Nathaniel Lambert Ph.D.

Strive to Thrive

5 Dangers of Labels and Stereotypes

It sucks to be labeled, but what exactly are the consequences?

Posted Jul 24, 2014

“Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.” –Martina Navratilova

Labels can be very annoying and harmful. One problem many of us have with stereotypes is that they can be blatantly incorrect. For instance, there’s a stereotype of short guys as being immature and childish. When I was in high school, the yearbook asked several questions such as, “Who is most likely to succeed in life?” or “Who is most likely to become a movie star?” I remember finding out that I had received the most votes in my class for being the “Most likely person to never grow up.” I remember being infuriated because although physically small, I felt like I was emotionally very mature. I felt like I had been stereotyped because of my height.

Even if the stereotype may be correct, it can still be emotionally damaging. For instance, there’s clearly a stereotype that short people can’t play basketball very well. This stereotype proved to be true for me though. Some other challenges of stereotypes that were mentioned by those we interviewed were that amazing people of a different race can be perceived as a threat simply because of their skin color. Others may accuse you of getting unfair privileges because of affirmative action; you may be excluded from activities; or you may just simply get tired of being defined by one physical trait.

Though many people who do not witness racism every day may think it is a problem of the past, those who are targeted know the sad truth. Queen Latifah tells about her experiences, reminding us that stereotypes are still around us. She tells, “I don't have to really be in the '60s. Every time I hail a cab in New York, and they pass me by and pick up the white person, then I get a dose of it ... I grew up with that.”

The rest of this post has now been published in my book Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different in Kindle or hard copy. The book includes experiences from 74 people I interviewed who share their struggles and coping strategies on the topics of relationships, belonging, standing out, self-acceptance, working against labels, gaining understanding and compassion, and personal growth. Check it out!

“I used to worry about the labels others placed on me … until I realized my limitations weren’t coming from their labels, but from my own.” –Steve Maraboli