"You look tired."
If you're anything like me (and literally every other woman I know), those words are anything but innocuous. They're a reminder that you aren't wearing makeup – and being judged for it. It's like clockwork to the point that it'd be funny if it weren't so infuriating, but the fact is that women are expected to adhere to a very narrow standard for our appearances to even be considered presentable in public. It's not a secret, and it's not a scandal. It is, instead, the basic expectation of all women before being taken seriously and respected. And that is, let's not mince words, abuse.
A few weeks ago, there was a minor flap in the news cycle about an informal ban on women wearing flats or glasses to work in Japan. Everyone was so breathlessly offended, and rightly so, but the truth is that isn't even remotely unique to Japan. Our appearances are policed all over the world, from strict religious mandates for "modesty" at one end of the spectrum to under eye concealer at the other. This isn't to equate these realities, or to deny that there aren't women who find liberation in both – there are undoubtedly many women empowered by making these choices for themselves – because the problem isn't how we present ourselves of our own volition, but what we are obliged or outright required to do.
Which brings me back to "you look tired." Because there's a lot going on there! First is the simple fact that many, many a man is so unaccustomed to seeing a woman without a coat of paint on that he doesn't realize that women don't all have perfect skin, and that any imperfection must be an indication of a problem. Dark bags under your eyes? Must not be sleeping. Are you sick? You must be sick. Or you must not take care of yourself. Or you must not care about your appearance. Or you're a lesbian. Or you're just not trying.
Glasses make us look "mannish," or "unsexy," or even "intimidating," which usually is just a euphemism for too smart.
None of this is news to any of us. Generations of men who grew up on air-brushed, pinned-up, painted-over, half-starved supermodels from Marilyn to Cindy have basic expectations of what a woman is supposed to be that are then imposed over us to our detriment. The informal ban on flats and glasses in Japan may have gotten attention, but it isn't even a particularly stark example; we have all faced the threat of censure for failing to live up to someone else's fantasies.
But damned if you do and damned if you don't, there's the ever-present threat of being punished for trying to do exactly that. Wear too much makeup? Dress too "feminine." You're "asking for it." You're "distracting." You're "unprofessional" and don't want to be taken seriously. The line we have to walk is impossibly thin. Punished for being too sexy, punished for not being sexy enough – the threat is ever-present. So what is there to be done? The connection between appearance and respect is undeniable and must be navigated.
And it's not even just men, although they are themselves the primary beneficiaries; we police each other, and it mostly isn't even conscious. We have internalized these standards, applying them to other women as much as ourselves. "You can't pull that off." "Your makeup is slutty." "She just dresses like that so the boss will pay attention to her." It's ridiculous, but we do it all the same, staunchly defending double standards that hurt us all. I've done it. You've done it. We've all done it. That silent, judgy glare, the back-office gossip, and pointed and whispered accusations. We do it to ourselves.
And the guys? Guys can roll out of bed, run their fingers through their hair, and everyone's happy if they managed to throw on a pair of pants and some ratty sneakers. Even "making an effort" has a different definition; a powder-blue buttonup and some khakis are really all anyone is asking of them, and sometimes they can't even be bothered to go that far. While a sharp-dresser is always gonna be an eye-turner – and let me tell you, I've seen some guys who can wear the hell out of a great suit – that's considered exceptional and noteworthy. A guy with mussy top is never going to be asked if it's windy outside. They never need an excuse.
"You look tired."
Well, I am tired. Being a woman is exhausting. And nothing – not money or success or power – has changed that. Instead, it's been sorority, our willingness to speak to each other and publicly about the ways the informal rules hurt us; heels might "look professional," but they can really mess up your feet. So I'm not here to propose a solution as much as to issue a call to arms: it's okay to look tired. It's okay not to look perfect. And that's something we're obliged to communicate, not only to the men in our lives, but to each other.
This is the great gift of the social media era: it's connected more women than ever before, giving us a megaphone we've never had that can reach women we'd never otherwise meet. It has let an entire generation of women articulate and communicate shared oppressions, fueling commiseration, anger, and yes, change. That's how #MeToo happened. Even before lifting each other up comes the basic work of validating feelings about our lives we've always been expected to tamp down.
I think this might be harder for women my age and older. We aren't as keyed into the digital conversations and have more time "going along to get along" under our belts. We've learned to survive in man's world and often to a degree have internalized its values about us and our bodies. But we should expect better, and I'm glad to see our daughters standing up for themselves. It's like Lysistrata, the classical Greek drama about women stopping a war by initiating a sex strike: things get better when we stick together.
Because it's either stick together or fall apart.
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We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.
A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:
Speaking up about their successes and achievements.
Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.
Telling one too many people about that date night.
Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.
These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.
The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.
Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.
Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.
Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.
Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.
New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.
The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.
Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":
1. Approve of yourself.
While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.
2. Connect deeply to those you serve.
One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.
3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.
Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.
4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.
The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.
5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.
Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.
6. Accept you can have it all.
Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.
7. Celebrate everything!
The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!
May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.