Stereotypes inevitably drive society. It's sad to say, but there has been very little hope in changing that for centuries. We've all fallen victim to stereotypes in our lifetime as well as fallen into the habit of using them way too often to label people. And for the very few individuals who have been able to avoid both scenarios, I applaud you, because due to conformity to society, that is a huge feat.
Stereotypes are defined as "a common form of discrimination that can be detrimental to those who experience it. People are often generalized and labeled based on gender, age, appearance, ethnicity, religion or any other factor in their identity."
Every stereotype that we choose to adopt and use towards others is unfair. We don't get to know the individual from the inside out. We base our judgment on what we see and this labeling inevitably changes the way these people view themselves as well. They feel as if the world is against them because "being yourself" becomes a travesty.
I'm sure you're probably thinking that I have no idea what I'm talking about growing up as a straight, white-privileged female. I've probably never fallen victim to stereotypes or witnessed them firsthand. But I would like to assure you that you've got it all wrong.
Sure, I've been lucky to grow up with two amazing parents who have allowed me to be myself and to pursue my dreams. They've taught me right from wrong and allowed me to make my own decisions. And I will be first to admit that I have done my share of judging because let's be honest... we all do it. I'm not saying I'm perfect and have never stereotyped someone. But I have never prided myself on judging others to make myself seem better either. That has never been a goal of mine. Since going off to college, I have gained many new perspectives. Avoiding stereotypes has maintained it's position at the top of that list.
Over the past few years, I have met some amazing people. They have changed my life for the better. These people have fallen victim to stereotypes just like everyone else. As much as they try to ignore the way society tries to label them, it can prove to be a daunting task. They may find it hard to admit, but it also takes it's toll on their self-esteem at times, too. With their permission, I've decided to tell their stories.
Morgan Wimbrow. She's one of my best friends. I've only known her for two years now, but in this short time, I can say she is one of the strongest women I know. She has been facing Lyme Disease for almost two years now. But you wouldn't know that if you looked at her. She puts on a brave and resilient face every single day. But under that fearless exterior, she's enduring pain that I'm sure can be excruciating at times. This invisible disease is debilitating in it's own way. But, what saddens me the most is that this disease has taken something away from Morgan that a lot of us take for granted. She has played sports her entire life and her passion for lacrosse is contagious. Her health is forbidding her from playing the sport she loves, and there is nothing she can do about it.
With that, I would like to talk about the stereotype of using "NARP." If you're unaware of the meaning, it is an acronym to label individuals as "non-athletic regular people". It has been used ever since I can remember. Being an athlete myself, I never really thought about how the use of that label may leave non-athletes or former athletes feeling. But when I found myself facing the reality of never playing a sport again freshman year when I was cut from the soccer team, it hit me. It makes it seem as if athletes are superior and that non-athletes can't be extraordinary as well. That isn't the case.
When talking to Morgan about the stereotype, she offered me this insight:
" The negative connotation people put towards being a NARP just doesn't settle right with me. When people say, Oh gosh, now I'm offically a NARP' or, 'I'm over the NARP life once this injury heals.' It's easy for people like me to take offense to this because we didn't choose to be put in this category; many would do anything to be an athlete. No one should assume or judge before they know the real situation. People may not be able to play sports for all sorts of reasons (medical issues, mental issues, financial issues, etc). They often envy those who may take being an athlete for granted. Every day is a constant struggle for me because I am constantly hoping I can be an athlete again. I don't consider being a non-athlete a bad thing either. I've learned so much about myself and my friends while being a NARP as they call it. I've been able to refocus on my academics and have been able to manage my stress levels better. If you happen to be just like me and the NARP life chooses you, it's OK to move on and continue with your life! It may feel like the end of the world, but it's not. Find happiness doing whatever you are destined to do! "
After thinking about it more, no one is "regular" either, as the stereotype labels non-athletes in being. We are all unique and have amazing things to offer the world. Just because you aren't born with athletic abilities, that doesn't mean you aren't as passionate about sports as the next person. Maybe your passion doesn't reside in sports; your talents prove to be just as important. This label is the reason for the divide between athletes and non-athletes. This is often why we are viewed as "jocks". It flat out makes us sound conceited like the world only revolves around them.
Annie Bashara. When I first met her, I never imagined that we would become as close as we are. It seemed like we were totally different people. One of the best decisions I made was getting to know this bad-ass chick. She has a heart of gold and will be there for you through thick and thin. She is one of the most selfless individuals I have ever met. Her hardworking attitude is contagious. And the best thing of all, she never lets her sexuality define her. I can only dream of having the confidence and swagger she has. If there is one person that inspires me to never accept labels, it's this girl.
With all of that being said, she is constantly fighting the all-too-common lesbian stereotypes. Being labeled as a "butch" or a "dyke" is something she knows is occurring because of the way she chooses to dress and her short hair. Labeling someone based on appearance is just not right. As cliched as it may seem, don't judge a book by it's cover. If someone is most comfortable in men's clothing, then let them feel confident. If you actually took the time to get to know her, you would know that she donated her long, beautiful hair to a company making wigs for children fighting cancer. She raised over $2,000 for childhood cancer research by shaving her head as well. She fights stereotypes every single day, but she knows that their fight is much greater. A truly incredible individual is much more than their looks; the true beauty comes from within.
After talking to Annie about these particular stereotypes, she said:
" Being labeled a 'butch' or a 'dyke' is an unfair stereotype. All people are different and deserve to be seen for more than just their sexuality and the way they look. While many people find themselves tied to the LGBTQ community, I don't want to be strictly conformed to that so-called box. I want to be seen as much more than only a gay woman. I think that the stereotype needs to disappear just like all other stereotypes. We have to stop labeling groups of people based on appearance. Everyone deserves to be seen as a whole person. "
While all stereotypes are not always negative, society seems to amplify the bad ones. It infuriates me to hear people label others without even having a conversation with them. I have made it my life mission from here on out to delete stereotypes from my life. You never know what someone may be fighting or dealing with so it's really important to watch what your saying. Stereotypes have created a society of hate and discrimination. It's going to take a village to make a change.
While stereotypes have existed throughout history's entirety, in recent years, there has been a vast movement to try and put an end to many of them. Let's finish what we started and end stereotypes for good. We all deserve to live a happy and free life to express ourselves without judgment. In order for everyone to live an authentic life, we have to rid society of the negative stereotypes. Keep an open mind and be accepting of others. Put yourself in their shoes before casting labels upon them. If you don't know them, get to know them. You may be surprised how your view of the world may change.
I'll leave you with this eye-opening video I just watched. Let's be the generation that ends the scrutiny we show towards others!