ex-boyfriend who thought he was a rockstar and made me believe that I was too shallow for liking Taylor Swift and wanting to dress up and party with my friends on weekends. It all got to me, to my heart, brain, and bones, because I cared too much about what they thought of me, and I’m sorry for that.
It made me feel weak for years until one day, I snapped out of it and realized I wasn’t. It was the burden of the label everyone put on me, a twisted and, fortunately, very wrong version of who I really was. And then I started regaining the strength I knew I had but was too scared to actually acknowledge. I discovered the powerful woman that was inside of me.
All of this is to tell everyone who is reading this that labeling yourself is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Don’t let labels get to you, and most of all, don’t ever blame yourself for caring. Don’t shut your feelings down, and always listen to your gut - it’ll guide you on the best of paths.
Life shouldn’t be a burden. We’ve got enough to deal with without the criticism we put ourselves through every phase. We’ve got our whole lives to figure out who the hell we are and who we want to be.