Too, strong? My shame story.

This is my story of being a young girl searching for someone strong like me to look up to…and why young women should be more thankful than ever for Vice-President elect Kamala Harris.

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Shame. This dirty word didn’t mean much to me until a few months ago when I had a breakthrough in therapy. There’s a reason I hadn’t given shame much thought until recently. Because I numbed myself to the real feelings of shame that have hurt me over the years. I don’t recall how the shame started but the feeling is quite distinct. 

I felt (feel) like something was (is) wrong with me.

Once I awakened to this feeling I’ve been like the character Carrie Mathison in Homeland on some sort of connecting the dots investigation. Sadly, the threads of shame connect as far back as I can remember and have been triggered as recently as this year. 

Specifically, I have always been ashamed of my strong body and my strong voice.

prequel to the social dilemma

I don’t recall many images of strong women to look up to when I was a young girl. What I can remember is being a young girl who was solid with muscle. Strong from hours of swimming, track and field, dance class or whatever other sport I was galavanting in at the moment. But inside I was so embarrassed of my strength. As a teenager, an employee at a store I was shopping at one time said, “You’re so strong, are you a gymnast?” And for some odd reason that comment upset me. Why?!

  • I felt like I wasn’t the feminine ideal.
  • I felt like I was too strong.
  • I felt like I would never look like the tall blonde waifs who were the standard of beauty in teen magazines during my formative years (1980s-1990s). 

These negative thought patterns were reinforced by a silly childhood nickname that was probably considered sporty at the time but contributed to my feelings of self-loathing. I didn’t need social media images to feel badly about myself.

Then there’s my communication style—outgoing, direct, effervescent (ok, maybe that last one is more self-diagnosed). These characteristics contradicted the women I saw portrayed in media who were more quiet and demure. Where were the women like me? Strong, outspoken and competitive. Where were the Kamala Harris’?

I couldn’t find women to look up to that were just like me, so I drew a conclusion that there was something wrong with me. I built walls. I protected myself from pain—but trust me, that pain gets re-triggered. You see, I still have that same strong body and strong voice. A strong body that I should love because I work hard to nourish it and sculpt it. A strong voice that says the things others are afraid to say. But the thing about numbing out pain is you also numb the joy. 

Sure, I’m proud of my myself—but therapy helped me identify a void where self-love should be flourishing. 

This self-awareness has been humbling.

I now question my motives behind selfies I post on social media. Is this me loving myself? Or is this my ego needing external validation that I should love myself?

I look at my seven year old daughter with the same strong physique and natural leadership qualities and I think she is absolutely perfect. I love that she confidently walks around the house telling everyone what to do (actually we both do). And I never want her to feel ashamed of the way she looks or behaves. I want to protect her from that for as long as I can. But I know I can’t protect her forever. Documentaries like The Social Dilemma on Netflix reinforce that young women are being exposed to unrealistic standards of beauty younger and younger and that scares me. If I could develop these feelings back in the ‘80s imagine what today’s youth is up against?! To be honest, women my age are struggling with unrealistic standards, as well. I kept waiting for that documentary to touch on the mid-life age bracket in their charts and graphs, but sadly we were left out.

But young girls and women alike have hope. We see a strong woman stepping into the second most powerful position for our nation. A woman who doesn’t neatly fit into one box and isn’t afraid to say so. I originally put my #shameshare story in writing on my blog so I could officially close this chapter in my life. I’m ready for change. I’m ready for new beginnings. And more than anything, I believe we are all entitled to self-love. 

In what ways have you reflected on your own self-image? Are you experiencing any changes in your perspective?

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