Day 15 of the 30 words, 30 days challenge. We’re halfway through, y’all!
con·ceit·ed (kənˈsētid), adj. 1. having an exaggerated opinion of one’s own abilities, appearance, importance, etc.: Many performers become conceited after only modest success. 2. Archaic a. having an opinion. b. fanciful; whimsical. 3. Obs. intelligent; clever. [CONCEIT + ED2] –con·ceit·ed·ly, adv. –con·ceit·ed·ness, n.
—Syn. 1. vain, proud, eogotistical, self-important, self-satisfied.
I’m surrounded by so many phenomenal and phenomenally talented women in my life I can hardly believe it. Today alone, I had the opportunity to interact with a handful of them. Among them, a beautiful photographer whose most recent project celebrates the bodies of mothers and attempts to complete the picture of a culture that photoshops out cellulite and stretchmarks and loose skin, not only denying the beauty of women’s bodies but the experiences that changed their bodies in these ways; a yoga teacher and therapist who, through her own way of showing up as beautiful and vulnerable, supports her students and clients in finding their way to a place of vibrant openness and authenticity; and a blogger who gathers women together—both in online and physical spaces—to honor and own the beauty of their bodies exactly as they are, a women who challenges the media’s perpetual fiction that beauty only looks one way.
In conversations with my female friends who are following their passions and who, through shining brightly, allow others the permission to do the same, one theme comes up continually. That is the issue of space.
When we are children, some of us girls are lucky enough to be given lots of room to adventure and explore; we get to try on many hats and test out all the different things we could be. We could be an astronaut or a scientist or a teacher or a dancer. We could be a brain surgeon or a firefighter or an architect or a chef. But at some age, this expansiveness stops. We are told we need to shrink, to take up less room. We are told either that our vibrancy is unnecessary or that it threatens others. In any case, we are told to small ourselves. The room around us closes in. And many of us spend the rest of our lives negotiating the size of ourselves and trying to regain that space we lost.
It’s the boss vs. bitch dilemma that Nicki Minaj articulates so well. There’s a double-edged sword where women have to exude confidence in a particular way in order to be recognized as competent and yet when they do this, they are often labeled as too much. When a woman asserts herself and takes pride in her skill and work, all too often—still—she is viewed as conceited, uppity, egotistical (read: taking up too much room). Women are allowed to be successful, but not too successful (read: taking up too much room). If they become too successful, society says that everything that comes to pass is their fault; they then are solely responsible for any repercussions to their relationships, family life, and public perception. Was their success worth it? Worth this ruin they have brought to their lives?
A recent study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that while women in relationships with men are not threatened by their partner’s success, men are, overwhelmingly. In the study, heterosexual couples took part in activities and interviews to examine connections between romantic relationships and self-esteem. Lead study author Kate Ratliff writes, “this research found evidence that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they are not in direct competition.”
This is not the fault of these men. This is the fault of a culture that still regards women as inferior and which confines men to a very slim and stifling definition of success.
We have to start somewhere and I believe the place to start is with us and with art. We need more projects that complete the picture that we are only given a portion of. We need storytellers that offer up alternate stories. We need to slowly build a culture where we can celebrate one another’s success without telling the lie that someone else’s beauty diminishes our own.
Today, I stood in a room of over a hundred women: each of whom came to have her picture taken, to honor the singular beauty of her body. And in doing so, to give other women the permission to honor their own.
One thing I know for sure is this: I know that not one of us should have to crowd into a corner or crouch down to the floor. We should not be made to lessen our spectrum of light because our vibrancy makes others uncomfortable. Smalling ourselves does not make for a more expansive world. We have the space for everyone to rise to his/her/zir unique potential. When we decide we can take up the room we need, it’s amazing how there is more spaciousness than we ever imagined, enough for ourselves, enough for everyone who wants to share it.