Imagine you enter a bar, and you see a pretty girl wearing a cute outfit. You compliment her sense of style and find that she’s sociable and amusing. She seems to get along great with everyone. She smiles, she laughs, she drinks. Then, imagine if she said she was an Astrophysicist. Would you be surprised? Would you change your original opinion of her?
As soon as you saw her, you formed an idea in your head of who she was. Our society has raised us to believe that we can judge someone based on their appearance and put them into their own little labeled box. Once someone is in this box, it’s almost impossible to get out. No matter how much you may learn about this person, your original idea will always stay with you. Why, though? Why can’t we allow people to be multifaceted without our initial judgement?
All of us have been labeled and have labeled other people throughout our lives. The classic teen labels such as “jock,” “nerd,” “stoner,” etc. have been around since before we were born. Everyone has their own little place in this world, and for most, if not all, of our lives, that’s what’s been comfortable and accepted.
But now, I’m asking all of you to think outside of the box, literally. As a society, we need to stop putting people in a box, especially women, and expecting them to stay there. We are so much more than the labels placed on us, and we shouldn’t be afraid to stray away from them. Just because we are one thing, doesn’t mean we can’t be hundreds more.
As a woman in STEM, I have seen my fellow female classmates and I put in boxes more times than I can count. Going into engineering, I knew the bias existed, but I never thought I would experience it as much as I do. It comes from all around. Teachers, classmates, even random acquaintances. The amount of times I’ve told someone I was studying engineering and their immediate response was, “Really? I would have never thought that.” They saw me and immediately put me in a box. A smart girl can’t be pretty or funny or “desirable.”
A friend of mine had someone tell her they “can’t imagine them dating anyone” because she is extremely intelligent. She’s simply smart. In contrast, a conventionally pretty woman is immediately assumed to not be bright. A woman who expresses her sexuality can’t have a brain, and is simply seen as an object. But a “nerdy” woman is supposed to be quiet and docile, and never express her sexuality.
We put people in boxes without first knowing who they are. It’s second nature because we’ve been taught it since we came out of the womb. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point. Psychologically, our minds like to put objects into categories so they are easier to understand and identify. We tend to ignore personality traits that challenge the box we have placed a person in, and even if we do change our minds about them, we just put them in another box.
Immediately after seeing or meeting someone, we form an assumption of them and most times are surprised when we find out more. Why? Because people do not fit in boxes. People are multifaceted, unique and extraordinary. One woman may be a gorgeous model but also is incredibly intelligent. For example, Natalie Portman is a beauty icon, but she also graduated from Harvard. Audrey Hepburn was seen only as a style and beauty icon, but did you know she was also a special goodwill ambassador for UNICEF? Millions of people put these women in a box, and did not care to find out more. So, how do people free their boxes? Well, it starts by looking within.
Admit it. You have refused to allow yourself to leave your own box at times. You have been afraid to express your own beliefs and interests, because it doesn’t align with “who you are.” It’s not shameful, and frankly, it’s not surprising. We are our own worst critics. Personally, it took me years to allow myself to exit my box, and I still struggle with it. When the entire world has told us we are one thing, we believe them.
Though, just because we are one thing doesn’t mean we can’t be other things. So I challenge you to look inside yourself, and decide what YOU really WANT to be. Not what others have labeled you as, and not who you think you should be. Decide what you believe and how you want to express yourself, and then follow through. Start saying what you want to say and doing what you want to do. If the people around you disagree, then find new people to surround yourself with.
Once you start allowing yourself to be whoever you want, you will begin to allow others to do the same. You will stop automatically putting people in boxes because you will finally understand that everyone is multifaceted. When you have decided that you can be anything you want, you encourage other people to do so as well. Everyone needs to look inside themselves and realize they are more than they have been labeled as. If everyone does this, then labeling will be an issue of the past.
You can be anything you want to be. You can be a genius and also a “jock.” You can be an artist but also a party girl. You are not one-dimensional. The beauty of life is that we change and evolve over time. Who you were in high school may be completely different from who you are in college. Maybe you’re the exact same, but you are finally choosing to outwardly express yourself.
We all need to turn inside ourselves and figure out who we really are before we judge other people. When you focus on yourself, you have less time to put other people in a box. And if we all stop putting each other in a box, we open up vast possibilities in a brand new world. Now, when you enter the bar and see a pretty girl wearing a cute outfit, you don’t make assumptions about her. You let her express herself however she pleases.