The Peony is slender, subtle, warm and tender... like a woman.
If it were a state of grace, it would be harmony.
~ by Sidonie Lancesseur
But where does a 21st century woman stand in relation to her natural state of grace and harmony, the one that was there at her birth?
Recently, my work, took me to the small, sweet Swiss town of Davos, annual home to The World Economic Forum (WEF).
The WEF is said to bring together over 2,500 leaders from an array of sectors: business and academia, government and civil society, media and the arts, international organisations, in order to address political, economic and societal challenges of our times. With hundreds of sessions, the programme is considered an unparalleled effort to engage leaders in a shared narrative to improve the state of the world.
In the year I attended, the shared narrative incorporated various talks about women’s empowerment, closing the ‘respect gap’ at work, gender equality, how culture can empower women and even promised a new era for women. It would seem there is a global call for a change in relation to women.
In one particular forum, the take away was: women (particularly those in deprived areas) need jobs and jewellery to make them feel empowered. The jewellery part could be because the speaker was on Executive Board of a world renowned jewellery brand, however, no judgement could be cast on the person, because most women would agree that we accessorise in order to feel ‘complete’ in the image we convince ourselves gives that (false) sense of power. But none-the-less, most of the women empowerment conversations there and in general miss the point, failing to raise one important unanswered question and that is:
Is it possible that the way we are going about pressing for power and empowerment is actually taking us in the opposite direction, against our natural evolution?
As a start, take our young women and where they are in the world today. We might find without even looking at any stats available, just by browsing around social media sites, engaging in conversations with teachers, parents and young girls themselves, that where they are at and how they are feeling is way beyond what a pretty necklace, perfect hair-do, mint make up and even the right to equal salaries could mend. Note: there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned; the key point is, it is evident that all these external factors cannot be used as band aids for something that runs much deeper than women’s employment status and what the eyes see.
A recent article in UK press said according to a survey, one in four 14yr old girls in Britain is depressed (1). This is a pretty serious figure but why stop there? We should also ask questions about the 3 girls who didn’t make it into the data. Now, they may not be diagnosed with depression (there are a lot of young girls who would rather suffer in silence) but as we see and experience, a large number are likely to be living in some other form of predicament.
And so what is our response to this already alarming figure?
If every farmer around the country had a scenario where 1 in 4 sheep/goats/cows/any animal was poorly (let alone depressed) that would be an agricultural disaster on a national scale. And if we were sabotaging the animal welfare we’d be locked up or at least have consequences of some sort, would we not? And wouldn’t we call for our heads of states to have emergency meetings to address the situation?
Another study commissioned by a body care brand found that 67% of 3,300 girls and women surveyed between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries withdraw from life-engaging activities due to feeling bad about their looks (2).
The Mission Australia National Youth Survey has revealed that body image has been listed in the top 3 concerns for young Australians from 2009-2015. In 2018, this could be higher. (3).
This (impossible) quest for body image perfect consumes inordinate time, attention and resources. There is even a call for body image lessons in schools because eating disorders such as anorexia, bigorexia (reverse anorexia), bulimia, diabulimia, to name but a few, are literally eating away our young girls and adolescent women too.*
Looking around, we can safely say that worldwide what we have in the case of women across the board is a self-confidence crisis. The key word here is ‘self’.
So next time before we go to point fingers, let’s ask how are men allegedly stopping us from accelerating our power if these stats and everything beyond the recorded numbers are showing us that we are already starting from a premise that we are not enough?
And is it going to be the so-called world leaders to make a difference for women or is it each and every woman herself who can bring this long overdue change?
It is true that bodies are at the centre of our lives but have women everywhere taken the body, the outer and the physical to be the defining factor of our worth?
The new question thus becomes, is it possible to be in a relationship with one’s body in a far deeper way and in the knowing that there is more that the body can offer as a portal to something far greater?
A woman who stands in that knowing seems a rare commodity nowadays and yet, she is not arrogant, nor better than anyone around her, but she knows who she is simply by virtue of feeling the quality within her that nothing on the outside can match or replicate.
We see and we hear women using all the right words; body appreciation, confidence, empowerment and yet if someone as much as looks at her in a certain way or her partner doesn’t recognise her in a way that she wants them to, her mood drops, and she finds her confidence splattered on the ground, which goes to show that we are so set at the mercy of what goes around us.
There is currently a dark shade of grey on the whole empowering female spectacle – highly sexualised imagery across the net, in magazines, newspapers and on mainstream TV has become the accepted norm. The Internet has been doing its (black) magic in spreading this denigration of women for all to freely view, including our young girls and young women in a way that as long as it has to do with a woman and we put the words empowering, liberation and control in there, it’s all totally cool – almost a ‘good cause’!
Is it any wonder that the judgment of women based upon their outward appearance is so deeply ingrained in women and it gets manifested from a very young age? All because we have traded quality for images; we have traded all else for attractiveness as our main and most precious ‘commodity’. But boy oh boy, are we being badly bruised and battered by these choices in the process.
What these spot lights on all matters related solely on images whilst no light beams on the inner quality of the woman ‘speak’ to young women across the world is not true power and most certainly do not ‘progress’ women anywhere. They are simply showing what the women are doing to and with their bodies.
Showing the world bare breasts, butt cheeks and leaving very little left to imagination is not about feminism, nor does it have anything to do with emancipation or empowerment. Rather, these conducts are about glamorising certain types of body that society has come to deem ‘right’. They are also about female derision and about selling our essence for something that is of no true value.
They are about imposing false images onto women who look up to these women because they are omnipresent and so the young generation of women are made to think that this is what female liberation and women in ‘power’ must look like.
Selfies with Barbie type bodies get clicks and they get thumbs up; it allows celebrities in various industries to capitalise on our gullibility for desired body images whilst it keeps a woman’s true worth rated solely on her look, not on who she is as a human being.
These ‘empowering’ selfies and statements, are taking us to the very worst place outside ourselves.
If we get to understand who we are far more deeply, we become more accepting of ourselves, which raises a bar of appreciation and acceptance of ourselves. This in turn confirms us in the natural qualities we are and supports us to walk freely in the world without feeling that we need anything from it and or to do things to deserve our place in it.
When we feel that connection, the quality that pours out of us is phenomenal. All the motivational factors we keep looking for, all the encouragements and the appreciation of ourselves – ALL is found inside us!
It is those inner qualities and the connection inside us that is our Power steam engine.
The quality of our daily choices from the moment we open up our eyes in the morning and get on with the day and the way we respond to the world around us, to the moment our eyelids close at night, can actually profoundly change our experience of our body. The measure of how we do these activities defines their quality. Both with young and older women, when they connect to that quality and start to make changes in their everyday life, this alone changes the very physiology of you – that is true POWER. That is the button we ought to keep our finger on 24/7, something only we can do individually.
There is nothing in this world that is outside ourselves that can provide us with true power. We will always be at the mercy of reaction and need, wanting the world to give us something, if we don’t connect with what we have already been given at birth. Even the most incredibly loving friend, relative, child, partner cannot give this to you.
Should we continue with this constant need of the world giving us something because we are not giving it to ourselves and we do not appreciate that which we already have within ourselves, we are living a life that is about measuring up to an outer marker. A life where we are always set to fail.
For no amount of money, no number of children, no fancy letters before or after your name, no red carpets, crowns, Oscars, no accolade, no diamonds, pearls & necklaces, no lipstick and nail varnish, no amount of anything external can satiate that which we are seeking and which only we can give to ourselves.
Much like the peony that Sidonie Lancesseur speaks of, we women need to open up and allow the warmth, tenderness and grace to blossom in order to truly progress and feel the power we deeply long for.
Written by Dragana Brown