All artwork by Kylie McLean.
“If any female feels she need anything beyond herself to legitimate and validate her existence, she is already giving away her power to be self-defining, her agency.”
― bell hooks
It started with a feeling. There was a strong sense of unease when you decided to put your feelings secondary to others. You thought that it was the right thing to do. Noble, even. You truly believed that it was who you were meant to be and that you were doing your job as a dutiful citizen in this world. You subscribed to the notion that the roads of altruism lead to acceptance. You bought into the idea that self-sacrifice was all there was to you.
You let them dictate your mood and made a home out of their actions. You believed that the decisions they made were a reflection of you and that it was all your fault.
You tried to change for them. You became this fictitious idea of who they thought you were and who you thought they wanted you to be. You placed your sense of self-worth in others.
You relied on their validation.
Somewhere along the line, you lost sight of who you were as a lover, a friend, a daughter, a student, a woman, and a boss.
But most importantly, you lost sight of who you were as a human being. You forgot that the world revolves around the sun and not them. You forgot that they weren't even microcosms of the planets.
Why do we, as women, feel this way?
We live in a society that devalues the worth of a woman on a consistent basis. Through policies, toxic media messages and negative connotations surrounding women and mental health, it can be difficult to determine our worth. The strongest of us find ourselves in an upward battle against negative self-talk and struggle to truly find comfort and worth in ourselves.
The bigger question, however, is more of an introspective one: how can we attain again our sense of agency and define ourselves?
Well, it starts by knowing who we are. Every woman – no matter her age, race, sexuality or social class – has at some point had to look in the mirror and ask the inevitable question: who am I?
Well? Who are you?
Until you’re able to answer that question, you’ll be lost in a sea of confusion. You’ll start to dismiss self-care as a guilty indulgence and neglect your own personal needs. You’ll abandon your power when dealing with others, and most importantly, you’ll lose the battle against yourself.
Don’t let the negative voices make you crumble.
Everything in our culture is forcing us to look outside of ourselves for acceptance. But nothing changes until the internal revolution begins quietly within ourselves.
So how do we do it?
As women, we must be brave enough to drag our hearts through the mud and darkness and stand up on our own two feet. It means digging deep within ourselves and identifying our strong suits while forgiving ourselves for our human weakness, just like everyone else. It means not comparing ourselves to others who lead completely different lives. It means not being consumed with guilt or looking to others as a remedy for emotional dependence. It means, in the words of British-Somali poet Warsan Shire, not making homes out of human beings.
It also means the obliteration of validation from others.
There comes a time in every woman’s life when we’re reminded of who we are when something terrible happens. It’s in those final, false words of encouragement after we’ve been let go that we're told how smart, creative, or strong we are or that any body, company or team would be lucky to have us. It’s that gentle step-back from a threatened romantic partner that tells us we’re “too much” when they are simply not enough. It’s in those exact moments that we’re reaffirmed of our intelligence, and strengthened in our stance against those who think they know who we are. It’s in those moments that we see a sliver of our worth before our second thoughts and self-doubt begin to cloud us.
Our only job is to never let that moment go.