You may have wondered why my blog is titled, “Glitter and Burlap.” A little test of my husband revealed that he knew exactly why. He thought for a moment and then declared, “It’s YOU!” Yes. It’s me.
A few years ago a friend made darling, little, Christmas wreaths and I was a lucky recipient. Each wreath had a neatly tied bow attached. One of our other friends got one with a sparkling, glittery bow. Mine was burlap. And it was cute! It was! But in my head I heard the little girl in me say, “But I wanted a sparkly one like hers!”
I was brought right back to the Christmas morning as a kid when I excitedly opened the biggest box EVER only to find a band saw inside. (True story…) My kind friend who thoughtfully individualized her wreaths had no way of knowing my struggles with the labels I have been given, and she certainly did not know my history of feeling like I was fighting to declare who I was and was not in my own family. She couldn’t have known how that struggle has gone on inside my own mind where all the messy work happens. It was just a nice gift, not an intention to spark my need to be recognized and accepted for who I am. Not to have someone else tell me how to be. This is a human need. We are human. That’s a label I’ll grudgingly accept as mine. (Grudging because I’m not feeling very positive about the human race just now.)
One of the 12 categories of common shame triggers for women that Brené Brown lists in her book, I thought it was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from, What Will People Think?” to, “I am Enough,” is the category, “Being stereotyped and labeled.” This category definitely has some shame triggers for me. I went through her suggested exercise of writing down, for each category that applied, “I want to be perceived as…” and, “I do NOT want to be perceived as…” And, WOW. Labels. There is so much to say. I’m not ready or willing to say it all, but I can share from this one category.
My friend had labeled me as one of her, “earthy, natural,” friends. I think that for many people, that’s the box I fit in. Earthy. Natural. Granola. I do understand perfectly why people think that. The thing is, I don’t WANT to be in that box. I want to be in a box full of earth AND glitter. I love things that sparkle. My husband calls me, “Crow,” due to my tendency to be drawn to shiny things. When I was a kid and my family was garbed in overalls and carpenter pants, I was often either naked or wearing a pink tutu with gold and silver sequins. Okay, sometimes I wore my Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls over my naked. And I wish I could say I wore my tutu OVER my overalls, but I don’t have any photo evidence of that. I do have (but can’t currently locate,) photo evidence of my Wonder Woman costume, lovingly home-made by my mom, who has mostly always managed to accept or overlook my eclectic clothing tastes, (at least to my recollection.) Maybe she just gave it up as a lost cause?
I DO love the earth. I DO love most things natural. I also love make-up, glitter, fairies, diamonds, patent leather, and tulle. I love my leather and stone, one-of-a-kind, artisan jewelry, AND I love my just-like-everyone-else’s popular S&D faux jewels. I love my locally sewn, eco-friendly dyed, sustainably grown, comfy, hemp clothing, AND I love my trendy, made-in-China, probably too young for my age, cute little dresses from the downtown boutique. I am happy as can be with muddy, bare feet and filthy cuticles from pulling weeds in the garden, but I also can’t wait to get showered and use as many different, beautifying, body products as I can before dressing up to go… nowhere because I’m currently a homebody who is living with anxiety.
The point is, labels can be really limiting and sometimes they can be hurtful. But we don’t have to adopt the labels given to us by other people. We can also be more careful about the labels we place on others. The burlap bow wasn’t hurtful to me. It was actually kind of funny because I’m a grown up now and can laugh with my friends and myself. And because I DO wear that label; it’s just that it’s not my only one. But labels can be tricky. Maybe there are people for whom labels are desirable. I do have those lists of how I want to be perceived, but they aren’t necessarily labels. Labels can be sticky and leave residue. And people do change and evolve and grow out of some labels. There is a wealth of helpful thoughts about labels and unwanted identities in the aforementioned book by Brené Brown. I am exploring my own and resisting some that others have given me without my permission. But, ultimately, I cannot control other people’s perceptions of me.
Recently someone gave me a t-shirt with the words, “Free Spirit,” printed in loose, relaxed handwriting across the front. I love this shirt. I wear it often. It makes me happy! It makes me want to embody that idea of being a free spirit. It isn’t the first time this label has been applied to me. It was a label I accepted without much thought. I never really considered it before, but I wonder what it is that other people see that makes them believe this about me? I don’t actually feel like a free spirit. I would love to be a free spirit. To me this means letting things go, shrugging off the cares of the world, … being, well, FREE. Oh, if ONLY!
But I have to admit that I am not a free spirit. I am a frequent prisoner of my own brain. I am also fenced in by what other people think, though I try not to be. My actions are often guided by so many, “shoulds.” When I don’t follow the Shoulds, then I am beset with a range of difficult and large feelings. I’m working on that. Sometimes I succeed or grow a bit and that is when I feel free. Sometimes I feel trapped and alone which is a very non-free feeling.
There are so many other labels I have given myself and also those I try to dodge and avoid. I’m going to try not to worry about those. Instead, I am trying to look at words to use and ways to live that will be true to the labels that I DO want. There is no one who can decide for me who I am going to be besides me. I get to decide in every moment. I get to keep the Earthy and Natural label right there next to the label you can’t even read because it is so blindingly sparkly in the sun! I am allowed to accept the Free Spirit label and think of it when I randomly climb trees and splash in puddles even though I’m 44 years old. It is my right to remove the, “Opinionated and Judgy,” label others have given me, and cross out those words, replacing them with, “Educating others, Informed, Progressive.” That is not to say I have never behaved in opinionated and judgmental ways. I have sooo done that. I’m not in denial. And I probably always will have this tendency due to my upbringing. I continue to explore my subconscious intents and purposes behind that tendency. But I don’t have to let those words define me, because I’m working on those things. I’m working hard to catch myself sooner when I’m judging others because it turns out that I’m usually judging MYSELF just as harshly and unfairly when I do that. I am putting a lot of effort into trying to be more fair-minded, gently honest, aware, empathic, and an agent for change. I have to start with myself, though. I have to be gently honest with myself. I work on being aware of and kind to myself. And though I loathe pithy little sayings, the one about being the change you wish to see in the world is definitely true. I am my own change agent. It really does have to start with me.