The effects of labels on society

Written by Nikki Hinshaw, Editor in Chief

As society has evolved, the media and personal opinions have prompted people to become self-conscious citizens obsessed with the labels that characterize varying aspects of life. From designer clothes to relationship statuses, job titles to achievements within educational institutions, people have been forced to place great emphasis on acquiring the most socially acceptable, respectable labels. In the quest for the top tiers of public opinion, every label that isn’t the best loses meaning.

For years, people around the world have unknowingly sabotaged the satisfaction with simply being the best that a person can be by striving for often unrealistic and ridiculous labels. No longer is it acceptable to move through aspects of life without defining them, as a definition has become the requirement for establishing a relationship, job or accomplishment as a credible event. People in the modern world do not settle for situations that don’t fit the previously defined explanations of society.

Suddenly an engagement is not a celebration of a couple’s love; it’s a hurried placeholder on the road to a more certifiable marriage. A salutatorian is not a student who displays admirable scholastic effort, but someone who fell short of being the ultimate valedictorian. A Target-brand purse that serves the need and want of a consumer is frowned upon by the large portion of today’s society that consumes itself with the desire of acquiring the label of a Kate Spade counterpart.

The importance society places on labels is especially evident within relationships. As time has progressed, there has been a shift in the definitions of relationships. From the past in which taking someone out on a date constituted “dating,” while the present involves “talking,” then becoming a “thing,” and eventually to “dating.” As people navigate through these absurd relationship stages, there is constant pressure from social media to make a relationship “real” by posting the status on their sites.

Also, outside sources such as friends and family question constantly about “defining the relationship,” or “are you official?” What happened to letting the feelings speak for themselves? Our society has erupted into an egotistical institution that requires a name in order to accept a relationship as real. However true the feelings between a couple are, the relationship is instantly undermined and its credibility is lessened in the minds of others if it hasn’t been labeled.

This is prominent in bonds between homosexual couples as well. Although the love between these couples could rival those of any heterosexual couple’s, restrictions on recognizing this relationship as a legal structure immediately alter the opinions of those examining it. Suddenly those couples are denied the same acknowledgement as heterosexual couples, all because of the lack of a legal label. Society places too much emphasis on defining relationships through words when the true test should only focus on the feelings between the people involved in the relationship.

Labels are also involved in other aspects of life, including material items. The media portrays the rich and famous, adorned in the most coveted labels, inflicting pressure among the public to reach that status. A pair of Louboutin’s is held in higher regard than Converse, implying wealth and a high social status. Although a person might enjoy the style or the fit of the Converse better, and they might use the same material as the more expensive shoe, people are often forced by their need to be recognized to purchase items with the label. Society’s concern with labels stems from the most sinful of human emotions, including greed and jealousy. Outer influences have created a vicious mindset of needing to hold the best labels in order to be the best according to the views of others and in turn, the view of one’s self.

The importance of labels has extended not only on superficial levels, but also into respected fields such as professional workplaces and schools. People have become dissatisfied with their job titles if they know there are higher labels available. Although this drive to further oneself is positive, all too frequently it is prompted for the wrong reasons. There could be pressure from family and friends that inquire why someone is not CEO even though they are CFO. Often, the public does not applaud a title that is simply “good,” as most people are always seeking to be the best. Jealousy directed toward a higher-ranked co-worker or personal friend results in resentment of job titles until the ultimate label is achieved.

Also, in educational institutions, students face pressure to gain as many labels in order to present themselves as perfect college candidates. Being a member of a club isn’t held in as high regard as being an officer, even if the participation is similar. Being a 4.0 GPA-student isn’t impressive as the first-ranked classmate also has a 4.0 GPA, is a National Merit semi-finalist, the president of student body, the captain of the soccer team and the secretary of NHS. These labels are what make a student in the present day, not the individual’s achievements or unique facets. It doesn’t matter how fitting a student would be in a particular college, as long as there is someone who fits and exceeds the label requirements.

Unfortunately, although I recognize the idiocy of labels and titles, I often fall victim to them. With the world surrounding me being so dependent upon them, it is easier to succumb to society’s twisted priorities and revel in attaining the labels I despise. I am envious not only of those who obtain labels, but of those who could care less about them.

It takes a certain amount of courage and self-confidence to be secure in a relationship not confined by meaningless definitions, to flaunt Goodwill bargains without regard for labels or what others think, to accept that a job title and educational status is defined by an individual’s best effort instead of his effort compared to others’.

As long as society and its influences place an importance on labels, people will continue to strive to attain these titles, until they either reach society’s accepted labels or become content with the absence of them.