beauty before the beast


Been thinking a lot lately about the idea of stereotypes, labels, judgments and beauty standards.

An article I previously re-blogged talked about doing away with beauty standards and this is inherently to do with labels and negative undercurrents in the way we think.

It is standard discourse now – and has been for a long time – to call for the breakdown of stereotypes and labels.

I understand why people call for this, but I think it is impossible.

How can you breakdown something which is a fundamental part of language and a way in which our brain internalises information?

We understand something is what it is, what it does and why it does it, based on putting it in particular categories based on our sensory interpretations. We understand a table is a table because it has legs, stands off the floor and you put things on it (loosely speaking). It feels solid, it looks like a table. There. We have subconsciously defined it. Given it a label, a category, a stereotype, with no conscious effort.

If we didn’t have such cemented categories and labels then we would find it increasingly difficult to determine between a table, a chair and a shelf – for example. I understand that tables and people are not the same! I am not suggesting that I am like a table. I don’t imagine it would end well for the person who decided to put their feet up on my back. A table is not reactive (technological innovation not withstanding), but people are. We are sentient, which is where the labelling issue blurs.

So how – when the whole concept behind the human language is to apply a label to something in order to understand it – are we to break down these categories and stereotypes?

Instead of disbanding these labels, perhaps what we should do is aim for a more fluid method of understanding and internalising the information we receive about someone or something?

A radical overhaul of how we think and talk about each other, as opposed to how we categorise people to build assumptions about them and their potential behaviour?

Is it so terrible to apply a label and make assumptions providing that you understand that they are just that, assumptions?

Were we not to take advantage of our ability to reflect, question and be reflexive, might we do away with the emphasis placed on stereotypes and labels as opposed to disbanding them altogether?

Putting our efforts into changing the way we think about ourselves, each other and the things around us rather than fighting to disband labels and categories can help breakdown the issues associated with stereotypes in the first place. In doing so, they may not carry the same weight they do now, and help breed an environment where people see the beauty before the beast.