March is Women’s History Month. Just a few weeks ago the UK celebrated a great landmark in female history: the 100th anniversary of the first British women being granted the vote. And March 8 was International Women’s Day, a date set aside to celebrate the achievements of women globally and to gather strength from the global community to push for more progress.
These days are an amazing opportunity to remind ourselves of all that women throughout history have given in the fight for change. But we mustn’t think that women’s history is something that is finished; done by other people, elsewhere, in the past.
Women’s history is occurring right now in the present, in the individual: in you.
My line of work means that I’m constantly reminded of this fact. As a Pilates instructor and pain & hypermobility specialist, I’m surrounded by women who struggle daily against their own personal battles. Whether it’s managing invisible illness and chronic pain, juggling an almost overwhelming load of duties and responsibilities, or ‘simply’ pushing through each day, I’m permanently in awe of the women I see coming into my studio.
They might laugh if I were to tell them that just by going about their everyday lives they were inspirational. Yet it’s true. We are, rightly, encouraged by the example of high profile female activists and pioneers. But don’t forget that you too are an inspiration to someone. Someone out there will be looking at your life and drawing strength in solidarity from the challenges you face and overcome. This is the strength needed for progress.
It’s often when you feel you are being made most invisible that you truly shine the brightest. I’m thinking of so many strong and beautiful women I have had the privilege to know. Loved ones staring down illness with grace and resilience, friends shouldering unexpected and heavy burdens. And those rejecting society’s discrimination: take Sheila Rodrigues, my 91 year old Pilates client who amazes and reminds us that movement can be a joy regardless of age!
Their example is the inspiration I tap into every day. Being a woman means growing up in the world with a unique set of expectations, rules and pressures, but also in a community of strength and creativity, compassion and fire. Each member of this community is an active participant by virtue of their presence.
Society likes to say that women are competitive with each other but I don’t agree – we’re just competitive with ourselves. And that’s something we should seek to break free from this Women’s History Month. Rather than creating for ourselves false and impossible standards against which to measure our ‘failings’, we should celebrate our capabilities and achievements.
Appreciating yourself is not egotistical or selfish: focusing on individual wellness and happiness is the key to helping others and making the wider positive changes you wish to see. It increases your strength, both emotional and physical, which you need to face up to daily tasks and struggles. And it helps spread the light of joy and inspiration to those around. Personal wellness is the foundation of progress.
So, if you only take one thing from Women’s History Month, I want it to be this. Realise and nourish your own power. The examples of women across time remind us that women can do anything, even when the odds are stacked against them. And each woman is already already part of that illustrious number. You don’t need to earn your place.