unlabel yourself



“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman


A friend posted a picture on her Facebook page that grabbed my attention and made me laugh out loud.

A sleek male yoga instructor strikes a warrior pose in his studio….while lighting a cigarette. The copy reads: KALE AND CIGARETTES. BE A CONTRADICTION.

(I immediately found and Liked Kirk Hensler’s Facebook page, where he encourages you to “meditate on that shit.”)

Something happens when you mash opposites together – not to shock (or just to shock) but to express something authentic about who you think you are.

It gets our attention. It fascinates us.

We are hardwired to respond to novelty. Part of us is always scanning for the unsafe. When something new and different wanders into the landscape, that primitive part of our brain elbows the rest of us to attention. Different poses the possibility of disruption, of challenge, of threat (or possible mating potential, which can be more or less the same thing). Until we can label and categorize it, it will remain, on some level, a little dangerous. So we keep watching.

The thing about contradiction is that it makes something impossible to categorize. (Unless the category is things that can’t be categorized.) Contradiction creates ambiguity, which Robert Greene recognizes as one of the potent factors of seduction (swaying someone from their path and getting them onto yours, whether it involves sex or marketing or a creative project.) Greene writes:

What is obvious and striking may attract….attention at first, but that attention is often short-lived…A mix of qualities suggests depth, which fascinates even as it confuses. An elusive, enigmatic aura will make people want to know more, drawing them into your circle.

Ambiguity also opens up a space for people to read different meanings into you – which means they are more likely to find something in you that connects with and reflects them. That resonates.


Part of the act of creating yourself – of truly creating the authentic, original identity that shines through in your work and your communications with the world, and by which the world shall know you – is, as Marc Ecko puts it, to unlabel yourself:

Not ‘un’ as in the nihilist or negative sense of the prefix, but in the ‘refuse’ sense of the meaning. Refuse to be labeled.
Fight their labels.
Peel off their labels.
Create your label.
…..challenge yourself to shake free of the herd, find your own unique voice…

This, Ecko points out, enables you to “be an artist without being a starving artist” because you can “sell without selling out”. You create something that

transcends the gatekeepers (the critics, the haters) and gets right to the goalkeepers (the ones who vote, the folks with the shopping carts.) The goalkeepers are the only judges who matter.

Contradiction and ambiguity not only force other people to look at us with fresh eyes, free of the usual prejudices and biases – what exactly is that thing? – but it makes sure that we don’t fall into the same easy assumptions about who we are, and what we can or cannot do.


One reason why we have to fight ‘their’ labels is because, growing up, as young and powerless individuals who depended on the people around us for our very survival, we learned to shape ourselves around their standards. We were conforming to them or rebelling against them.

We developed strategies to get our needs met the best ways we knew how.

We played up the parts of ourselves that seemed to work, and cut ourselves off from the parts of ourselves that seemed to not-work. We took those working parts and used them to create our lit-up box of personal identity. We took the not-working parts and cast them into the unconscious dark beyond that box, creating the shape of what Jung termed our Shadow.

We can learn about our Shadow through noticing and reclaiming our projections: the qualities, traits, dreams and fantasies we think we see in others that are actually the unlived, undeveloped, hiding parts of ourselves.

Whenever someone triggers you in a positive or negative way, you’ve met up with part of your Shadow. We are what attracts us. (We are also what annoys the hell out of us.) We long to do or be that, but at the same time think, I could never….because that idea doesn’t fit inside our box.

It conflicts with our preconceived notions of who we are.

We come face to face with our own contradictions.

They challenge us to kick apart that box, expand ourselves, bring some light to the dark places. But when we do that, we prove that we, too, contain multitudes.

Oct 23, 2013

8 comments · Add Yours

One thing with labels (in my experience) is that when you start off, they can give you power. When your a silly teenager and you say “I’m Goth!” You’ve given yourself a role to play, that tells you what to wear, what music to listen to, ect. This can help you navigate through some troubled waters.

But then after going a long a bit you decide that you really want to wear an entire outfit of neon orange and pink. But thats so not you! Your friends who are comfortable with your staunch ‘Goth’ Label think your sick or somethings wrong with you.

And here you can make two choices – you can either wear your neon pink and orange cuz you want to; and deal with the shocked looks from your clove cigarette smoking buds. Or you can cave, and keep putting on the fishnets and trench coats because its comfortable and no one will give you shit for it. The problem with the later choice is you’re giving away your power to other people. Instead of just being truthful to yourself, you’re going along with others expectations of you.

This is kind of a shallow example, but I think you can extrapolate to big life things as well.

(Yes this is personal experience, my wardobe now contains more colors and girly things. But you can damn well bet I still bust out the platform boots and fishnets.)


I think that’s a great example.

I’m all for the vision of a hot pink Goth, myself.


Justine, if you like Kirk (who is hilarious), you might enjoy RecoveringYogi.com – Kirk has contributed to this site and it has a lot of fun wisdom. Much like this site. Thanks for being a CBA (creative bad ass)!


Justine, amazing article and really touched how I have been feeling for sometime now. I have commented before that I consider myself a contradiction but now I am working on accepting it more and being open to that is who I am and there is nothing wrong with that. I also had to go check out Kale and Cigarettes and have been reading that.


Stunning, as always, my friend. Love your posts, every one of them! xo


This part of your post resonated with me:

truly creating the authentic, original identity that shines through in your work and your communications with the world, and by which the world shall know you

One of the works that inspired me the most is a song by Sixto Rodriguez, the subject of “Searching for Sugarman”, the Oscar winning Doc. His song “Cause” opens with,

“Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas
And I talked to Jesus at the sewer
And the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business”

I thought that was pure raw emotion. It hit me. After listening to that several times (and the rest of the song keeps up) I knew that I had to go there. Not where he went, or where Tolkien or Hendrix or Rembrandt went, but that I had to go as far as they did.

It was that song that showed me how to search.

The film showed me his utter lack of bitterness. He was bigger than the Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson – in South Africa. He didn’t know about that until he had worked over 30 years in construction, where I am now.

That showed me how to persevere.

I found my voice. It was always there, but I had to stand on Sixto’s shoulders to see it.


@Melissa Well said! Don’t give away your power to others. And great article! Exactly what I’ve been reflecting on the past summer.



Yeah, it took me forever to start wearing color again. I still appreciate the goth appeal but for the longest time I just couldn’t fathom color. I was scared of it. I was so used to wearing black that I felt down right uncomfortable in color. I felt squeamish and just wrong. I didn’t even want to step outside when I donned a color other than black. But, I started navigating slowly aiming for neutral colors until I eventually made it to where I’m at now. Now I look like a monarch butterfly. I appreciate bold colors and designs.


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