Last week I wrote a blog post after seeing the “Like A Girl” commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. It gives an amazing message centered around the idea that the phrase “like a girl” should not be seen as an insult. That same day, a friend of mine (love you friend!) texted me. She said she loved the post and is working to be “stronger”. She has found herself apologizing lately for being a “girl” emotionally and not the strong person she once was. Whoa. It really hit me that 1) when we celebrate being strong women, we sometimes think that we can’t cry or be seen as emotional, and 2) if we actually do cry or get emotional, we feel a need to apologize for it. With much love, this is my response…
I hated all things girly when I was little. Dresses, tights, lace, ribbons, drying my hair, being told to be quiet and proper and prim. I did not DO quiet and proper and prim. I did loud and talkative and front and center. I owned My Little Ponies, but I kind of think they are more badass than girly, so they don’t really count.
I eventually accepted the occasional dress or two, but through high school and into college I was much more comfortable being a “guy’s girl” versus a “girl’s girl”. I thought if I accepted help it would be seen as weakness, and I wanted everyone to know I could do things myself. I also grew up with an amazing mom who is very independent and very strong. She worked all day and did all our family scheduling and bookkeeping, while also chauffeuring us around to all of our activities and events. She didn’t show weakness in many areas, and very rarely cried (except that one time I showed up two hours late for curfew – soooo bad). Her time was only spent giving to her family and giving to her job, so I never saw her have manicures or pedicures or girls’ nights or massages or shopping trips. Between my innate fear of being dependent on anyone and my mom’s example of a strong woman, I felt that anything stereotypically “girly” had no place in my life.
Deep down in my soul, though, I didn’t always want to be the strong one. I didn’t always want to be independent and on my own. There were times I wanted help. I wanted someone to lift my suitcase into the overhead bin. I wanted to laugh with the girls over silly tv shows. I wanted the door held open for me. I wanted to cry and paint my nails and say “I don’t know” sometimes. I just couldn’t reconcile my mental image of strength with what I perceived to be the feminine side of things. So I lived in this place of wishing someone would offer to help, and then refusing it when they actually did. I would occasionally cry in commercials and movies, but I made sure no one saw (except during Titanic when I couldn’t pull myself together in the theatre bathroom). I said I was “fine” when I really, really wasn’t. I rewrote most business emails five times to make sure I appeared strong, in control and non-negotiable. It wasn’t my natural voice, but it was what I felt I had to do to be taken seriously and get things done. I found a balance and didn’t realize it was causing any internal conflict in my life.
Recently, I was listening to an interview with transformational coach Stephanie Kwong on the Biz Chix podcast. She mentioned leaving a certain career path because she knew in her gut that it wasn’t right and it wasn’t making her happy. One of the reasons was because she “didn’t like what she was feeling or who she was being when she was in so much masculine energy”. I was walking and pushing the stroller when I heard this, and I probably played it back three times to make sure I heard it right. I went home and told my husband that I had an epiphany on my walk (I tend to have any and all epiphanies either on walks or in the shower).
I have embraced certain aspects of being a woman over the years. I love being a woman and a mom and a wife and having girlfriends, and I feel I know how to do these things. But I didn’t know how to be ME in the business world. Since becoming a business owner 8 years ago, I have always second guessed myself and felt insecure. I finally realized this was in part because I felt I wasn’t good enough, so I was trying to be someone else. I was actually trying NOT to be what I really am – a WOMAN. I had gotten myself so convinced that my own natural tendencies – to hug, to write long-winded emails, to encourage, to wear my heart on my sleeve – were too girly and so that meant they were weak in the business world. I felt I needed to be more masculine – or maybe just less feminine – to communicate and lead and direct and manage and compete. In some cases I was going against my instinct, but I still did it.
With this realization, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I know now I need to embrace all of who I am and use that to be a better leader, better business person, better negotiator, better co-worker. I have to love me and have confidence in ME to make a difference. Embracing myself as a woman doesn’t suddenly mean I wanted to paint my nails and get my hair done and watch The Bachelor. For me personally it just means I no longer have to be one person in one area of my life, and a different person in another area. I can use my natural tendencies and lessons learned as a mom and wife and daughter and girlfriend to create a better business. It means I can stop apologizing for being who I naturally am.
Here is what I want to add to my post last week about strength. Here is what I want to say to any of you who have ever apologized for being “girly”. It’s awesome to be strong, and it’s just as awesome to be soft. Crying is OK. Not being able to lift a couch by yourself is OK. Feeling compassion that brings you to your knees is OK. Having a period – and everything that goes with that – is OK. Changing your mind is OK. Admitting you don’t have all the answers is OK. This does not mean you are weak. It means you are human. You NEVER have to apologize for simply being a woman.
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