I Beg Your Pardon, But I Am So Much More Than a Label!
by Maria DiGiorgio • Commack, NY
Have you ever noticed how people are routinely categorized by society? From the time we arrive on this earth, we are subject to labels. Titles, if you will, that suggest we belong to a particular group or category of people, based upon our physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, cultural and attitudinal characteristics, as well as our interests, abilities and proclivities.
Little girls are said to be: “sugar and spice and everything nice”, while little boys are deemed to be: “rough and tumble”. As we grow, we become parts of larger groups in society, based upon the aforementioned characteristics: “petite”, “tall and lean”, “voluptuous”, “ husky”, “muscular”; “the bookworms”, “the jocks”, “the creative types”, “popular” or not, etc.
The labels work on our psyche, all the while we grow and develop. Even if we’ve changed categories throughout our development (as most people will), we somehow become defined by the labels used to describe us. Some labels are admirable and we are wont to be described as such; others are much less desirable, as we know.
At this point in my life, there is one such group I may chronologically belong to, but object quite vehemently to the pejorative title or label, as we have come to know it. This would be the ever popular, always demeaning (at least as far as I have known it to be) category that states I am “middle-aged”. At 47, this may well be sociologically, scientifically and chronologically correct, but the sound of this particular label is nothing short of miserable! It implies that I am “over the hill” or fast approaching it, that I am no longer “in my prime”, (in fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth) and that the “rose is (pretty much) off my bloom”. Now show me a group of people who would vie for this label? . . . Certainly not the people for whom this category is referring to!
Perhaps it is the myriad images we’ve seen over the years, depicting people of this age appearing less physically attractive, less physically able, and looking forward to the end of their lives, with some semblance of integrity and personal dignity intact. Perhaps the cacophony of advertisements one is bound to hear (although society may imply difficulty with that, too) we are bombarded with when watching television during prime time, that would indicate most everyone over 35 could well be suffering from seemingly endless ailments. These ailments would require medication (with side effects my own child remarked most recently, would be: “worse than the condition, itself!”). She is, by the way, most certainly in the “brainy” category, without a doubt (or objection), on my part!
But honestly, what about the notion that people in the middle years of their lives (assuming as we do, that the majority of people these days can live well into their eighties, nineties and beyond) are really just getting started, in essence, in the business of living. Yes, most people at this juncture, have serious relationships, careers, families. Many of these life experiences, however, do not always take place when we are as fully equipped emotionally and psychologically, as we may be physically, to truly embrace them to the fullest. At this stage of my life, I am becoming more confident in the choices I make, the decisions rendered and the convictions I hold. I do not wish to succumb to society’s labels, titles or categories - certainly not without questioning their relevance or validity. I feel that I am coming into my own – embracing the characteristics that make up the person I am. I am a singularly unique individual (who, yes, may possess certain attributes or flaws that many others do, as well), but one who feels empowered by acknowledging these traits, over time and through experience, as seen by myself, not as defined by society.
This kind of clarity can only begin to flourish, at this time in one’s life. Contrary to society’s debilitating and somewhat condescending image of people living through the middle years of their lives, we are, in fact, stronger and more capable, in a multitude of ways. For me, that is the category I choose to be part of!
Maria DiGiorgio is an educator, specializing in early childhood and special education. She is also a designer, an avid reader and a devoted wife and mother.