Stereotypes are exhausting. Whether it’s gender, race, sexuality or size, we all carry the burden of society’s preconceived judgements.
That’s why two recent college graduates in England, anguished by the stereotypes they witness every day, decided to do something about it by creating the “I’m Tired” Project.
“We found that we both moaned about the wrongs of the world, such as sexism, racism, homophobia, yet still were doing nothing about it,” said Harriet Evans, who co-founded the project with her friend, Paula Akpan.
The “I’m Tired” project is a collection of photos where people write on their backs what judgments drag them down. “I’m tired of men thinking they have the right to catcall me,” one model wrote on her back; another, “I’m tired of being told I’m too skinny for a guy.”
The project, which started in June, has already gained worldwide attention and surged to the top of social media trending topics. We spoke with Evans about how the project got created, and why she believes the idea of exhaustion fits into the conversation of labels and prejudice.
"The media continues to draw on tired and irrelevant stereotypes when portraying black people – we are violent, we are criminals, and we appear to have only a basic grasp of the English language. The portrayal of black women is no different, the media persistently choosing to portray that sole black woman as the 'angry black woman'. These women are stubborn and unreasonably quick to anger. They enjoy emasculating the men close to them and are exceedingly upset and irate. It is a creeping stereotype that seems to shape the way we view the black women we encounter. But a black woman’s feelings should not be considered lesser simply because we are maybe more openly emotive or naturally 'sassy' than our white counterparts.
How did the project get started?
Our inspiration for the campaign was “Free the Nipple.” However, after asking around some groups within our university, there was not much interest in doing something like that. We assumed this was because students our age are about to start their job hunt and we didn’t want to have their naked breasts plastered over the internet.
Paula and I were bouncing ideas off of each other and thought that, instead, we could have quotations of some sort written on people’s backs. This way it’s anonymous, as you never see anyone’s face, but also synonymous with the idea that someone has been labeled by society.
Where do you find your models?
Because we are only graduates, the models we use currently are mainly our friends… We are absolutely looking for anyone who wants to participate. No matter where they are in the world, we want them to get in touch with us.
"Too often, I am told that I excel at something because of my race, or I did well at something because of my race. My talents and skills are constantly being degraded into things that are beyond my control, a matter of nature rather than nurture. The tendency of some to reduce my achievements to a mere by-product of my race undermines the level of sacrifice that I, and others around me, have invested into my upbringing. This is just one of the offences among a long list of tactless comments that are often heard (no I won’t 'say something' in my language, I’m not your fucking performing monkey).
What do you hope to achieve with this project?
We want to make a difference, which for us is about highlighting the stereotypes and microaggressions that are still faced by society. We’re so often told that many social problems are disappearing: homophobia, racism, sexism, victim blaming. But our subjects, and both myself and Paula, are still facing problems like these on a daily basis.
For us, if this project changes even one person’s mind about the preconceived notions they might be holding, or inspires someone to ask more questions, or even for someone to feel more confident in themselves and that there are other people who are going through what they are going through, then we would be extremely happy.
Have you found that being stereotyped places a huge physical and mental strain on yourself?
I am lucky that I do not face huge amounts of oppression, other than for being a woman, which already takes enough of a toll… I don’t have to experience multiple forms of discrimination, and I am aware of my privilege. Yet, it really is exhausting to be aware of the oppression and discrimination that happens on a daily basis.
But then I think to myself, I’m tired and I’m really only witnessing it. Imagine how draining it must be to face it on a daily basis. No one should be treated worse because of who they of who they are, what they look like or who they love. Being different is what makes us all human, and this project hopes to embrace that.