I Am Not Labeled, I am Named

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alia-joy-redeemed6

Once you label me you negate me.  —Soren Kierkegaard

I.

I wasn’t a fat kid. On the contrary, I was hollowed ribs and lanky limbs for much of my childhood.  I was gangly elbows and knee caps too big for my legs. I was a jawline cut straight and tight like a razor’s edge and the wasting that comes from sickness and hospitals and appetites lost.

I don’t remember this thinness. I’ve only ever seen it in pictures looking back. I couldn’t see it then.

Here is my truth. When my brother and I walked to school in the mornings, I made sure to lag behind him and his friends because I feared the size of my shadow. I thought I was fat. I thought I was dirty. I thought I was wretched. I was five.

I wish I could gather up that little girl in my arms, birdlike and fragile lying on her stomach, feet in the air and chin propped in her tiny hand as she fingered the pages of her favorite book always dreaming of others’ stories so she wouldn’t have to live through her own.  I wish I could tell her she’s known and loved and called. I wish I could tell her she isn’t what they say. 

I wish her name was full on her tiny lips, the bold vowels and consonants ricocheting off her mirrored self, telling the truth of who she is.

II.

I wrote poetry in the dark under the blunt edged light of my Marlboro red. My cigarette butts stacked themselves like crooked bones, a graveyard of the hours spent curled around my journal scribbling furiously, carving out scraps of my story. Every word hurt.

My pages were smoke and cinder, fire and dust. Other people’s words scalded my tongue and I choked on mouthfuls of ashen syllables.

Exotic. Slut. Dirty. 

He slings his arm lazily around my shoulders and drips his fingers down my collarbone like he’s strumming chords on the neck of his guitar. I am hollowed out, percussive and echoing whatever beat they play. I am a girl with dirty secrets of closed doors and greedy hands and promises not to tell. And when I grow from childhood, I am prey for hungry eyes, a girl who’s been plucked down to bone for the curve of my breasts and the bow of my lips. The kind of girl who always feels hunted. I’m the girl you don’t bring home to mom, the kind of girl you don’t have to get to know to know. I learn I am nothing more than fantasy, than fodder for locker room jokes, than rumors and wagging tongues.

“She’s exotic,” they say. “Once you go Asian, you never go Caucasian,” they laugh and never see past the slant of my eyes to the vacancy their words leave. Their labels slither serpentine down my hips, all venom and fangs and poison so strong it takes me years to believe myself anything but dirty.

I succumb to the burden of brutal words. Sometimes it’s easier to be what they expect.

I morph into a thousand roles depending on who I am around. I try them all out like Goldilocks, co-opting identities trying to find the “just right” fit. And when that doesn’t work, I pull on the labels others dress me in. I grasp at the threads trying to weave an identity thick enough to cover my nakedness. 

I walk around in borrowed skins.

I was the girl so uncomfortable in her own, she grew more and more until it swallowed her whole.

III.

And the years pass. The skins shelter me from carnivorous eyes. My hips swell, my belly shakes full of lies and I’m magic. Invisible. I am a new stereotype.

Fat. Lazy. Slow. 

My shadow followed me from girlhood and swelled like a prophecy, the lies have come full-grown inside me.

I stuff myself into bodiless sweatshirts and go barefaced against the world. I drain the color from my eyes and make jokes about myself before anyone else can. I carefully turn off every single light and let the darkness cover me when my husband reaches for me at night. My hair is unwashed, scraped hastily into a ponytail. There is no use in bothering with anything. I don’t want to be seen. I hate having my picture taken and all the memories I have are blurry photographs, my hand blocking my face like I’m ashamed of being remembered at all.

I relent to the sadness. I surrender to the ache of being unknown. I am a lost girl even after all these years.

I forget that before any of those labels, I was named. 

IV.

Maybe all of life is just a journey back to the heart of God. Back to the place where we remember who we are by knowing who He is.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.” 

I am not dirty. I am not what they say. I am not what was done to me. I am what Jesus did for me. Redeemed.

 “When you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.”

I can spit out mouthfuls of ash and scalded tongues are quenched with new words. These lies have no claim on me.  

 “For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

No longer a lost girl, no longer a label or a stereotype. Named. Beloved. Ransomed.

V.

My shadow still spreads across the light, but these days it dances to its own songs. These days my shadow stands on its tippy-toes to kiss my husband. Its hands stretch into the summer sun to lift children on those hips and my family calls my body home; it brings me no shame.

These days I’m not hiding, I’m shedding skins and writing my way back to the truth. To the identity I had long forgotten and the place where I remember I am not labeled, I am named.

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Alia Joy
I’m the daughter of both a book lover and a storyteller and in that I was destined to be a writer. I collect words at http://aliajoy.com, dance to the good songs, and believe even the most broken stories have a redeemer. I live in Central Oregon with my husband, my tiny Asian mother, my three kids, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens. Sushi is my love language and I balance my cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses.
Alia Joy
Alia Joy

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Alia Joy
  • This is achingly, stunningly beautiful. Your story moves me, as always. Maybe all life is a journey back to God – loved this. Recovering Eden maybe?

    My friend, you live and write so well – I salute you.

    • Alia_Joy

      I love you, Tanya, and am so thankful for your encouragement along the way as I learn to tell my story out from the shadows. Recovering Eden indeed. I think the garden and nakedness and shame might be one of the things I write about and refer to most.

  • “We remember who we are by knowing who He is.”
    This is such a strong statement, because in it, we bypass all the horror and loss and cut right to the truth that saves us.
    I always look forward to your words.

    • Alia_Joy

      The truth that saves us. Yes, this.

  • Helene Burns

    Your words make me weepy with sadness and also with joy at the wonder of what happens when you come home to HIS love…’No longer a lost girl, no longer a label or a stereotype. Named. Beloved. Ransomed.’

    Your writing is breathtaking Alia – it is truly a gift to all of us privileged to read them. Thank you. xo

    • Alia_Joy

      It is the most beautiful grace to find yourself in Jesus and realize you were always known and named and loved. It’s a homecoming for the soul. Thank you so much for reading, Helene.

  • Oh Alia … your words will be salvation for other broken, wounded souls. God will redeem your pain, your bravery, your healing.

    • Alia_Joy

      Yes, God will and has in so many ways. Thanks for being here with me, Linda.

  • Nancy Roe

    SO EXQUISITE are your words and imagery! I sit at your feet! I have begun to write my memoir and am developing my voice. I am so deeply inspired and awed by yours! This bit, “My shadow still spreads across the light, but these days it dances to its own songs.” reminded me of my own metamorphosis. I am struck here by a different interpretation, how my shadow, that blocks light and truth and love from flooding in, is progressively yielding to the light as the lies dissipate like clouds clearing.Thank you tons for your gift!!! Hearts, hearts! Hugs too!

    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you so much! That is so encouraging to me as I’m wrestling down my own memoir style book and it’s just about killing me to get it out. This might be my hardest labor. I’m so glad you’re finding your voice. We need more storytellers willing to share their lives.

  • Sandy Hay

    Powerful. I am amazed at the emotion sitting in my chest. Vulnerable … Beautiful…loved. Thank you ❤️

    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks for reading Sandy. I’m glad it spoke to you.

  • Pingback: I Am Not Labeled, I Am Named: A SheLoves Post - Alia Joy()

  • Lovely and haunting. Wonderful reminder that we are more than labels that others give us and we give ourself.

    • Alia_Joy

      Amen. It’s a heavy burden to carry someone else’s judgment of us.

  • This is breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly sad. <i."I succumb to the burden of brutal words. Sometimes it’s easier to be what they expect." wow. I wish I had a long flowery response to write here, but after reading that I feel like I need to sit in quiet reflection and just let it echo for a while. This was incredible brave. Thank you for writing it.

    • Alia_Joy

      Right? How often do we live up to or under other’s expectations and labels of us? Good or bad. What beautiful grace to live free from that.

  • I just love this. So raw, beautiful, real and filled with the love of Jesus for us. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous words in a way that is so empowering to women.

    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you Leslie. What would this world be like if women knew how valuable they are right from the start? I’m praying my daughter will know she’s named and loved all of her days.

  • You are me and we are soul sharers and these words heal me. I adore you, named one. Precious Talitha. Alia Joy, you are pure gift.

    • Alia_Joy

      I’m so thankful for you, Colleen.

  • So beautifully written!! This is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for sharing your heart, your hurt, and your vulnerability. I think you speak for so many of us who have also internalized the sharp words of others and who have hated what they have seen in the mirror. Thank you!

    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks Joanna. I think you’re right, it is so easy to become what they say, even if only in our minds.

  • I can hear the light break through in the final sentences. Redemption is breathtaking.

    • Alia_Joy

      Amen. He makes all things new.

  • reading along as you tell your story. You tell it in a way that almost makes me feel like i can crawl into your skin and feel it along with you.

    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you. That’s a huge compliment as a writer. That’s my hope when I write. To make people feel. A little more understood, a little less alone.

  • Every time I read your writing, I feel in awe of your gift and of your courage. So, so good. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jamie

    So beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful. Thanks for sharing.