There was a time when I labeled myself constantly. Some examples: Finance major. Cat lady. City girl. Feminist. So-and-so’s girlfriend. (No, the irony of the last two labels are not lost on me.)
In the past, I’ve been outspoken about “who I am”, but all that’s ever gotten me is grief coming from people who like me in a particular box and want me to stay there. If and when I dared to move outside of that box, they would throw my earlier declaration against me. “But you said this!” they’d remind me, as if I’m being a hypocrite rather than someone who simply changed her mind. And this is why I don’t like to label myself anymore.
Ever since I began studying nutrition, multiple experts have convinced me that they’ve stumbled on the perfect diet or superfood or supplement. I’ve been my own guinea pig time and time again, only to discover and rediscover that my body is its own expert.
Here’s an example. In my early 20s, nutrition experts convinced me it was healthier to be a vegan. I decided to try it. Bear in mind that 15 years ago, it was much more limiting to be a vegan as there were a lot less options in a traditional grocery store or restaurant than there are now. My diet was heavy on pasta and grains, and I didn’t feel so great. So I quit after a couple of months.
In my early 30s, I gave it another shot. This time, I was much more educated in how I went about it, and there were so many more options. I was very intentional about combining my foods to form complete proteins, eating lots of leafy greens and other sources of iron, and avoiding overly processed vegan junk foods. However, my energy was lower than ever, and I stopped getting my period. Right around the 14-month mark, I had to travel to Paris for work.
Being a vegan in Paris takes the strategic planning of a military leader. Butter in Paris is practically required. Also, because I was there for work, I didn’t have time to traipse about the city finding specialty vegan places. I said f*&k it and ate whatever I wanted: buttery croissants, yogurt, and on a particularly memorable night, steak with potatoes fried in duck fat. I felt incredible, and I got my period on the flight home.
Today, my diet contains a lot of vegan foods and meals. However, I also eat some animal foods whenever the urge strikes me, though I’m extremely particular about sourcing. And my body feels amazing because I’m listening to it instead of some external label, voice or criteria telling me what to do.
This applies to areas outside of my plate too. When people ask about my religion or political affiliation, I don’t have an easy answer because I don’t label myself in these areas. I like to keep an open mind, and I find that labels box me in to a narrower point of view.
A great example of this is when the vaccines rolled out. Where I live, I wasn’t eligible to receive it until the end of April. On top of that, I tested positive for Covid in early February so I had CDC-recognized immunity until early May. While many friends and family members got vaccinated as soon as they could, I was comfortable waiting. I wanted time to discuss my numerous questions and concerns with functional medicine doctors, who I’m lucky enough to have access to.
However, throughout March and April, people kept asking me if I was vaccinated. I either told them that I wasn’t eligible yet or that I was still in the 3 month post-Covid window. If the dialogue continued beyond that, sometimes I voiced my hesitations and explained why I was fine with waiting.
Let’s just say that this did not go over well with many people. I had the term “anti-vaxxer” thrown at me on more than one occasion. This, along with the phrase “I believe in science”, became constant refrains from people when talking to or about me (oh, if you thought this stopped after high school, you’d be wrong).
Although initially hurt, I eventually came to realize that these reactions were a result of binary thinking, which is the same type of thinking that leads to people deciding you’re a good or bad person based on who you vote for. Binary thinkers interpret someone choosing another way as saying their way is “wrong”. And no one likes to be wrong.
Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of practice with being bullied. I know how to endure it while I stay true to myself. I asked my questions, did my research, allowed my thinking to expand and evolve, and made the best decision for me.
As a result, I’m able to listen to people on both sides of this issue and many other issues like it. What’s more, I find that people are more open to my point of view because I’m not judging theirs (or insulting them). Most of all, I’m much happier this way.
When I label myself, I limit myself. My self-talk becomes a series of “should” phrases, and the word “should” feels like a prison to me. It takes away my agency, my acknowledgment of what I truly want, and the freedom for that to change.
Whether or not we eat, pray or vote the same, I want to listen, I want to learn, and above all, I want to love.