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Women, Stress, and Suicide

Health

I have previously written about the subject of bullying (in school and in the workplace), and I have also written about women supporting each other in the workplace. So now, it's only natural I write about women, stress and suicide in recognition of Suicide Awareness Month.


In this day and age, there is more pressure than ever before being placed on women. From full-time (even part-time) employment, cooking, cleaning, childcare responsibilities, care-giving to elderly parents, the list goes on and on. Women today are expected to do more than ever. If you are fortunate enough to not have to work or to have household help (in the form of a nanny, housekeeper or a partner who evenly splits household responsibilities), this may reduce your stress somewhat. But in reality, most women do not have these options. It's insane. You have to be the "best" parent, the "best" employee, the "best" wife (girlfriend/partner), have the newest model car, be highly educated, thin, attractive... My Lord, how can anyone cope? Women are made to feel inadequate on every level. Just watch all the commercials on TV, they tell you, you will be happier if you drive this brand new car, eat this food, have this gadget, wear these clothes, etc. No wonder women feel it's all too much; you feel like a failure if you can't measure up to these ridiculous standards.

Job problems, excessive stress, crisis, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, child abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), and a lack of social support are all common risk factors for suicidal behavior. Any one of these things would be terribly overwhelming for a woman to deal with. And then, comes the coping mechanisms: alcohol, too many sweets, smoking, Xanax. I know when I've been stressed to the max, I reach right for the chocolate! (At least it tastes good.) All things that work against you as far as your health is concerned. But what is left when someone feels like these ineffective coping mechanism just don't work anymore?

I worked with a woman who died by suicide. Though I was away on vacation when the call came in, I remember falling to my knees and crying out in utter disbelief. To this very day, I cannot shake it. The call was on a Monday and I had just seen her three days before. She seemed fine to me; we were laughing and joking together. I wonder what was going on with her then? Did anyone see the signs? Was she one of these women under extreme stress?

By all accounts, she seemed to be happy, content, nothing seemed off (at least not to me). I guess you can never truly tell what someone is going through in their life. I know it's true that everyone has a story, and that most people are going through something. It's frowned upon to be negative; you should be a trooper and just plow through. You just cannot know.

I'm sure there are many women who feel that they are not living up to everyone's expectations, always feeling inferior, juggling too many responsibilities and just feeling completely overwhelmed. Sometimes it feels like you are never good enough. Even if you have high self esteem, sometimes it can feel there is always something or someone to come along and try to knock you down. The pressures of society can become too much then comes the hopelessness. And thus begins the downward spiral. I have always had a high regard for myself; however, I have had many obstacles, setbacks, regrets, disappointments, missed opportunities and let-downs. But, I can honestly say that I somehow always managed to go on in one way or another. I think it has helped me that I have sisters, which has helped me deeply understand other women and be more empathetic to other people's struggles. That's all it takes sometimes, a little support, concern, and empathy to help someone get through a bad time and feel that they don't have to end their life. That somehow things will get better; tomorrow may be brighter. Suicide is not the answer.

There are hotlines, programs, lifelines, that can help. Following up with loved ones is just one of the actions that you can take to help others. Also, talk openly with someone, become available, show interest and support, offer hope that alternatives are available. Ultimately suicide isn't anyone's fault, but the commonality of it may be reduced if we encourage more open emotional sharing and normalize feelings of depression that may otherwise by held within and result in suicide]

National Suicide Prevention Life 1-800-273- TALK provides a 24/7 hotline to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

It really saddens me that women feel so much pressure these days. We live in a very "life is hard, just put up with it" society, but that just keeps emotions in and stops people from seeking the help they may desperately need. Which is why I am so adamant about treating others with kindness, empathy and understanding. You never know what anyone is going through; what is going on in their lives. Someone can be having a hard time at their job, have money issues, be unemployed, having issues with their children, siblings, parents (they can be caretakers), marital problems, or be struggling deeply with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. We should all stand beside one another to help other women out whenever possible. Someday it could be you needing help, and it would be nice to know that someone has your back and truly cares. It can be the difference between saving a life or losing one.

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4min read
Lifestyle

Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

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."