Us women face a lot of scrutiny over how we look. But it's through words and actions that we gain confidence, not our appearance.
So...last weekend was rough, yeah?
I promise, I'm not going to get into politics here, just stating some facts to bring us to the point of this post. There was a presidential inauguration. A lot of people, especially women, feel angry and scared. This led to a massive demonstration the next day, led by women and attended by (mostly) women with the goal of voicing their fears and standing up for more marginalized groups.
Agree or disagree, that's not the point of this post. But I do want to point out some of the responses I saw. A lawmaker in Indiana shared a fat shaming meme about the female marchers. Another lawmaker made comments about the "unhappy liberal women" with tattoos, piercings and body paintings. And I saw a shocking number of remarks on facebook saying things like, "they're just mad because they're ugly and no man will marry them," or "I've never seen so many fat, ugly women." Apparently I need to do some unfriending...
Then on Monday, I was driving home 7 hours from my parents house and listening to Christy Harrison's fabulous podcast Food Psych. P.S. If you haven't subscribed, you must. In her episode with Lauren Ezell Minear, they discussed cultural expectations of women's bodies. Lauren shared a story from middle school how during a team building exercise, each person had to share something nice about everyone else in class. When it came time for the boy she had a crush on to say something nice about her, she was devastated when he replied with "genius" and not something about her appearance.
It made me think back to elementary school when I won our class spelling bee, which I know is hilarious to my regular readers who spot at least 3 typos in each of my posts. Even though I was supposed to move on and compete with the rest of our grade, I gave up my spot to the runner up, all because I was embarrassed that people would think I was smart.
As I thought about these things, I started to get mad. Like, real mad. Apologies to the slow driver in the left lane who had to bear the brunt of my anger via excessive honking and flashing of brights.
But seriously, it's appalling that we as women have to deal with so much pressure to look a certain way - thin, pretty, happy....apparently free of tattoos, piercings and body paint. It's even more appalling that our appearance has any relevance in how others view our words and actions. There's no question that we as women are valued more for our looks than for our brain and heart. The subtle and overt messages from society make us feel like what we say or do is less important than what we look like as we're saying or doing it, because sadly, there is a significant portion of the population who feels that way.
This focus on our appearance can be a distraction that prevents us realizing and achieving our true potential. It's hard to give a bad ass work presentation if in the back of our minds, we're worrying if our arms are jiggling as we talk. How can we constructively debate with our male counterparts if we're trying to seem "cute" and "likable" at the same time? How can we find balance in work, home and self care if we have to spend an hour plus a day making ourselves look "presentable." We end up spending so much time and mental energy worried about appearance that it keeps us from doing the things that really matter. Or, we try to do it all, and are left feeling completely overworked and exhausted.
In my practice and personal life, I see so many women try to alter their appearance in an attempt to gain respect and feel heard. But of course, short of turning to a plastic surgeon, our appearance isn't exactly the most malleable. Plus, no matter how close or far you are from conventional beauty standards (which are kinda BS and made up), your voice and experience is important and deserves to be heard. You count. Your voice counts.
I think we all can recognize that this double standard is pretty stupid. So why not give the system a big eff you by going out and doing and saying those things you've held yourself back from. Here's some ideas:
Stand up for your beliefs. Have a polite conversation with someone who disagrees with you.
Put yourself in the limelight at work. Volunteer for a leadership role or share a great idea you have with the group.
Take a class on something new, whether it's an exercise class or an education class, on maybe photography or a new language.
Volunteer your time for a program you believe in.
Ask for a promotion at work. Bring a list of reasons why you've earned it.
Empower yourself with knowledge. Become an expert in something that interests you.
It's been my experience that confidence comes from action and achievement, not appearance. So channel your energy into things that make you feel powerful, lean in, and make your voice heard.