38% of girls ages 8 to 12 told us they’re jealous of the way other girls look.
In middle school, labels are everywhere…and sometimes they hurt. But you don’t have to accept them!
Nerd. Loser. Jock. Drama Queen. Brainiac. At some point, just about everyone in middle school will be slapped with a label based on her (or his) clothes, looks, grades, hobbies…whatever. And it hurts. The words can roll around in your mind until they begin to feel like the truth, eating away at your self-confidence and taking away your ability to determine who you are for yourself. It would be nice if you could stop other people from judging you, or at least control what they say about you. But that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. You can change how those labels affect you, however. With a little practice, you can develop an inner compass that tells you when you’re going in the best direction for you. Here, we’ll show you how…
“I’ve felt limited by labels when I can’t decide what to wear in the morning. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll look ‘off’ to people, even if I really do like my outfit! But I’ve also realized that my real friends like me for who I am, and they will not even look at or care about my clothes.” -Raina, age 12, Ind.
Is your taste in clothing so predictable that your friends could choose your outfits as easily as you do? Have you ever felt the urge to do something different—get a short haircut, take an art class, go out for a sport—only to shy away because you’re “not that type”? If so, odds are you’ve gotten a bit too comfortable with a label. Whether you see yourself as being normal, a tomboy, or one of the smart girls, you may be letting that label limit your choices. And when that happens, the parts of your personality that don’t fit just get ignored. Remember, labels are too simple to tell the whole story about a person. Don’t be afraid to branch out and explore different sides of yourself, even if it means trying, wearing, or liking things that fly in the face of your usual style. And keep in mind, too, that just as you’re a complex human being, not a stereotype, so are other people. If your friend who has always been a tomboy wakes up one day in the mood to wear a pretty pink sundress, don’t tease her about it—tell her how great she looks.
“Last fall a girl from my school came over and we had so much fun jumping on my trampoline and playing with my karaoke machine. She told me she’d thought I was weird because of what someone else said, but she didn’t think that anymore. It made me feel great to know that if someone just takes the time to get to know me that I am a likeable person.” -Rebecca, age 11, Ind.
Is your school’s cafeteria divided like the sections of a tray, with smarties, jockettes, goths, geeks, and other “types” all broken into separate camps? One major way that labels can hurt you is by stopping great friendships from forming between you and someone with a different label. If you’ve been ruling out potential friendships because you see yourself as a creative-writing girly-girl and you’re worried you’d have nothing in common with a sporty girl or a science-nerd, it’s time to meet the people behind the stereotypes. From now on, make a point of smiling and saying hi to everyone you get within three feet of at school. Don’t be surprised if you start having great conversations with people who weren’t even on your radar as possible friends. After all, people who are different from you often have the most to teach you.
“I am small for my age, so I’ve been called midget, shorty, etc. I don’t feel limited by these labels, though. I think people make fun of others because they have low self-esteem and want to make themselves feel better. It just makes me more determined to show them I can do anything they can do (and more!).” -Kate, age 12, Ky.
Your friend says you’re weird for liking the color orange. Your classmates called you Geek Girl when you scored highest on the science final. You know you shouldn’t keep thinking about it, but when someone slaps you with a not-so-nice label, it’s not always easy to zap the insult from your mind. If you’re having trouble brushing it off, try this trick: Look for the compliment buried beneath the dig. If someone calls you a geek, hold onto just the good bit (“I’m smart!”) and then toss out the rest. Or, if the original comment was purely mean and hurtful, give yourself an honest compliment that’s the opposite of the insult. “I’m actually a winner for refusing to take that dare. I was strong and I didn’t give in.” You can even take a word that’s supposed to be bad and turn it into something you’re proud of. “Yes, I am weird, and I like being weird, because having my own style makes me happy.” You don’t have to accept what someone else says about you. You have the power to replace it with a true and positive message that you tell yourself.
“It makes me angry when other kids call me a nerd just because I am in a challenge class for advanced fourth and fifth graders. We work really hard in our class and I’m proud of myself. But the friends I used to hang out with in my regular class treat me differently. It’s frustrating because I’m still the same person.” -Austin, age 10, Ind.
What if you have been truly hurt by labels in the past? Maybe you got labeled a dork or a loser just for standing up for yourself or someone else. Or maybe the activities that bring you the most happiness have gotten you branded with negative labels. We know it’s not easy to hold your head up, be yourself, and keep doing your thing when other people make fun of you. But think about it: If you give up and make being liked by everyone, no matter what, your big goal in life, then you’re giving up on being you…and it’s just not worth it. Instead of ditching your favorite activities just because you’re sick of being called a skater, a gamer, an art freak or whatever, decide to stop listening to the people who insist on judging you. Because when you start appreciating yourself for who you are—and you refuse to let labels stop you—a bit of magic happens: You find true friends who appreciate you, too. In fact, we couldn’t put it better than one of our readers:
“Someone actually asked me, ‘What do you label yourself?’ and I said simply, ‘I am me, and no one can label that.’ People should not have to label their friends, because true friends don’t care about labels.” -Elise, age 11, Ky.
Originally printed in Discovery Girls magazine. Share this with your daughter.