‘Exposure Asks’ young people in Barnet about identity

April 27, 2016

Exposure asks young people at Woodhouse College for their perspective on identity

It’s a complex concept. We share what it means to us, why it matters — and why it sometimes leaves us feeling frustrated and pensive.

We all define ourselves in different ways. But our identity isn’t straightforward, and how others see us often doesn’t reflect how we see ourselves. Navigating it feels like solving a puzzle with missing pieces. We’re caught between society’s expectations and our true selves. Stereotypes about sexuality, race, ethnicity and more shape how we’re perceived, but we’re more than these labels.

Despite the challenges, there’s power in our identity. It’s a source of pride. We embrace self-discovery, knowing our identity is something to celebrate.

Scroll down and use the slider tool to see how we responded, and to view relevant thoughts and facts we wanted to share. The images on the left show how we felt, while the images on the right provide information on each issue.

Sexual orientation is not so straight-forward — by Zoe Grant
& Katie Warren

You might think most people you know are heterosexual. But according to a 2015 survey, 49% of 18-24 year-olds in the UK did not identify as being 100% heterosexual.

There are many forms of sexual orientation, including bisexual, homosexual, pansexual and asexual. However, people are too often stigmatised for identifying as one of these less common forms. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression, as well as discrimination and even violence.

Who you do or do not feel attracted to should never affect your health, well-being or life chances.

For help, support and more information please visit Stonewall.

Damaging depiction of teens on our screen — by India de Bono

The Film and TV version of adolescence is not only unrealistic, it is also damaging.

As a 17-year-old who has struggled with low self-esteem most of her life, seeing actors aged 25+ playing teenagers fills me with insecurity.

Last year, I was the same age as the Mean Girls’ character, Regina George portrayed by Rachel McAdams who was cast for the part at 25 years old.  Am I supposed to have her curves, her silky hair, her flawless skin? Being confident these days is hard enough.

Mind, the mental health charity, advise on how to increase your self esteem and confidence.

My style not my stereotype — by Niamh Haran & Alex Wills

“People are much deeper than stereotypes. That’s the first place our minds go. Then you get to know them and you hear their stories, and you say, ‘I’d have never guessed’ ” – Carson Kressly.

Many of us are restricted by the labels the rest of the world uses to identify us: race, colour, sexuality, style, class, profession. Beliefs about us, and about who we are, are often derived, in just a first few seconds, from our appearance — our faces and the clothes we wear.

As young people, we all have individual stories to tell. But one study found that 80% of teens feel they are unfairly represented in the media. More than two thirds of 14-17-year-olds believe negative portrayals of teenagers in the media are even affecting their job prospects.

My ethnicity doesn’t define me — by Jamilla Sutton

Many people don’t understand that behind my physical appearance lies a real person. I always feel challenged and obliged to reveal my whole family history so people understand who I am. But it shouldn’t be like that.

More authentic representation in the media of other ethnicities and nationalities would help tackle racial prejudice.

British East Asian actors have criticised broadcasters for the lack of opportunities in TV. Despite the fact that eastern Asians are the third largest minority ethnic group in Britain, they argue this is not “reflected on our stages and screens”.

When they do appear, most of these roles are stereotypes: the generic Asian doctor, or the humorous outsider who doesn’t conform to traditional behaviours of society.

Identity unites — by Sheneil Francis & Andri Boda

In 1995, Nelson Mandela stepped onto a rugby pitch wearing the colours of the national South African team, Springboks. By identifying himself with the team, he helped to reconcile a nation divided by race.

Issues of identity can divide, but they can also unite people.

For example, 37% of the US population is categorised as “non-white” — but over half of all Hollywood films or shows fail to include a single non-white character.

The 2016 Oscars shortlist once again included only white nominees. This sparked an angry response, uniting people around the world who called for change. In the week following the announcement, the Social Times reported that the #OscarsSoWhite was used more than 70,000 times on Twitter and retweeted more than 90,000 times.

I am more than the music I listen to — by Jenna White & Rhianna Stevens

Music is relaxing and, even if for just a little while, it makes you forget about your problems. It provides entertainment. It also gives you inspiration and a sense of hope. Certain types of music are consoling and might even have the answer to your problem.

While some studies have found links between personalities and music tastes, people also alter their music choices to reflect and enhance their current mood.

In one study, young people described how their musical preferences changed according to their emotions. Researchers have also shown how musical tastes change over a lifetime.

My music tastes are a big part of my life, but they don’t define me. Reading, writing and dancing are equally important to me. So please don’t assume you know who I am, based on what I choose to listen to, today, next week, or even next year.

Breasts are best for babies — by Indie de Bono & Jahan Jiwa

While 72% of people recently surveyed in England thought women should feel comfortable breastfeeding in public, 60% of mothers said they try to hide what they’re doing.

It is recommended that women breast feed their babies for at least the first six months of the babies life, to help the baby grow and develop healthily. It can reduce the risk of diabetes, infections and obesity.

“The longer you breastfeed, the longer the protection lasts and the greater the benefits.” – Bridget Halnan, Cambridgeshire and Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting.

A survey carried out by Benenden found that 16% of women believe that breastfeeding in public was unacceptable, in comparison to just 6% of men.

Who am I? — by Naomi Shoretire

“Identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in…” – Joss Whedon.

There are moments in life when we feel at a loss and confused; we find ourselves asking: who am I?

Right now I am a teenage female, studying A Levels. I know I like Psychology, but I’m not 100% sure who I will be in the future. Even a year down the line, I will have had new experiences and my perceptions will have altered — I will be at least slightly different as a person. 

External factors also influence how we see ourselves and how others see us. Research presented to the UK Government highlights the numerous factors shaping our identities, such as hyperconnectivity, diversity, consumerism, or the blurring of public and private spheres.

Since identity is not fixed, the real question, I think, is not who I am. It is: who do I want to be? In a society full of labels, the only ones that should matter are the ones that we give to ourselves.


Our thanks to John Lyon’s Charity for making this project possible.


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