I grew up with an ambitious mom. She worked a full-time government job that she was very passionate about, climbing her way up the ranks. At home, I was told that when I grew up, I could be and do anything I wanted.
On the playground and later at the mall, though, I often saw and heard a different story. I learned that my skin was too brown, my hair was not blonde enough, that freckles were ugly and that it was important to be pretty, smart, fashionable and funny. As I flipped through teen magazines, I took quizzes that rated me: “How Attractive Are You To Men?” and “What Does Your Face Shape Say About You?”
I always knew the “right” answers. And I knew I didn’t measure up.
As women, it’s nearly impossible to have grown up in these times with a firm sense of self-worth. We often learn that our value in the world is based on our looks, our demeanor and the confidence we exude (whether it’s genuine or not).
Substantive efforts are being made to emphasize intelligence as another critical measurement, leading to increased messaging to girls that it’s more important to be smart than pretty. But all of this emphasis on looking good and being good — even doing good — as a measure of our value and our worth can nevertheless be deeply damaging.
As a women’s leadership coach, I hear it all the time. Even ambitious women often fear that they’re not smart enough, skinny enough, tall enough, outgoing enough. They’re not nice enough, funny enough, pretty enough, successful enough…Too tall, too outspoken, too fat, too skinny, too masculine, too nice, too talkative, too shy, too ambitious.
Many of us overeat, overspend and overwork because we feel like something is missing or broken within our lives or within ourselves. Many of my clients are desperately trying to soothe themselves and prove themselves. We might secretly compare ourselves to other women, constantly judging whether we’re “better” or “worse” than them. Divide and conquer? In many ways, it’s happening.
It’s time to step out of this divisive mentality — the underlying belief that our worth is somehow based on what we do or how we look. It’s time that we upgrade our sense of sense of worth and embrace that we are valuable and worthy.
We to need to commit to embracing our innate worth. Here’s where we can start.
1. When you’re judging yourself harshly
Take a deep breath and be glad that you noticed. This is the beginning of changing this pattern! Consider how a loving, gentle, well-resourced version of you might speak to your daughter — and speak to yourself that way. Be encouraging, patient and kind. If you’re not used to this, it may feel strange and take some practice. Be gentle with yourself and know that this — the inner work — is important work to do, too.
2. When you find yourself judging another woman
If you’re saying harsh or critical things about another woman in your mind and you catch yourself, celebrate the fact that you caught it! Again, this is a great opportunity to change the pattern. Imagine putting yourself in her shoes for a moment and consider that there’s always more than meets the eye. Be willing to let go of your criticism and soften towards her with compassion.
3. When you’re about to spend, eat or work mindlessly
As I mentioned, we often use food, shopping, work and other things to soothe or prove ourselves. Next time you catch yourself about to do that, ask yourself “How do I want to feel?” and take responsibility for creating that feeling within yourself before you pull out your credit card, take the first bite or open your computer. When your tank is full, you’re less likely to spend, eat and work from a unhealthy place.
4. When you talk to children
Instead of jumping to praise them for their pretty dress or great test score, first feel your love for them, because that will have more impact on them than anything you could say. When you speak with them, show a genuine interest in them; ask them about what they’re reading right now, what they’re excited about, what their favorite color or song is. Your loving curiosity and attention will more likely lead to them feeling valued just for being.
Nisha Moodley is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.