An invitation to slow down and connect
There is a social media campaign happening right now using the hashtag #challengeaccepted. The campaign is in response to the recent verbal attack that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to endure on the steps of the White House this month (which of course is just one more example of what happens to women all over the world in every walk of life every single day). The challenge is to post a black and white photograph of yourself and to tag other inspiring women in your life and encourage them to do the same. The campaign is about lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down.
When I first came across this challenge I wondered if I was missing some key detail, because while I’m all for female empowerment and lifting my sisters up, I was struggling to understand how posting a selfie was going to accomplish this goal. I decided to do a little digging, and it seems there are other women out there asking the same question. Interestingly, since these women started speaking up they have been attacked BY OTHER WOMEN for daring to question how effective posting photos of ourselves is in furthering the empowerment of women across the globe. To me this in itself raises the question: how effective is a female empowerment campaign that does not allow women the space for dialogue around how we define and further empowerment?
I have now been invited to join this campaign by three separate friends: all women who I love, respect, and who are blazing paths through life that are a constant source of inspiration and empowerment to me. I am grateful that they have invited me to join it, because it they hadn’t I probably would have let the images of women sail past in my feed without engaging more deeply. The invitation made me pause and reflect on why it didn’t sit right with me as a way to empower my sisters, and then to ask myself, if I wasn’t going to participate in this initiative, what steps I could take that would empower other women and help move us closer to our goal of equality?
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: my decision to not post a black and white selfie is in no way a criticism of those for whom this campaign does resonate. Belittling my sisters for their chosen way of raising awareness is not my agenda. That said, I lay awake in bed last night thinking about how I can participate in a way that does resonate for me. What practical steps do I currently take to empower the women around me, and what more could I do in my everyday choices and decisions? I’m sure the more I think the more ideas I will come up with, but in the interests of participating in this dialogue right now, I thought I would jot down some that have come to mind so far. If you have some great ideas that I do not mention below, I would LOVE it if you would share them in the comments section below—the more of us brainstorming and contributing to female empowerment, the better!
So here is my list so far (consider this a work in progress…I will add to it as more ideas come to me, and will add your suggestions to my list (with credit) if you leave them below and would like me to add them to my list:
1. Notice when other women are contributing to my community in meaningful ways and reach out to them to let them know that I see and value their work, and do posts that champion the amazing ways they are contributing so that the work of women around the world becomes more visible to everyone.
2. Support female-owned businesses that are in line with my values, and let others know about female-owned businesses and initiatives that are making waves so that they can support them too. An example of this is a post I did recently on social media about a fair-trade company called The Root Collective. This company is female-owned (I’m looking at you, Bethany Tran), and is working with artisans in Guatemala (many of whom are women) to make hand-made shoes, purses, and some items of clothing that celebrate the colourful locally woven fabrics that are part of the tradition of the villages in which the artisans live. The artisans are paid well for their work, thus enabling them to better support their families, and level the insane inequality between the poorest on our planet and the richest (something that is important to me). They even sign their name on the shoes they make so I can connect my shoes back to the person who made them, which helps me to feel more connected to where my clothes and shoes are coming from and more aware of how my purchasing decisions affect the wellbeing of others. Another company I have started supporting this year is Okoko Cosmetiques. Their products are not cheap, so I use them very sparingly, but they are such high quality that my skin has transformed this year as a result of using them, they are made in Canada, and the owner is the incredible Oyeta Kokoroko, whose goal is to set an example for others and create a path for other black women to encourage them to pursue their dreams.
3. Compliment other women on something other than their appearance. Don’t get me wrong here: I ALSO compliment other women regularly on their appearance. There is nothing wrong with telling another woman that she looks amazing. It usually brings joy and puts a hop into her step. But when I look back at compliments I have been given, the ones that really stick out to me are the ones where someone sent me a private note to tell me that my courage was inspiring to them; or that they really respected the way I care for others. The things that we are most aware of are the ones that tend to get stronger, and we could all use a reminder sometimes of the ways in which we rock.
4. Social media is such a central part of our lives these days that it is impossible to talk about empowerment without talking about the content we post online. It is a sensitive topic, I know, and I catch myself posting photos that only reflect the parts of me that I think will be valued and celebrated by others. One thing I am currently working on is asking myself when I am about to post a photo of myself: why am I posting this? If I am posting a photo of myself in which I have achieved something I have been working hard at, or a photo that captures a moment in which I know I felt really happy or content, and want to be able to look back and recall how I felt in that moment, I hit post. Whenever I am aware that I am posting a photo solely because my skin looks perfect, I look skinny, or I think a post will elicit external validation solely based on popular notions of what is attractive, sexy or valuable, I hit pause and ask myself whether this is a positive thing for my own personal growth, and whether this is contributing to female empowerment. Sometimes I still post the content, sometimes I don’t. The point for me here is just becoming more aware of how what I choose to share with the world contributes to shaping the reality that both I and my sisters have to live with day in and day out.
5. Who I follow. I used to follow other women who projected an image that I liked. Then I started reflecting on why I was following them and how their content was influencing how I felt about myself and the world in general. I am trying to follow more women whose posts lift me up and fewer women whose posts make me compare myself to some standard of beauty that has been defined by men and/or that has nothing to do with who these women actually are on the inside. As a quote that I recently came across said: If our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be. Not that the women I follow aren’t beautiful on the outside too—but they use their beauty, both interior and exterior, to empower others rather than tear others down.
6. Practice self-compassion and empower other women to do the same. This is a big one for me this year, and not something I have ever been very good at. Seeing the beauty in others is so easy. Finding it in myself is way harder. I regularly tell my friends how amazing they are, but until recently did not extend myself the same kindness. Since my mother passed away last summer I have noticed myself doing it more. In the past, whenever I was feeling insecure or uncertain, I would call my mom and she would say all the things I wanted someone to say to me: “you are courageous, capable, graceful, beautiful, talented…” you get the picture. Since my mother passed away I no longer have her to turn to, so I am having to uplift myself. Nowadays when I am feeling blue or unattractive, too heavy or unfit I hear myself saying “you are strong, beautiful and courageous, and you are working hard on your fitness—stop giving yourself such a hard time.” The other day I was talking to a dear friend, and in the middle of the conversation she started talking about a photo that I had taken of her in which she looked “fat.” She then went on to describe how ugly the little bit of extra weight she would like to lose around her waist makes her feel. I listened to how she was tearing herself down, and when she was done I said “don’t beat up my friend—she is amazing, and is working hard on getting more fit—she will reach her goal, but be kind with her as she works towards it.” Easier to say to her than it is to say to myself, so this one is ongoing. But whenever I notice myself tearing myself apart for a pimple, the wrinkle between my brows or permanent laugh lines around my mouth I am trying to voice what my mom would have said to me: “you are beautiful, my love. Be kind with yourself.”
7. Celebrate the diversity of ideas. There is no one right way to empower women. Each of us will have our own unique take on it, and the more voices participating in the conversation the richer and more powerful it will be, and the more headway we will make.
8. Stand up for other women. This is one I have not always done. I have been in many situations when I have watched other women be treated badly and did not stand up to help. Not so much anymore, but it has happened. This isn’t always easy or welcome, but speaking up, turning up, and standing beside my sisters when they are going through tough times is important to me. Injustice can only continue if the majority allow it to. Change is only going to happen when we all stand up and refuse to allow any woman to be treated with disrespect.
9. Take responsibility for my choices. Mothers are super aware of how their choices influence their children. I may not have children, but most of my friends do, and I want the decisions I make to set an example that I would feel comfortable having their kids see. This goes for how I treat my body and allow others to treat it; how I speak to myself and allow others to speak to me, and types of things I choose to share online.
10. Take risks. Accept challenges. Do things that are hard. When I shy away from opportunities out of fear I am disempowering more than just myself. When I say yes to leadership positions; when I choose to speak up; when I blaze my own path and challenge myself to keep growing in new ways I empower other women to do the same. When I step up and take a seat at the decision-making table I am saying I belong here—my voice important and will contribute to this dialogue. And when I value my own skills and contributions, I encourage other women to do the same. It doesn’t take a huge pebble to send out far-reaching ripples.
I could keep going, but this is a start, and I want this to be more of a dialogue, and less of a statement, so I will stop here for now. I would love to hear your reflections. How do you empower other women? What would you add to/remove from my list?