Self 06 November 2018
Three months on the road changes a person. That's fine. That's expected. What I didn't know when I packed my bike, Voodoo—the world's fastest production bike—and headed off into the unknown for three months, was just how much it would change me.
Only a week into my epic journey, Voodoo and I were getting more and more comfortable with each other. Every bike has their own personality, and I was learning to love hers. She loved to push the limits, to power into corners and accelerate out of them. She loved the challenge of tight, torturous switchbacks and was never happier than when she was traveling at full throttle. Kind of like her owner.
My relationship with Voodoo was settling into a rhythm. However, my relationship with myself was still erratic. I was looking forward to this journey to heal the emptiness I was feeling inside. But the journey wasn't making my healing easy, exactly. It was often a journey of contrasts—one day I felt high on freedom and adrenaline, the next I dived deep into frustration and confusion. My emotions were a continual roller coaster as I tried to make sense of everything I was learning.
Maintaining my hard-won serenity was like trying to hold custard. I could hold it for a moment, but before I knew what was happening, it would slip through my fingers.
On day six, I rolled into Banff National Park and felt a precious sense of serenity. But by the next morning I was restless, disoriented, and more than a little petulant. The start of my day hadn't gone to plan—I'd had a latte spilled on me (vegans hate smelling of milk!), my meditation had been rained out, and my run had been nixed because of the threat of bears. And so, in one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful places in the world, I was sulky, sullen and surly. How had that change happened so quickly?
Nursing a cup of black hot water which vaguely passed for coffee, I opened the notebook of quotes and affirmations I'd written before I'd left, hoping they'd inspire me on my journey of change. My journal fell open to just what I needed to see— a gem I had heard from my favorite Zen master, WuDe:
A lot of suffering comes from wanting to be what is not, and wanting not to be what is.
Now that was a slap, and it was just what this miserable, grouchy diva needed to hear—although I had to read it a few times to really work it out. To me, it meant that we spend so much of our lives wanting things to be different instead of truly appreciating the joy and beauty we already have.
The message struck me to my core, as did the realization that my frustration had mainly been caused by my inability to control situations. It was shocking to realize I actually couldn't control everything that happened around me. However, I could control how I reacted to it. I could choose to be bad-tempered in the face of first-world adversity, or I could choose to accept the situation and still find joy in the day.
There are lightning-bolt moments in your life where messages are shocked into you, and there are other moments where the knowledge just seeps in. Like an intravenous drip, the lessons were slowly starting to trickle through. About time!
Consciously Finding Gratitude Through Journaling
In this place of incredible beauty, I thought about gratitude; instead of complaining, how about I be thankful? I'd heard that even your worst day changes with gratitude. It was worth a shot. So I started to write.
It was hard at first, but after about ten minutes—once I'd been grateful for the obvious—the faucet opened and everything flowed out. I couldn't stop with just writing. The power and emotion were so strong that I texted my family and friends, thanking them for being in my life and telling them how much they mean to me. I poured my heart out and got beautiful messages back from all of them—including one from my business coach. His reply read, “Thanks. That's great...but who is this?" I'd forgotten I was unidentifiable on my cheap Canadian SIM card. Even better! There's nothing like the power of anonymous gratitude.
In an unusual place of deep peace, I loaded a feisty Voodoo, and together we made the short, lazy 60 km ride to Lake Louise, which was perfectly timed for me to squeeze in a hike up into the glacier before nightfall.
Without a doubt, Lake Louise is another one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its impossibly serene turquoise lake encased by proud, imposing mountains and spectacular glaciers, it literally takes your breath away. And that was just what I needed—to be completely immersed in spectacular nature so my happy heart could continue singing.
That was the plan. Sadly, the old competitive warrior in me had other ideas. Despite hiking amidst incredible forest beauty—crystal blue waterfalls, sparkling streams, tiny, brightly colored wildflowers—I saw virtually none of it.
Old Competitive Habits Die Hard… But They Do Die
I couldn't be content with a peaceful, gentle walk. Instead, I needed to turn my hike into a speed march where the biggest competition was myself. I powered up the side of the glacier—never missing a beat, pushing at breakneck speed, overtaking everyone in my way to get to the top as fast as I could. I saw nothing but my own feet all the way up.
With a lemongrass tea warming my hands, I sat in the sun on the veranda of a tiny wooden tea house perched at the top of the ridge. I'd annihilated everything and everyone in my path. As the cool breeze started to dry the sweat on my back and chill my bones, I sat in bewilderment. What the hell was that all about? What is wrong with me? I couldn't even hike in one of the most beautiful places in the world without it becoming a competition. It's bad enough that I need validation from other people to feel good. But why the continual need to compete with myself? What was I trying to prove?
I had no answers. I decided I wasn't going to leave the tea house until I'd found them. Eventually, the cold and the realization that mentally smacking myself wasn't a good option either forced me back down the glacier.
Still, five cups of tea had shown me something: I might not have the answers, but the first step in finding them was to see myself as I truly was. I didn't necessarily like who I saw at that tea house. But in recognizing that competitive warrior, I knew I could change her. Gradually, with time, patience, and kindness.
I had plenty of time left in my helmet to make those changes, but today, the self-judgment had to stop. Heading down the glacier was a very different story. I slowed to a crawl. I stood mesmerized by the intricate beauty of tiny flowers. I smelt the richness of the damp, moist earth. I felt the cool breeze on my skin. I listened to the small gurgling stream as I walked slowly beside it. And I remembered—as I'd forgotten so many times already on this trip—it's about the journey, not the destination.
It wouldn't be the last reminder I'd need, but at that moment, it was enough. As I tucked Voodoo up for the night, I smiled. I was getting better at holding on to the custard!
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
women in business women empowerment women entrepreneurs women supporting women female entrepreneurs female leaders makeup lookism gender bias attractiveness attractiveness bias makeupless working women corporate women beauty standards beauty culture success in the workplace femme fatale business woman