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Labels that lower your worth or J Crew as Bad Faith

Okay, so here’s the deal, most of us…me included….like our labels. No, I am not talking about Gucci, Pucci and Fiorucci–although those are some nice labels. Actually my labels of choice are more likely to be JCrew, Kate Spade, Diane Von Furtstenburg and Tory Burch. But those are not the labels I am talking about. I am talking about identity labels—-labels such as “mother’, “daughter”, “therapist”, “wife”, etc.  We work hard to achieve those labels. We go to school for some of them. We go to counseling to maintain others. We pay $100,000 for a party that announces we are now a “Mrs.”.  These labels define us and when we lose them we can feel like we have lost our purpose in life.
This last year I lost some labels and gained some new ones. Being someone’s wife give me some social cache and comfort. And as I was no one’s mother, being someone’s wife made me feel like I had at least achieved one developmental milestone that made me seem like I was on the adult-who-plays-by-the-rules track. And in losing the label of ‘wife’ I had some undeniable existential angst, ennui and meaningless. However, ultimately in losing the label I gained more freedom to be who I really am.

Jean Paul Sartre, the father of Existential philosophy and the only philosopher to ever admit being chased by a crustacean( a bad mescalin trip), and the other fab four of the existential philosopher club ( Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus and Heidegger) ask their readers to dump these labels(being-in-itself) faster than you might ditch a questionable Prada knock off. But why do they want you to ditch them? They think it’s bad faith. What’s “bad faith”? “Bad faith, according to Sartre, is “the phenomenon where a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns their innate freedom to act authentically.”

Let me have Sartre explain bad faith in his own words: “Consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. Finally there he returns, trying to imitate in his walk the inflexible stiffness of some kind of automaton while carrying his tray with the recklessness of a tight-rope-walker by putting it in a perpetually unstable, perpetually broken equilibrium which he perpetually re-establishes by a light movement of the arm and hand.” Sartre is not singling out waiters,  it’s just likely the example that came to mind as he spent so much time hanging at out Parisian cafes. Sartre is using them to attack the notion of over-identifying with a role( what Jung might call Persona identification) and how that over-identification with a role limits our freedom.

Satre expands his analysis to those who work at the Piggly Wiggly: “A grocer who dreams is offensive to the buyer, because such a grocer is not wholly a grocer, ” Sartre continues. “Society demands that he limit himself to his function as a grocer, just as the soldier at attention makes himself into a soldier-thing with a direct regard which does not see at all, which is no longer meant to see, since it is the rule and not the interest of the moment which determines the point he must fix his eyes on (the sight “fixed at ten paces”). There are indeed many precautions to imprison a man in what he is, as if we lived in perpetual fear that he might escape from it, that he might break away and suddenly elude his condition.”

Did you read the fantastic book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog?  If not, you should. In it there is a character, Renée, who is the concierge of an upscale Parisian apartment. She works to  conform to the expectations people have of a concierge. She is fat, cantankerous, and is seemingly addicted to TV. She hides the parts of her that do not conform to the cliche of concierge.  Renée is  secretly a cultured autodidact who adores art, philosophy, music, and Japanese culture. Renée is a perfect example of Bad Faith.

When I started my blog I wanted a place to talk about things that I couldn’t talk about as a therapist. I had interests and passions that were not considered “depthful” or appropriate interests for one who was working on accessing the unconscious. My interest in shoes, clothing,  skincare, and aesthetics were considered surface and not part of the expected interests of one who was a depth psychotherapist. La Belette Rouge gave me a place for me to break from the role of therapist and in having a place for that part of myself I began to value it more and was able to incorporate more of myself. I found that the more I wrote about these interests the more authentic I became and less and less felt the need to act out of an expectation of the role of therapist. I am a therapist who loves depth and discourse and philosophy and I also love skincare and shoes and leopard print and being girly. Sartre would like that about me, I think.

Sartre was so committed to this notion that one shouldn’t be identified by labels, and that to do so is to treat yourself as an object and not as a being, that he refused to accept the Nobel prize. He knew if that he accepted the prize that was accepting a label and to accept a label is to limit your freedom. That is putting your money where your mouth is. I think if I was JPS, I might have tried to write a book of philosophy that argued it isn’t bad faith to accept a Nobel prize.

So what labels are you over-identified with? Do you find that these labels impinge your freedom? Oh, and just to bring about of whimsy to this post and negate the entire premise of this thesis, what clothing label do you most identify with and why? For me, JCrew continues to be the brand that I most identify with. Why? I suppose they are about classics with a twist. That’s me. I like things that endure and yet aren’t stuffy. I’m Episcopalian ( definitely classic with a twist). I prefer classical literature to modern novels—-mostly. I like designs that promise to be in style in twenty years and that don’t take themselves too seriously. That said, I also buy clothes from unexpected places (Target, etc)—which I think means I am not so over-identifed with a label that I am committing sartorial Sartrian bad faith.




40 Responses to “Labels that lower your worth or J Crew as Bad Faith”

  • As an esthetician, I feel that sometimes clients assume that I am superficial, uneducated, always pleasant, and simple. It doesn’t help that I do play the part, it not being PC to discuss anything but the weather with my clients. And having a smile permanently plastered to my face is a requirement.

    Little do most know that I also graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Ancient Studies with a minor in philosophy, I’d rather read Mother Earth News than Glamour, my goal for 2012 is to have backyard chickens, and that I’m unapologetically Libertarian.

    And I love Sephora as well as making my own skincare:)

    • Sharon, I LOVE you!!!I would LOVE to have such a BRILLIANT esthetician. Seriously! How cool to combine pore extractions with Plato. It’s what about us that doesn’t fit the stereotypes that makes us most interesting—at least I think so.
      p.s. I hope you get your chickens!:-)

  • Oh my, GOOD POST. Have you been reading my mind about the whos and whats of identity? I’m a business lawyer, and we are “supposed to be” hard nosed and numbers driven and 150% gung-ho about working. I studied Anthropology, love humor, practice Buddhism (eek, not a path to meeting “the right people” for weekend client development!) and play old time banjo. So…I’m in hiding a lot. And I don’t feel like a “lawyer.” I feel like a human being who does law for my work (you can hear the managing partners of my firm screaming in horror right now). Realizing that this label didn’t fit me was freeing.

    I’m a “wife” but feel like more of a “partner,” as “wife” has (to me) gender and role overtones to it that don’t resonate with childless, geeky, working-too-much me. I can live with the “partner” label. “Wife” is still scary.

    I’ll own the label “pet lover.” Yes I kiss my cat on the lips. I ain’t ashamed!

    • Thanks, MJ! I’m so happy it resonated for you. ANd I am so pleased to hear that you are living outside of the the assigned role.
      I totally hear you about “wife”. There is something about the word that makes me scared. I feel 1950′s just saying it.
      I too own “pet lover”. I do everything that is expected in that role and am happy to do it.

  • I have to agree with Sartre and those others regarding labels..I prefer to be label-free to become my true self but even in that attempt I see what I fall into another labeled category, which may be worse that the formally labeled category, the defiant, I want-to-be-me…ugh! That is really not who I want to be. I want to be me and not have to announce it.

    Clothing wise I have been with JCrew for a while now with occasional toe-dipping in Kate Spade but I come to admit that though KS makes my mouth water it does not seem to be as much me as the latter.

    Thanks for the post LBR..good to see you again! : )

    • I once was telling my Jungian analyst that I wanted to be totally authentic and myself. He told me “even nakedness is a persona( a mask)”. I was stunned by this but I get it. It’s true. So being anti-labels can definitely be a label.
      KS is a little too whimsical for me. Her stuff is like dessert, a little goes a long way.
      Thanks, Mona! It’s good to be back.:-)

  • I experienced this at a young age: I was runner for so many years, 8 to 18. Track defined such a large part of my identity and then it was
    gone. And I was like “who the hell am I without track?” Of course I could keep running, but there was no training, no group, no meets or
    races. It was weird.

    I then realized I had to be more than this one thing. That I had many facets and interests and cool things going on in my life. So, I sort of shunned labels from then. My partner gets annoyed with me because I am so oppositional to labels even at age 30. I just don’t want to limit myself.

    This post was so beautiful written. I have already shared it with a few others :) Glad to have you back!

  • Great post Tracey, lots of good food for thought. I often downplay my intellectual self with others, it’s not usually welcome. The brand I most relate to at the moment is Eileen Fisher, I love the styling and freedom of movement of EF pieces.

  • Love the kick-the-label sentiment and am also chewing on “nakedness is also a persona.” I’ve got teenagers in the house working very hard to define themselves (one in the No Label way), so I’m feeling this post on a bunch of different levels. Thanks!

    • Thank you, Irene! It is a tough pill to swallow that even nakedness is a mask. It took me some time to accept that we need personas and that they are not something to try and rid ourselves of but rather not to overidentify with.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this post, funny as it seems so much of the LBR that I came to love instantly, but with a new flare of real, as opposed to trying to fill something you felt required to do! :) I used to be so defined by my job and couldn’t imagine life w/o that title, that identification. Then life took a turn and that title didn’t mean as much as striving toward the title of “mother”. I think I had to GI through what I did to be here where I’m meant to be now. I’m a freak mom that I always said I wouldn’t be and I don’t care what people think anymore. I say no when I want to and I run because I love it. I cook only when I feel like it, not because it the “wife” thing to do. Our roads are not at all similar in what we’ve been through, but I feel that we ended up the same place you and me, where we are supposed to be and much happier in our own skin! I’m an Anne Taylor Loft person myself, the classics of AT with a little younger feel, and cheaper :) great post!!!!

  • I loved this post! Looks like I came back to reading just in time… (Not ready to go back to writing, yet)
    Labels… I gave up “wife”, I gave up “opera singer”, I’m just trying to keep it simple and live day to day… I am “Proud mum to a Labrottie and a Saint Bernard” now (I know… Don’t roll your eyes…)
    Clothing labels? No… Not me…
    I’m so happy to read you are happy!! :)

    • No eye rolling. Just so happy to see you. Living life without labels, at least for me, has put me more in the now and less concerned about BIG goals. You too?
      Thanks sweetie! Love to your dogs.

      • It’s all about being in the now for me as well… This last year, I’ve learnt more about life than ever…
        I’m so happy to see you too, I’ve missed you tons!
        Lots of love!

  • This post really hits the nail on the head. Labels…being in the decorative arts arena means that the majority of my clients want a label that they can attach to what they purchase as if the item in question will somehow make them more or better or, perhaps, even the best. Sad.

  • Well said-We are so conditioned to label everything. Even as an artist, we are encouraged to “brand” ourselves.

  • When I meet people, I always like to know how they identify. What is their real passion (not job), their taste (in music or books or whatever), even their sign (as cheesy as it sounds!).

    It’s interesting—all of these things are labels, aren’t they?

    The store I always love everything in is Anthropologie, but I resent being such an obviously targeted demographic sometimes!! I get a little annoyed—like when I was on “” and saw an ad on the right with a beautiful outfit, and scrolled down to see, of course, it was Anthropologie. I always end up shopping secondhand and vintage….although that’s a weird label, too.

    • I am always fascinated by what strangers want to tell you about themselves(what they lead with). I find that early info to be extremely fascinating.

      When I go into Anthropolgie I find myself forgetting that it isn’t my label. It’s not until I leave the store that I remember that I am not that girl(even though I often wish I was that girl).

  • What a provocative post. Labels and identity. Those labels that make us feel better about ourselves, and those that make us feel worse. The temporary nature of so many of them, because they focus on externals, or social expectations – even if we absorb both, and form our identity (identities) around them.

    I’ll take writer as a label. And a core element of my identity.

    I’ll take learner as another.

    I’ll claim giver as a third, though it is problematic in certain circumstances.

    Others that no one can take away? Mother. Lover. Whether they last or for how long – each a part of my being.

    Labels that have inflicted harm over the years, their legacies never quite erased: fat, ugly, unlovable, failure (at marriage).

    The first was true, and wielded as an epithet. The second was a value judgment, and haunted me for 20 years. The third, from a parent, still rips at my edges. The fourth – a pronouncement of society – I simply consider false.

    • Thank you, BLW, for your thoughtful response. It’s funny, writer used to be a big label for me. Learner too. It’s funny that now neither label seem to be labels—-they have become things I do. For me letting go of those as labels has allowed me to enjoy the writing and learning more. Weird, huh?

  • It is nice when someone is looking great AND doing great. You are clearly doing both.
    I gave you an award on my blog here.

  • Great post, my dear Belette. I was just thinking about my labels and my roles this week, as part of an e-course.
    I think, like you, I always labelled myself and was labelled by others as an intellectual, and as an ambitious career women. Enter motherhood of twins and everything changed: the career was put on hold and I discovered a creativity I didn’t know I had in me and that I attribute directly to the reconciliation with my own body thanks to pregnancy (I had created life, and that awakened the desire to create other things). I got interested in photography, in baking, in sewing, in crafts…there was a tiny Martha Stewart in me and I had no idea ;) It took me a while to embrace this new side of me because I felt it detracted from my intellectual self.

  • Fabulous post, and something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I wait to move into my new house and think about who I want to be in this new place. I get that any part of ourselves that we show to others is a mask or label of sorts, and so is our own view of ourselves. I think I’ve never thrown myself whole-heartedly into any of my labels, there was always a big part I held back and I am trying now to form a more integrated view of myself, not that I have any idea where that is taking me at this point, and even that may end up being just a series of labels.

    When I was young I was criticized for being too intellectual and too serious, so I often try to hide those parts of myself. Sometimes I fear I hid that side too successfully, and I may never find it again. At other times, especially with my husband’s family, and my step-daughter’s family, I tend to hide the emotional intuitive part of myself as the emphasis there is living a life governed by reason. I hide my gut-reaction instinctive part, and tell myself that rationality is just another myth.

    Right now I am over-credited with being easy-going and adaptable. And its true, I do tend to figure that one has to adapt and see no point in fighting it, but it has gotten to the point that everyone just assumes I will roll easily with the tide all the time. If one more person tells me how adaptable I am I feel I shall stamp my feet and scream and shout.

    Clothing labels are easier, although those too seem to be in flux. Right now I like J. Crew, and I rediscovered Eileen Fisher so that may become one of my core brands as well.

    • Thanks, Mardel!!! Being free of labels often means rejecting others views of us. I had the label of a “quitter”, “dumb” and “uncoordinated” in my family of origin. It took a while but I dumped those labels and it took a while to do it. But now the same people see me as “determined”, ” smart” and an “athlete”. It just goes to show that we can get new labels at any time. I hope that in your new home you find yourself in the process.

  • I do agree with your points that labels can become limiting. However, from the Sociologist side of me (yet another label, haha!), I must admit I find it difficult to navigate the world sans labels. You must admit they are useful in defining boundaries, roles, expectations, etc. But as you had pointed out, it is for those very same reasons that we sometimes find our selves lost or undervalued. Maybe the key is to keep labels for practicality’s sake, but to not allow our selves to be limited by them, to not let the labels get in the way of our authentic, non-ego based selves. Easier said than done. Good luck to us! Great post!

    • Good points, Joy. Yes, labels can be useful. But they are limiting. I suppose they are fine as long as we don’t define ourselves by them or turn to the culture to define how we should behave if we are to take on one of these labels.

  • Dolores de Elizalde

    Hi, I loved your post.
    I´m not so fond of Jean Paul Sartre, though. Yes, he refused the Nobel Prize, but he later demanded the money that came with it.
    He is a great writer, but not too much of a “good faither” in his personal life.

  • It seems to me we’re unique ongoing processes (or energy patterns, if you prefer) rather than anything that can be captured by a label. However, in a large society of multiple ongoing processes labels serve as abbreviations we use to describe various roles we play to those who don’t know us well. The trick, however, is to refrain from labeling ourselves to ourselves,

    • The existentialists want us to see ourselves as verbs and not nouns. “we’re unique ongoing processes”. I like the way you say it!! But, yeah, we label ourselves and others because, I think, objects feel more permanent and less likely to die than “ongoing processes”.

  • I almost didn’t marry because I didn’t want to be a “wife”. I hold the same basic beliefs as most “Christians” but the label turns my stomach. I respect that heuristics are one of the reasons we evolved. I just wish we had been more careful in creating the categories.

  • I’ve been missing these kinds of posts from you; glad you had the time to share this!

    The older I get the more I take perverse pleasure in receiving labels from others that don’t mesh with my (core and random add-on bits of) self-identity. Terrible for “personal branding,” fun for me to be more detached about this than I was in my 20s!

    ps Welcome back!

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About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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