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Breaking Free From Labels – Empowering Women To Form Meaningful Connections

Written by: Jennifer Wren Tolo, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Are you an educator, a high-achieving woman, or a parent? Do you find yourself getting comfortable with using labels or do you feel confined by them?

Young woman arms raised sitting on the car and enjoying the sunset

It seems, over the years women and feminists were fighting to bust out of the “female box” society put us in, and now… we are in a quandary over what defines, or what is a woman.

Have you noticed that society has gotten more and more stuck on labels while crying out NOT to be labeled but to be free to just be?

These labels can range from deep issues regarding gender, race, sexual orientation, and political party to learning challenges, disabilities, neurodiversity, behavior, and mood for the moment.

As a child, I loved playing sports and getting dirty with my brothers. I even liked wrestling, but I also liked playing dress-up, barbies and ballet, and modern dance. I was often running from a dance recital to a soccer field, changing “costumes” in the car. I suppose I would have been labeled a “tomboy”, but, I felt like a commuter between Mars and Venus… a little “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” reference.

Don’t we have both inside us all? It is the concept of duality, feminine and masculine energy embraced by Eastern medicine and traditional cultures.

What labels do you use for yourself? What ones do you use for your children as a parent or educator, or for friends, co-workers, and loved ones?

If you were to say “I am…” what labels or characteristics would follow?

What is the purpose or intention behind the use of labels?

Have you ever wondered, why we use labels and put people into categories so much?

I recently covered this topic in one of my Podcast episodes as there seems to be dueling intentions behind the use of labels as well as the rejection of them as we see all over the news.

This makes me think of a niche or target market in business. In marketing and business, we are told it is important for businesses to have a “target market” such as “high achieving women” or “stressed out moms.” Not only does this differentiate a business or person from other similar ones, but it helps attract the “right” clientele.

These labels are meant to provide insight and understanding about one another. They are meant to group people into categories for two main reasons:

  1. To create awareness of who people are and what their needs are.

  2. To create a sense of belonging and connection within the labeled group or category.

So what is at the heart of labels is really to facilitate understanding, awareness, and connection.

How can these labels sometimes be limiting and divisive?

I think of my son who had a stroke at birth. His neonatal stroke provided him a “label” of “brain injury" and “hemiplegia” which allowed him to receive early intervention services and later, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). These were the benefits of having a “label.” This label aimed to help people understand his potential needs, challenges, and even limitations.

But, the limitations of the labels came with people's bias, assumptions, and expectations when they labeled my son as simply (X), be it brain damaged, learning disabled, neurodivergent, or even, in his younger years, “behavior problem.” My son, the individual, was NOT the label. The label was simply information to help people understand him as something beyond the surface… a complex, compassionate, loving, determined, and resilient individual faced with a set of neurological challenges that can create frustration, judgment from others, processing issues, and the need for others to be patient, kind and change the means of instructions a bit.

When my son was younger, I used the labels often as a way to try to get him the support and understanding I felt he needed. But, there were times people underestimated what he could do or denied him access to things as his label was a “limitation.” I found it to be a sort of crutch or an excuse for WHY he was not able to meet others' expectations. We now limit the use of any labels as he is way beyond the box it puts him in.

I think of my other son who had leukemia at 2.5 years old. He was my shy, introverted son who did not love being the center of attention. We had a Pan-Mass Challenge team named after my son for over 12 years. As teammates wanted his picture taken and fawned all over the “kid who had cancer,” my son hated it. He finally said around age 12, “Mom, I am sick of being the kid who had cancer. I don’t even remember it!”

We acknowledged this, respected it, and let people on the team know we needed a new name. By rejecting this label, my son has found space to discover an interest in medicine as a high school junior. He is now recognizing a new label that is helping him find purpose and inspiration… survivor. He has discovered his resiliency and potential to be a beacon of hope to others facing challenges, be it cancer or otherwise. He is doing a fundraiser for cancer research called “Attack Cancer” with the Headstrong Foundation where he is collecting donations and pledging his lacrosse season to cancer research.

How do we move beyond labels to find a deeper connection?

Recently, I watched an old BBC clip about young children being asked what was the difference between their friends and them and it really made me think of labels, comparisons, and how these do not exist in young minds. They connect on a soul level and it is based on energy, joy, and commonality of these deeper things while adults focus on the commonality of labels and surface things. You can watch the clip on my reel about this on Instagram here.

So, if we want a better, more peaceful, and unified world, we must not attach to labels. We must be willing to move and see beyond the labels. Understand the intention behind a label, to create understanding and connection, but do not allow a label to define something or someone. Instead, take the time to connect and to understand and see the individual, the multitude of labels that create the big picture, the beautiful individual beneath the surface.

Labels are NOT to be used as an excuse, a free pass, or to create retributions or hierarchies.

Use them for good.

Use them to facilitate connection and a desire to truly see and understand without bias, judgment or condemnation.

This is the world I hope to see for my kids and grandchildren to come.

Who is with me?

Would you like to move beyond the labels in your life?

If you would like more tools in your toolbox, more clarity, and support for finding the right path for you to move forward and take back control of your health and happiness, follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

Take my FREE Power in NOW Masterclass here. If you are interested in learning more about programs, talks, and workshops, book a Free Clarity Call with me here.

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Jennifer Wren Tolo, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Jennifer Wren Tolo, RN, is a whole health educator, a leading transformation coach and mind, body, spirit connector for high achieving women and mothers who are so busy showing up for others that they "don't have time" to show up for themselves. She has coached women in cultivating calm and peace within themself by finding their inner strength and resilience so they can take back their power over their own health and happiness one thought, one action, one conscious choice, one moment at a time. Jennifer is a stress and resiliency educator and adjunct professor at Endicott College School of Nursing where she teaches "Holistic and Complementary Approaches to Health and Healing."



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