For this mother's day, I want to honor ALL the women and girls who have ever felt like they don't measure up.
Last October our Year of the Groove release was the electropop song Supermodel Astronaut. At the time I'd posted my Supermodel Astronaut Manifesto blog entry, but at the advice of someone close to me, I ended up taking it down when we got Huffington Post coverage for the Supermodel Astronaut Challenge. I couldn't predict where the media would take it, and I didn't want my words to be misconstrued and scrutinized, and sometimes you just don't know how other people will perceive things. But now that the spotlight's not shining so brightly on this, I want my words to live because I believe that women being hard on themselves is just a reflection of how culture can be hard on females in general.
Because not enough girls get taught "you is kind. You is smart. You is important"...
SUPERMODEL ASTRONAUT MANIFESTO
So here we go...
IT'S HARD TO BE FEMALE.
There, I said it. (Some people will have their hackles up from that statement. But, that is NOT synonymous with saying that it's easy to be male, so you dudes who just got offended can unbunch your tighty whities… I'm just representing the ladies today, ok?)
I'll skip history lessons and statistics in what I'm about to say. This is just what I think after having been female ALMOST all of my life [joke] and after a lot of conversations with other women. Some of this may not be so obvious...
THE BIG TOPICS
We might as well talk just go ahead and address the big topics like domestic violence, date rape, and human trafficking. "Those are extreme examples, I don't know anyone who's gone through that," some of you are thinking. Are you SURE about that? The statistics on those are higher than you might think and the majority of the victims are women. I bet you know more than one woman who's been a victim of at least one of these, she just probably doesn't want to talk about it much.
Alright, enough of the hard stuff, I'll ease up. What about less 'public safety announcement' ways it's hard to be female… Like being a teen mom or being a single mom while getting paid less than a man for doing the same job. That happens a lot. That's pretty stressful.
The truth is, women can end up in a lot of situations that they didn't choose, and often times they get blamed by "society" for being in circumstances like I just listed. And sadly, many women even blame themselves in the wake of the trauma. Even if they aren't openly blamed to their faces or blaming themselves, they often still get treated differently by those who are uncomfortable with such hard topics. And quite often they bear long term consequences for choices they didn't necessarily make for themselves. This is a legitimate stress for many women.
Even if these things haven't ACTUALLY happened to a women, somewhere in her mind, she is aware of the possibility they MIGHT happen. This takes up part of our bandwidth and chips away at our emotional well being.
The stress and/or danger that comes with being female can be extraordinary at times, and I'm not even just talking about CHILD BIRTH, which is terrifying. First off, women live with an awareness of possible threat to their personal safety way more than we even talk about. Women are aware when they walk to their cars alone at night, get into an elevator alone with a strange man, use a stairwell in a public building, walk down the street at night, end up alone in the mail room with that creepy guy at work they don't feel totally safe around… this is legitimate stress which can happen quite regularly for some women. Even if it's not in our conscious thought, part of our brain is on alert, and it takes up some of our bandwidth and chips away at our emotional well being.
OBJECTIFICATION & DISMISSAL
On a less obvious plane, pervasive objectification of women is also a form of violence. Hopefully no one reading this will be obtuse enough to argue that women are not objectified in our culture. It's all around us, it's so ubiquitous that it's accepted as normal, like greed. But just because it's common doesn't mean it should be considered normal or remotely acceptable, or that it's not damaging. This mentality is the very first step in what can result in actual violence toward women. When you objectify someone, your heart is at war with them. There is no empathy, no looking out for their best interest, no caring about them as a person. It's a subtle and often undetected war which influences a person's motives and decisions. As prevalent as this is, it's impossible for a female to not be on the receiving end of that attitude at times. If you multiply this by the number of relationships and random interactions we have in our lifetime that are tainted by someone's heart generally being at war with us… it has a significant influence on what life can feel like and it chips away at our emotional well being.
Also, there are a lot of derogatory terms slung at women for which there is no male counter. Slut. Whore. Bitch. Prude. Spinster. Frigid. C---. And phrases like "on the rag" or "hysterical female" or "don't get your panties in a wad". How did you men feel earlier when I said "unbunch your tighty whities"? Did you feel disrespected? Women have come a LONG way in the last several decades, but there is still a blanket of dismissal and disrespect that gets thrown on women quite often, and it feels pretty bad when it happens. Quite often in the work place, a woman must be twice as good as a man and work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously. Women are often presumed to be less capable in certain professions simply because they are female. And then if a woman should dare to own the label "feminist", she is often labeled as a "man hater" which can be defeating. We all feel it. It's in the air. This chips away at our emotional well being.
THE FEMALE BODY
The grooming and maintenance of the female body can be expensive and exhausting. First of all, cosmetics and sanitary supplies are not cheap, and only one of those is technically optional. Hair cuts cost more for women than men, and generally speaking, a woman's wardrobe cannot be as basic as the average male wardrobe. And bras… bras are expensive and uncomfortable. Is there a woman alive who doesn't love that moment of FINALLY taking that horrible thing off at the end of the day? Underwires! Ugh!!
And think about this, most women probably have no more than half of the upper body strength of a man, if even. So every time we open a heavy door, carry a child, carry groceries, or even lug around a purse… we are exerting at least twice as much energy to do those tasks as a man with twice the upper body strength would. Sure, you dudes can put your keys, sunglasses, wallet, and iPhone in our purses, if you want to CARRY it.
Then there's the PROFUSE BLEEDING once a month. Unless you've experienced it, you have no IDEA how utterly disgusting and exhausting it is to menstruate. For many, it's like getting sick once a month every month, but you can't just cancel everything and stay home, so you go about life with your own personal horror movie happening in your pants.
And what's this lunacy of having a woman put HOT WAX ON HER PRIVATE AREA and then have her pubic hair RIPPED OUT BY THE ROOTS on a regular basis!? It's barbaric, I say!
And do I even need to talk about how unpleasant an annual "lady doctor" visit is? Stirrups. Speculums. Pap smears. Boob smashing mammograms. I mean… buy a girl a drink first, geez! It's humiliating and violating and it chips away at our emotional well being.
All I can say is, I'm so glad I got married before social media. I don't envy the girls/women who try to date in today's social climate. The expectations of what a girl/woman will or won't do after how many dates is an extremely personal choice, and there is a lot of pressure and precedent that can cause a girl/woman to feel unaccepted if she doesn't give it away. It can become obligatory, which is the LAST thing it should be.
I have serious concerns about the young sexualization of the current generation of girls. More and more retail chains are marketing sexy underwear or "date underwear" to teenage girls, which is entirely inappropriate in my opinion. This is the time in a young woman's life when she is solidifying her sense of self, her own personal identity. Instead of being focused on dancing, playing an instrument, acting, singing, inventing, writing a novel, discovering scientific breakthroughs, playing a sport, horse back riding, formulating her plan for taking over the tri-state area… many young women are instead distracted by the dating and sex game, and this can set a girl up to feel as though that is a much larger part of who she is than it should be. Misguided boundaries in that area can damage a young woman's perception of herself. If she goes too far, she might feel as though that is what is always required to experience true connection with someone else. Or she might feel like she's not worthy of saving it for someone special after she's already gone too far.
And we all know the age old dynamic, a girl gives it up because she is looking to be loved and cherished, the guy considers it a conquest, and once he's gotten it, he loses interest and the girl is left feeling rejected and used and crushed. This is far too much for young tender hearts to endure without sustaining deep wounds to the soul. Does one ever truly recover from that? At any age?
And either extreme of sexual promiscuity or abstaining can carry its own consequence. If she chooses to save herself without a strong sense of who she is, she might struggle when someone calls her a prude or a tease. Many people who haven't chosen to abstain will likely treat her as though she is strange or uptight.
Alternately, some girls get very aggressive and try to seduce young men. No one can say what someone else's motives are for certain, but I doubt a young woman would do that without some serious outside influence and a fundamental longing to simply be desired. That in itself can have some very damaging fallout.
This can all cause a great deal of mental and emotional stress, and it takes a chip out of our emotional well being.
DIFFICULT CHOICES & THE MOTHERHOOD CRISIS
The fact that women are the child bearers inevitably brings us to a place where we must make choices, if circumstance hasn't made the choice for us already. Many woman have to decide, will they strive for their career to the detriment of their future family or will they sacrifice a part of their own ambition for the sake of raising children? Because we all know you truly cannot "have it all," as Kelly Rippa would lead us to believe. Women who choose a career may always have that nagging question inside wondering if they've made a mistake about not having or delaying having a family. Some women may never get married, and they may wonder if their ambition was part of the reason. It's not uncommon for strong enterprise in a woman to be off-putting to a man, and it may hinder potential relationships. Or if the relationships materialize and even go to the point of marriage, it's not uncommon that the man then takes the role of oppressing his formerly thriving and motivated woman, keeping her down because he is threatened by her drive and skills. Swap the genders and it's a completely different dynamic. Men rarely have to choose between family and career. It likely doesn't even cross their mind.
The flip side of that is the women who opt for delaying or foregoing their career aspirations to start a family and stay at home with their kids. Contrary to what some ignorantly believe, just because a woman has a child doesn't mean that suddenly she is perfectly fulfilled with child rearing. Quite often, this time can spark an identity crisis in women who were previously busy and thriving in their work. This intense ambivalence between loving this little person so much we would take a bullet for them without even thinking about it and yet feeling completely trapped in the lifestyle of motherhood, feeling like we've lost everything that makes us feel like the person we knew before… it's a crisis. The guilt of these feelings can be torture. But also, the guilt of having kids and putting them in daycare and not spending more time with them can be torture.
Then there are the women who face infertility. I doubt anyone who hasn't personally experienced this struggle would ever truly understand the complexity of emotion a woman wrestles with in this situation. For a woman to long for nothing more than to have a child, seeing women everywhere with their own babies, hearing about women who have more kids than they seem to be capable of taking responsibility for, feeling as though they are deeply flawed because they cannot do the most miraculous thing women were created to do… the weight of this can be suffocating, and the aching emptiness inside inconsolable.
Each of these scenarios can be a crisis, and they chip away at our emotional well being.
WOMEN ARE AMAZING
Now let's talk about the extraordinary strength it takes to be a MIDDLE AGED woman. By the time a woman is in her mid forties, she has very likely dealt with the following: soul crushing relationship disappointments, the physical terror of child bearing, the unfathomable demands of raising kids or the disappointment of not having them, the stress of seeing her parents grow older or of losing them, the realization that many of her lifelong dreams will never materialize, witnessing her face and body change as she ages, and enduring the myriad trials of living in a broken world. And by this stage of life, she has a keen awareness of her diminishing "worth" by society's standards of youth and beauty, she's being marginalized more frequently even though she's wiser than ever, and she's being taken for granted by those to whom she has given the most.
And yet she carries on with her life, and she keeps showing up with her required plate of cookies without ever indicating how much is happening behind the eyes or how deep the wounds are that dwell inside of her heart. And she continues to give of herself despite being taken for granted and marginalized because that is what is required of her. Sometimes she wonders if anyone even considers her anymore.
This is a LOT, isn't it!? Talk about STRONG… Even if we stop right there, we can see how being female is intensely demanding and how amazing every day women are. No question.
THE MEDIA MIND SCREW
Now that we've discussed some of the REAL stress women carry, let's think about the MEDIA MIND SCREW. This is what the media puts in people's heads about women.
The media says… A woman should stay forever young looking. Age is bad. She should be thin but with great boobs. She should try new recipes and pack her kids' nutritionally balanced lunches in bento boxes so she can post a photo of it to prove herself. She should work on her fitness until she's got six pack abs and thigh gap and a "bikini body". She should change her home decor with the seasons. She shouldn't leave the house without make up or clothes to hide her "figure flaws". She should feel fulfilled in her career. She should be having great sex! And she should do this all in 4 inch heels with lustrous hair and full pouty lips because the burden is on HER to keep [or get] her man "interested". And if she doesn't naturally have lustrous hair, pouty lips, or a great rack, she should consider getting some "work done" and subject herself daily to carcinogenic dyes and perfumes because who cares about health risks and unnecessary pain and expense, if she's not sexy, she's doing it wrong, am'ma right!?
This is all PILED ON TOP of that earlier stress I mentioned [personal safety, objectification, child birth, pap smears, motherhood crisis, the horrors of middle age]. And it all gets PROCESSED in our more-like-spaghetti-than-waffles brain… so the stress of one thing affects all other things.
It's really and truly UN-REAL. We are pressured to prove ourselves over and over and over. So we knock ourselves out to keep all our plates-full-of-made-from-scratch-cookies spinning each day, often thanklessly, and find it impossible [because it IS impossible] to measure up no matter how hard we try. Falling short on these measurements of "worth" often plants the seed of shame in our minds, which if kept in secret grows deep roots.
So then we TRY HARDER, right? We are potentially kept so busy chasing futility that we can be utterly preoccupied and distracted from other soul nourishing and heart mending uses of our time and energy, like meaningful human interaction and making a positive difference in someone's life. You know, the stuff that actually puts joy in your heart.
So we've got all this garbage piled on top of us, all these stressors chipping away at our emotional well being, and we are USED UP before we get to the life giving happiness of real connection with others, so then what happens? The shame goes unchecked and the self deprecating internal monologues start looping.
And this becomes the voice inside our heads.
I AM ENOUGH
I once heard a photographer say that when they do a family portrait session, their first priority is to make sure mom feels pretty. Let her be in the back so she doesn't feel fat. Make sure she's at flattering angles, because if mom feels pretty then it all goes better. This struck me as a bit tragic. It's apparently a silent epidemic that women who have given up so much of themselves to raise a family should have the experience of a family portrait session be permeated with feelings of inadequacy. Sadly, I must admit I'm infected with this virus myself. How senseless. Just to put this into perspective, flip the genders. "We need to make sure dad feels attractive, let him stand behind the kids so he doesn't feel fat." Ridiculous, right!?
It doesn't have to be a portrait session though. When we get our photo taken with friends, how much of our mental and emotional energy goes toward worrying about how we'll end up looking? I've experienced this with a group of great friends, people I love and who love me on a happy occasion that we want to remember with a photo. Knowing what's about to happen, we all talk about what to do physically so we don't look old or fat. It's kind of funny but it's kind of not funny. How much joy is lost because of our own self criticism? We can't really measure it, but it takes a chip out of our happiness in that moment. And we don't even realize it's happening because it's just NORMAL. Even if a woman doesn't fall into this particular trap, there are other ways that the media mind screw affects her and it starts quite young.
If you think of HOW MUCH this media mind screw saturates us starting when we're kids, it's astonishing. Think about every critical thought a woman or girl has about herself throughout the day. Feeling fat. Feeling like she can't just allow herself to age gracefully. Feeling like she's not pretty enough. Feeling like she's not achieving enough. Feeling like if she doesn't have guys interested in her as she is, she needs to dumb down and fix up. Feeling like a few extra pounds or wrinkles or cellulite or grey hair or arm flab or stretch marks or not being able to get pregnant or find a man or save her marriage or protect her children from harm… feeling like those things DIMINISH HER WORTH… When you stretch that across a life time, this is a big effing deal.
These thoughts and feelings occupy precious emotional and mental space. Whatever emotional and mental space is busy with negative self talk, that space is not available for life giving things. Things that make us truly joyful, content, grounded, and at peace. If every single woman and girl around the world suddenly had the weight of the media mind screw lifted off of her, if we all TRULY BELIEVED "I am enough"… it might not fix everything, but we would certainly be happier deep down inside. Can you even imagine what that would be like? How healing is that thought? I am enough. Girls wouldn't give it all away so quickly. Young women wouldn't settle for bad dating relationships. Kids would have happier moms. Husbands would have happier wives. We would have better friendships. We would be emotionally, mentally, and physically healthier. We would possibly live longer. Our home would be a happier and healthier place. The world would be better.
The impact of this is impossible to quantify.
OK… so we all agree this would be a good thing. How can we make this happen? Well… what do we have control over? Most of those things I mentioned earlier we cannot control, can we? We cannot change the legitimate threats to our personal safety, the unfair blows life can dole out, or other people's objectification and dismissal of women. And we still need to make tough choices and go to the "lady doctor".
What we CAN control is our own thinking. We CAN control how much we allow the ridiculous notions of the media mind screw to become honest expectations we have of ourselves and each other. Let's take back our brain space!! Let's change the voice inside our heads!! Because when we give so much mental and emotional energy to the pressures of what we SHOULD achieve, how we SHOULD look, and how we SHOULD feel, it INVALIDATES what we DO achieve, how we DO look, and how we DO feel. Think about that for a moment. If much of our focus is on who we think we SHOULD be, it completely cancels out the joy of celebrating who we ARE.
I'll ask it again. How much different would our emotional landscape be from day to day if we truly embraced "I am enough" without ANY of the negative self talk? Ponder that for a moment.
ABOUT THE SONG
It wasn't lost on me that I had written a song about a Supermodel Astronaut, an unattainable reality. And yet I felt that generally speaking, WOMEN are Supermodel Astronauts in their own right. When you're in the grocery store, look around you, you are surrounded by women who are amazing for all that they do despite the invisible burdens and silent self criticisms they carry.
I wanted to connect the song "Supermodel Astronaut" to the message that women are already Supermodel Astronauts for what they do every day. But how… how do I bundle it? Of course, I was totally fired up about the idea of using this song for a bigger message. [Cut to a gif image of me clapping in rhythm and chanting "USE IT FOR GOOD! USE IT FOR GOOD! USE IT FOR GOOD!" as I march around the room.] But the logistics were still fuzzy.
Then it hit me one day, make it a challenge! How many people did the "ice bucket challenge"? Let's make a Supermodel Astronaut Challenge!!! When I thought of this, I got that feeling in my stomach like you get when it dawns on you to add bacon to something and you KNOW it's going to be amazing. Actually it was way better than that.
I decided to make this a challenge that has nothing to do with achievement or fitness or setting a goal [because aren't we all kind of exhausted already?]. This challenge has to do with shifting how you THINK and embracing the truth "I am enough." Within 48 hours of coming up with it, the idea had galvanized in my mind and I was in full force. I had created a Facebook group called "Supermodel Astronauts" and asked dozens of women I knew if they could help me fine tune my idea. I also asked whoever was willing, to make a video and send it to me. Several of the women chimed in and were extraordinarily helpful in structuring the logistics of the Supermodel Astronaut Challenge.
It's been interesting as I have communicated with so many women about making videos for me, I've seen that for some, this has been a bit of an emotional challenge. Some women really had to process the impact of holding a sign that says "I am enough." It was a mini-crisis. It only reinforces the need for this type of message to be spread. I personally need this message as well. I don't have this routine down by any means, I only know enough to know I need to work on these things.
THE SUPERMODEL ASTRONAUT CHALLENGE:
Step 1. Take the SUPERMODEL ASTRONAUT PLEDGE:
I PLEDGE TO EMBRACE THE TRUTH THAT I AM ENOUGH.
I WILL BE AWARE OF AND TRY TO STOP:
- Thinking and saying critical things about myself - Thinking and saying critical things about other girls/women - Comparing myself to people on magazines, billboards, TV, movies, and even pinterest. - Comparing myself to anyone else, because I don't know their whole story. - Allowing past failures, current disabilities, or other people's unkind words or opinions to define me. - Allowing my own insecurities to keep me from connecting with others. - Competing with other girls/women, even just in my mind, because it's not a contest.
I WILL BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT:
- Practicing self grace, self forgiveness, and self acceptance. - Making choices for myself that lead to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. - Letting go of pointless grudges, because it prevents potentially meaningful connection with others. - Showing grace toward others in word, thought, and deed. - Reaching out to other girls/women and listening, sharing, and encouraging because we're all in this together. - Living authentically.
Step 2. SHARE THIS VIDEO and TAG several women/girls who YOU think are Supermodel Astronauts, asking them to TAKE THE CHALLENGE.
Step 3. To go a step further, TAKE A SELFIE with a sign that says "I am enough. #SupermodelAstronaut" Make that your profile picture and use #SupermodelAstronaut and #iamenough in the description. [Remember the #SupermodelAstronaut and #iamenough hash tags so we can all find each other.] CONGRATULATIONS! You're a Supermodel Astronaut!
If you'd like, make your OWN Supermodel Astronaut video and post it on YouTube with the hashtags #supermodelastronaut and #iamenough with a link back to the original video. You and the women/girls in your life can spread the message. Go ahead and use the song, we don't mind!
I have to say, I am so absolutely thrilled with this whole message, and I am exceedingly grateful to the many women who helped me develop this. It was especially exciting to be communicating with women as far away as Greece, Pakistan, and Russia to get their video clips. How amazing is that!?
I believe this message resonates with a lot of women, and I pray it changes hearts and contributes to a turning of the tides in our culture. However things go, this whole process has been very positive for me personally, and for the first generation Supermodel Astronauts who have helped me.
We girls gotta strap on our bedazzled jet packs and stick together, am'ma right!?!
Get more information about how to do the Supermodel Astronaut Challenge.
And look what I found today...