“You may write me down in history, with your bitter twisted lies,” wrote Maya Angelou. “You may trod me in the very dirt, yet still like dust, I’ll rise.” These few lines of poetry always seem to comfort me when I’m at my very lowest—when I feel six feet under in the soil. Her words provide comfort, and make me believe in a human’s ability to rise, and to rise above. With so much disunity in this world today, with so many people whose aim is to fracture and maim, I find it increasingly more important to align yourself with goodness, with what you believe in your heart and not with what you are fed by anyone else. When I was thirteen years old, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and everyone labeled her as the “sick” mom. The “weak” mom. The “single” mom. At thirteen, I couldn’t figure out why this bothered me so much. Now I realize it was because in my head, she wasn’t just sick. She was strong. She was fighting, she was winning, and she was more than that disease. People do this not just with sickness but with every day adjectives. For example, I was one of two Jewish kids at my middle school, the other being my twin sister, and for a long time, the labels they stapled to my faith were what dragged me down to the floor. Their weight seemed impossibly heavy, until I realized, that all I had to do was write my own. When I learned that lesson, I could truly rise above the negative comments, the ignorance, the bullies. People are so quick to label and ascribe their opinions to your skin, and we have not been taught to write our own—to rise above. But right now, I’m going to discuss being labeled. I’m going to discuss self-esteem, and how we don’t need to rely on others to provide us a platform to confidence. We have hands and minds that can weave our own tools, create our own opinions of worthiness and self-assurance. Today, I’m going to discuss how to be the best and happiest you you can be. And just as Maya Angelou said, “If my sassiness offends you…still like air, I’ll rise.”
From my perspective, we created the word and for a reason. For example, you can look at me and label me “woman.” You can also label me “young.” Like those kids back in middle school you can label me “the Jewish girl.” Does this mean I have to conform and hide in the shadow of these daunting and big-picture descriptions? No. It means I am defined, labeled, as a woman—a young woman. I am also defined by my hair color, my race, my intellect, my voice, my sexuality, my message. I am a woman. And. I think in the fray of today people forget that I can call someone “straight,” without it being an attack. Because I can call someone “straight,” and call them sensitive to the plight of the LGBTQ community. If you don’t like how other people label you, then simply give yourself more—encompass everything you are in as many labels as you need. I don’t need to be confined by what other people call me because we created the word and for a reason. Once we realize that we can be as much as we want, once we realize that we can be a whole slew of run-on sentences, we start to appreciate just how much we are, and just how much we’re worth.
I believe that definitions are multifaceted, and as an aspiring writer, there is nothing more important to me than words. Words are forever expanding, forever evolving, and forever tools for us to use, craft our bones from lessons and chip like chisels at our perceived flaws. We can mold ourselves into the divinity we seek, with simple words, and belief. William Shakespeare, one of the most famous writers of all time said, “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” So why do we care so much about what other people call us? If I call someone a table, yes that’s kind of rude and a weird thing to call them, but that doesn’t diminish their worth to those who love them, or their beauty to those who find that person attractive. Just because what I call you or label you doesn’t align with what you want, doesn’t mean you aren’t any of those things...because a rose by any other name, does smell as sweet.
The road to confidence is a bumpy one, I don’t think anyone will deny that. As Gene Wolf said, “people don’t want other people to be people.” And I think the sooner we realize this connection, the closer we get to understanding and allowing others to be themselves. I propose an idea—the idea that we as human beings look in the mirror and recognize our downfalls, our faults, our flaws, without allowing them to engulf us. When my mom had no hair and was sick to her stomach from chemotherapy, of course people called her sick. But one day, I looked at her and said, “Mom, you’re just healing.” Sometimes, it truly is about perspective. For example, the moon has two sides, as does every human. But do we fault the moon for having parts of itself that aren’t showcased daily? Do we fault the moon for having craters and pockmarks? No. So let’s not fault ourselves for being balanced, and communally flawed.
“I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. I find that no one worries as much about you as you worry they do. That you know your insecurities like the taste of your own tongue, but not many others can pinpoint the exact moment when you were taught to hate yourself for everything you’re not, instead of loving everything that you are. And when hypotheticals, “What if?” become your only motivation, confidence is looking down on you from a very high slope—a mountain ringed in the realization that happiness comes from within. Acceptance comes from your own heart, when you allow labels that don’t fit to be returned to the store, and you buy yourself all the good ones you deserve.
Teenage girls get a lot of slack nowadays. We are called thin, curvy, big, small, and all of those are simple descriptions. Simple adjectives. Simpllabels. And that’s okay. Because I am thin. I am tall. I am. And. These gifted labels are simple lists that other people add to, but ultimately you comprise the beautiful human being that has been shaped by life’s tests, tragedies, and triumphs. Label yourself not based on contrast or comparisons, but based on what you see in your actions and character, and simply what stares back at you when you peer into a mirror. My mom wrote a book when I was younger, and within this book, there was this magic mirror that reflected how other people saw you. This mirror gave the main character, Olivia, the gift to realize her own vitality and brilliance because when other characters looked at her, they didn’t see the mole she was self-conscious of, or the past mistakes she had made. They saw her strength.
A recent study by the Dove self-esteem project reveals that forty-seven percent of young girls (aged eleven to fourteen) admitted to having low self-esteem which held them back from participating in activities that showcased their bodies. This phenomenon of inadequacy does not just apply to teenage girls, but instead spans every age, and gender. When we stop seeing labels as a bad thing, when we stop seeing only our faults, when we cease comparison, we can achieve confidence. “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours,” said Richard Bach. Label yourself with liberation, not boundary, assets, not flaws, and when people do it for you, be aware that your opinion of yourself matters exponentially more than theirs. Maya Angelou asked in one of her poems, “do you want to see me broken?” Sadly, some people do, which is why we fight to rise and to rise above, to take what other people call us and staple a comma onto all of it—we fight to rise and to say “I am what other people say…and.”

About the Author

Sophia DuRose

Sophia DuRose is an eighteen year old writer from Orlando, FL, with a steadfast determination to pursue her love for writing. She is a member of the Florida State Poets Association and has completed a 180 hour MFA level poetry course, on scholarship with 'Twelve Chairs.' Every extracurricular activity she does is dwarfed in magnitude by her love for writing and reading, as well as her ambition to be the best artist she can be. Currently, she is studying for her degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

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