It’s the first day of school. I wake up at 6:45, get dressed, eat breakfast, and head out with all my school supplies: a Chromebook, a pencil, some paper, binders, a backpack…
…and a label.
When we were in 3rd grade, we were all friends. We could hang out with whoever we wanted. We could be whoever we wanted. But in the summer between 3rd and 4th grade, everything changed. Girls who I had hung out with a week before school started now acted like I had never existed. The girls I had made fairy houses with and had told ghost stories to were gone, replaced by groups that wouldn’t accept me.
I had been labeled a Goody Goody.
Over three months, the things I could say, wear, or do without getting sideway glances and snide comments diminished until all I was left with were a few broken pieces of myself.
I started to wonder if other kids maybe felt the same way I did. So I hatched a plan to find out. I put together a survey and asked middle school students questions about labeling. Here are some of the labels that I heard back: Nerd, Drama Queen, Dumb Blond, Loser, Freak, Weirdo, Popular Girl, Dumb Jock, Science Dork. I then created stickers with these middle school labels and randomly placed the stickers on each seat in our school auditorium. At an assembly, I asked every kid in the school to put them on. Everyone was able to feel at the same time what labeling really meant.
I later did the same experiment with adults at a Rotary Club and learned that the pain of middle school labeling doesn’t go away.
Labeling limits our beautifully complex, multi-faceted selves to one word. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t live our life to our fullest potential. While, realistically, labels won’t go anywhere, we need to push past them. We need to question the labels we’ve been given and the labels we give others. It’s only then that we can see the potential in others and in ourselves.
With a Perspective, I’m Martha Fishburne.
Martha Fishburne is an 8th grade student in Marin.