Yeah, sorry, but that niggling suspicion you’ve always had that you are not fabulous or amazing or special – no matter what anyone tells you – is correct. You are none of those things and nor am I. But before you pout and turn the page, let me explain why this is the best news you’ll hear all day
I go to a lot of conferences designed to “empower” women (I hate that word, by the way). They are a big business these days and much of what is said, debated and presented is useful and encouraging – even, occasionally, inspiring. However, I have noticed a tendency for the women in the audience to be told over and over again how “fabulous”, “amazing” and “inspiring” they are.
I understand that this is meant to be helpful, but I think it has the opposite effect. It certainly does for me, anyway. I don’t hear it as a compliment. I hear it as a pressure, even as a criticism. It doesn’t make me feel better about myself. It makes me feel worse.
I remember going to a breakfast supporting women’s sport a few years ago, a weird request in itself as sport and I are allergic to each other. However, the more left-field the request, the more likely I am to say yes to it, so I fronted up.
After a largish breakfast (which most of us wolfed down), we listened to a motivational talk by an Olympic gold medal winner. She was tall, she was blonde, she was Amazonian. She was also a good speaker, damn her baby-blue eyes, and she proceeded to tell us all about the demanding and relentless training program she had followed to prepare for the Olympics. It was all about overcoming mental and physical barriers – you know the sort of thing.
Anyway, as I watched this female paragon talk, I noticed what was happening to the audience. They, like me, were older, shorter, rounder and wearier than the gung-ho young woman at the microphone. Olympics? Get real!
We were all simply happy to make it to the couch and a glass of vino at the end of every day without having gone insane. Far from being inspired, I watched the women wilt. This speaker was making them feel worse about themselves, especially after all that bacon and eggs.
I think the same thing happens when some glamorous young thing (or impressively successful older thing) stands on a stage and tells an audience of women struggling with their real lives that they just need to believe they are “fabulous”, “amazing” and “special” for the good life to fall open at their feet.
It isn’t true but, worse, it makes every woman in the audience secretly feel a little fatter, uglier, dowdier and less adequate than she did before. It also implies that any failures you experience are your own fault because, like children at a pantomime exhorted to believe in Tinkerbell, it was your lack of belief in your own fabulosity that did the damage.
Bullshit. You are not fabulous. Nor are the women – no matter how fabulous they may look or sound – who like to sprinkle such adjectives around. No one is. We are all flawed, insecure, tired, self-indulgent, often bewildered human beings who mostly struggle to stay on top of the demands of every day life. And that’s okay; you don’t have to be fabulous, it’s fine to be just human. And once you throw off the expectation of fabulosity, life gets a great deal better, mainly because you can at last give up pretending to have everything sorted.
The other so-called compliment that makes my heart sink is when I hear someone called a “strong” woman. Not only is that another pressure (shit, they think I’m strong, I better not show any weakness), it also reveals unconscious sexism. “Look,” the users of this term seem to be saying, “there’s one of those exceptions – a strong woman – not like all those others who are weak.
” You almost never hear a man called a “strong” man unless he actually works in a circus.
Women don’t have to be fabulous, amazing, inspirational or strong to be of equal value with men and entitled to the same opportunities and rewards. Women can be just as ordinary, venal, flatulent, unimaginative and uninspiring as anyone else and still matter. We don’t have to earn our right to exist by constantly improving ourselves. It’s exhausting, it’s boring and it doesn’t work, so stop it now. See, I told you this would be the best news you’d hear all week.