Stereotype: a set of inaccurate simplistic generalisations about a group that allows others to categorise them and treat them accordingly.
Everyone at some point in their life has been stereotyped by someone, and in turn has unconsciously stereotyped someone else. In a world where everything about your personality is judged from the moment you walk into a room with new people, sometimes a good judge of character will get you out of a potentially awful situation or relationship; but most of the time a determination of someone’s personality can be spiteful, demeaning and mostly inaccurate, whether intentional or not.
The worst perpetrator of wrong, long-lasting and hurtful stereotypes is obviously school life. From an early age, we are sorted and tagged like cattle at a market. Cliques and groups are arranged like a morbid food chain, and once you are placed in a section, there is no hope of escape – unless you move schools, bribe every member of your year or undergo surgery to resurface as entirely different person to start the new school year as a foreign exchange student, which frankly seems like way too much effort. As like in Glee:
: “High school is a caste system. Kids fall into certain slots. Your jocks and your popular kids are up in the penthouse. The invisibles and the kids playing live-action out in the forest: bottom floor.”
: “And… where do the Glee kids lie?”
: “And… where do the Glee kids lie?”
As much as I love the show, it does nothing to help the suffocating stereotypes that everyone knows about but does nothing to break: that the best looking girls and guys are automatically the popular sect; those in glasses are habitually relocated to the study centre as the high fliers and role-play-computer-games addicts; and them that have long fringes and black clothes are unthinkingly placed in the darkest, most depressing corner of the room to associate with the emos and goths. These sickeningly unbreakable thoughts are the predecessors to a stifling society where early actions will lead to an indestructible division where you must remain for the rest of your life, changed or not. I myself am still stuck with the initial impression that many had of me on my first day of secondary school: a ‘neeky’ (cross between ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’, for those who aren’t sure) little kid, with the overlarge Ruby Gloom rucksack coupled with a strange infatuation for the darker side of human nature, an obsession with Harry Potter and a hatred for anything pink. I was not, as many believed, a masochistic, emotionally unstable child as my appearance was likely to suggest, but I was immediately stereotyped and very few were able – or even willing –to see past this. Years later, although I have changed greatly – and in some ways beyond recognition - people still judge me on that first glance. And yet while I am able to wear my (metaphorical) scars with pride and still stroll around in my black clothes despite the negative, demeaning and sometimes unnecessary comments, others are unable to shake off these early stereotypes and either succumb to the commonly seen attitudes in those that are victims of bullying or try and change these views by becoming someone that deep down they never aspired to be.
In many ways, I am lucky that I am a student of an English institute, where school uniform is mandatory; unlike in America, where individual clothing opens everyone up to deeper stereotypical categorisation. However, like with everything, we find our own way to let the individual flair through, and in my school at least it’s the bags used. Different cliques are defined by the baggage they use, from the hierarchy with their brands like Superdry, Jack Wills and Hollister; then those who have a pack with slogans and bands on; and finally those who have a bag for no more than it should be: practical, attention deflecting and big enough to carry several hefty books rather than a small dog. These items of luggage are also there to display an element of affluence; and of course, for many – if not all, in some sense – material wealth is everything, and the instinct to brag is overwhelming. Acceptable, if not likeable, but when this leads to the stereotyping, ‘bagging and tagging’ of, yes imperfect, but distinguished individuals: then that’s when the bullying and boasting has to stop.
I cannot hope to change stereotypes – they are an abominable part of human life that has wormed itself in way too deep into society. My only aim is for my readers to not just see what happens but properly acknowledge that stereotypes are unjust and choking to the difference that is essentially human; for people to break out of these binds that are placed from early within childhood; and to realise that the small girl with the hefty black rucksack won’t stay that way forever. People shouldn’t be afraid to look past the book’s cover and read the story within.