Women who were taught by men what it means to be the “perfect woman” teach girls. It’s time we teach our girls to define their own ideal. – Kristen Schwartz (for my daughter, Ivy)
Can I be candid? Learning to unlearn what I’ve been taught about the wrongness of not being a “perfect woman” blows. Maybe that’s a tad vague. Let me try that again. Unlearning all the things that society (including women) have taught me about what it means to be a desirable woman is an ongoing struggle. Things like how women look, the size of our chests, the size of our ambition, and so on. If you’d like an illustration and the opportunity to throw up in your mouth (like I did), take a look at this article.
Can you sense a tad of spiciness in me? I said I was still working through it, if you’ve ever come to a realization that what you’ve learned to believe was a lie, you’ll totally get me.
To be enough
Here’s the truth, as I see it. Girls are taught that to be accepted they must adhere to certain standards. These standards, created a long time ago by men, then became the scripts in advertising and marketing. Eventually, most women believed them and began passing them on to their sons and daughters. Those children then enter the world continually inundated by the scripts of how a “perfect woman” looks and behaves.
For a long time, I believed being female was a curse and why wouldn’t I? In my experience being female meant never being enough. The most powerful feminine experiences are tainted with not enoughness. Childbirth, only we can do it, we grow a human being inside of us, I mean COME ON. But the entire experience has a shadow that follows it, don’t gain too much weight, are you going to breastfeed, if not shame, how quickly can you snap back, I know your body after birth is equivalent to having major surgery but get up, take care of business. Have you checked out the mommy shaming online? Gross.
Society tells us to lose weight, but not look too good, cover up, take it off, get educated, don’t be too ambitious, speak up, and shut up. Good Lord and who’s the hardest on women in 2018? Women.
Woman vs. Woman
When the message is “look like this and be like this to be worthy of love” who becomes our biggest threat, the other woman who looks closer and acts closer to the ideal. Women were duped. We’re taught to destroy each other and ourselves so we can be the first in line to be judged. Judged against the false “perfect woman” standard. We endure all of this for a chance to earn our worthiness.
I’ve had conversations over the last 20 years with women and men about the trend of women vs. women. It’s conversations like these that make me believe that people see it. We see women attempting to shrink other women, but the responsibility is placed on men. I can see it in the “women’s movement”. I see women screaming misogyny, I see women yelling about the ridiculous standards we’ve been brainwashed to believe. What I don’t see is women taking 100% responsibility for who we’ve become because of the standards.
Setting our own standards
I agree the standards suck and they create unhappy women. I get that during any path of awakening there comes a time for reflection and blame. The key is not stay there. It helps to know where the falsehoods and pain came from but continually pointing does nothing. It’s not men who need to eradicate the standards, it’s women. Women have unknowingly become the biggest enforcers of the standards.
We have women in media and in advertising printing the garbage (i.e. author in article above), we have Mom’s teaching their daughters to diet by age eight, we have women running companies that prey on our insecurities, we have women “fighting for” women’s rights but revoking the woman card from anyone who doesn’t look at life through similar eyes. It’s not about misogyny its about ownership. Who have we become? How do we need to change?
If I stand back and look at what we’ve become it’s overwhelming. I don’t have a time machine so I can’t go back to the ancient past and change the catalyst to the standards, and blaming yields poor results. But there is one thing I can do that changes the future. There’s one thing within my grasp that rewrites the script. I can teach my daughter (and son) how to stay in control of their worthiness. I can teach them the truth so when a lie comes around they’ll spot it.
Here’s 5 things I believe my daughter must know to embrace herself and others.
1. Your body was not created for consumption.
It’s not your responsibility to raise decent men. I don’t care how many times your friends are told to wear longer shirts or cover their bra straps. Your physical body is not a distraction. Your body is not responsible for men’s bad behavior. I will show her the lie that says; female bodies are for sexual gratification of male audiences. I will show her how women bought into the lie. I’ll make sure she knows her body carries her soul and men who don’t understand that aren’t worth her time. I’ll teach her to pay attention to the amazing things about her body separate from the lies.
2. The lie of the societal standard of beauty.
I’ll show her the ads, the commercials, the diets, the beauty pageants. I will point out the narrow standard. I’ll show her the men and women who’ve bought into the “perfect woman”. Then I’ll teach her how money is involved. That when we buy into the standard 98% of women are paying to buy the products, cutup their bodies and sell their souls. All to look like the lie. Then I’ll help her see the 2% of the women who do fit into the standard and how they’re treated by other women. She’ll see the comments and remarks that belittle them and cut them down are attempts at destroying the standard by destroying the woman. I’ll tell her to look for and appreciate the beauty in herself outside of the false standard.
3. Food is not the enemy.
I will make sure she knows that 1 & 2 feed into 3. Due to past experiences I made the decision during pregnancy that I would never speak the word diet, say the words “I need to lose weight” or speak negatively about my body in front of her. I don’t care how loud my thoughts were I would never communicate body hate to her. I will make sure she knows that her body is a vessel and her job is to nourish it, keep it strong, so her soul can glide through the world. Food is to be experienced not avoided; movement is to be enjoyed not dreaded. I’ll show her how to love her body through nourishing it, not depriving her in attempt to be the “perfect woman”
4. You can’t please them all.
She’s a huge Taylor Swift fan. “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind, people throw rocks at things that shine, and life makes love look hard. The stakes are high, the waters rough but this love is ours”. She’ll know that if she achieves the definition of the “perfect woman” there’ll still be people unhappy with her. She’ll understand that hurting herself to be the “perfect woman” will not keep society at bay. If she attempts (like me) to transform herself through surgery, injectables, makeup, Spanx, diets, filters and more, it won’t stop the demands. It doesn’t curb the judgment. Aim for your own happiness, because you’ll never please them all.
5. Your voice matters.
You don’t need to be sugar and spice and all things nice, at least not to everyone. Define that phrase yourself. Give yourself and those you love sugar. Give the world spice when life demands it. There will be times nice is not required, in fact sometimes your inner warrior will be necessary. Understand that your soul, its 100% nice and that has 0% to do with society.
What are you passionate about, what lights you up? Chase it, share it, do it, write it, scream it from the rooftops. Don’t let someone’s brokenness silence your voice. Your voice isn’t for everyone it’s for the people who’ve been waiting to hear from you. Set boundaries, communicate what’s not ok with you, give them a chance. If the situation doesn’t change, don’t demand change from them, change your vicinity to them. I will make sure she knows how enough she is. How important her voice is, just how deserving she is.
This feels like the tip of an iceberg.
I feel we need to focus our attention on redefining societal standards ourselves, the power is in us. We need to see who we’ve become. What part we play in the narrative. The products we buy, the things we go along with and the messages we send our daughters. We can’t be victims and be victorious. We have to choose.
Can you relate? How do you deal with societal standards and how does do they affect your life? Share in the comments below.
Kristen Schwartz is the founder of Realized Woman® Retreats. Four times a year women come together for the inner adventure of a lifetime. Realized Woman retreats combine inner healing with outer adventure to deepen connection. Adventure back to yourself through reconnecting to the earth, your body, your desires and each other. Join us for the Fall Realized Woman Retreat.
Image courtesy of Omar Lopez.