A few weeks ago, I visited a dear friend in the hospital, two days after giving birth to her second daughter. As I watched her big girl hold her baby girl, I was flooded with love for these little ones, and held a prayer in my heart that they may always know how truly brilliant and perfect they are. Love, embodied.
My friend is an incredible mom, and yet I know that even with great parenting, growing into womanhood with a deep sense of self-worth intact can be beyond challenging.
I grew up with an ambitious mom. She worked a full-time government job that she was very passionate about, working her way up through the ranks. At home, I was told that when I grew up, I could be and do anything I wanted.
On the playground and later at the mall, though, I often saw and heard a different story. I learned that my skin was too brown, that my hair wasn’t blonde enough, that freckles were ugly and that it was important to be pretty, smart, fashionable and funny.
As I flipped through teen magazines, I took quizzes that rated me: “How Attractive Are You To Guys?” and “What Does Your Face Shape Say About You?” I always knew the “right” answers, but no matter what I scored, I knew I didn’t measure up.
As women, it’s nearly impossible to have grown up in these times with a firm sense of self-worth. We often learned that our value in the world was based on our looks, our demeanor and the confidence we exuded (whether it was genuine or not). In the past few generations, we’ve emphasized intelligence and accomplishment as other critical measurements, leading to increased messaging to girls that it’s more important to be smart than pretty.
But all of this emphasis on looking good, being good and doing good as measurements of our value and our worth, can be deeply damaging. As a Women’s Leadership Coach, I hear it all the time: Even ambitious women who appear totally confident on the outside, often fear that they’re not smart enough, not skinny enough, not tall enough, not outgoing enough, not nice enough, not funny enough, not pretty enough, not successful enough… Too tall, too outspoken, too fat, too skinny, too masculine, too nice, too talkative, too shy, too ambitious.
Many of us overeat, overspend and overwork because we feel like something is missing or broken within our lives or within ourselves, and we’re desperately trying to soothe ourselves and prove ourselves. We might secretly compare ourselves to other women, constantly judging whether we’re “better” or “worse” than them. Divide and conquer? In many ways, it’s happening.
As women, now is our time to step out of this divisive mentality – the underlying belief that our worth is somehow based on what we do or how we look. It’s time that we upgrade our sense of self-worth and embrace that we are valuable and worthy, simply because we exist. This isn’t about buying into an illusion that we are without our faults or foibles; it’s about teaching our girls by example that they are loved just for being. This isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook around making a contribution in the world; it’s about respecting one another’s unique gifts and shining them more brightly into the world. This isn’t about it’s about egotism; it’s about having a powerful sense of self-worth that isn’t tied to accomplishments or what we have, so we can end this divisive social hierarchy amongst women.
I have hope that if we commit to embracing our own innate worth, we can begin to change the statistics around eating disorders, bullying, depression and domestic violence. It starts with us.
When you’re judging yourself harshly.
Take a deep breath and be glad that you noticed. This is the beginning of changing this pattern! Consider how a loving, gentle, well-resourced version of you might speak to your daughter, and speak to yourself that way. Be encouraging, patient and kind. If you’re not used to this, it may feel strange and take some practice. Be gentle with yourself and know that this – the inner work – is important work to do, too.
When you find yourself judging another woman.
If you’re saying harsh or critical things about another woman in your mind and you catch yourself, celebrate the fact that you caught it! Again, this is a great opportunity to change the pattern. Imagine putting yourself in her shoes for a moment, and consider that there’s always more than meets the eye. Be willing to let go of your criticism in service of sisterhood, and soften to her with compassion.
When you’re about to spend, eat or work mindlessly.
As I mentioned, we often use food, shopping, work and other things to soothe or prove ourselves. Next time you catch yourself about to do that, ask yourself “How do I want to feel?” and take responsibility for creating that feeling within yourself before you pull out your credit card, take the first bite, or open your computer. When your tank is full, you’re less likely to spend, eat and work from a unhealthy place.
When you talk to children.
Instead of jumping to praise them for their pretty dress or great test score, first feel your love for them, because that will impact them more than anything you could say. When you speak with them, show a genuine interest in them; ask them about what they’re reading right now, what they’re excited about, what their favorite color or song is. Your loving curiosity and attention will more likely lead to them feeling valued just for being.
➞ Join the sisterhood in the comments below, and share where you are in the journey of embracing your innate worth as a woman, and what you’re committed to in terms of deepening your relationship with value.