For years, I felt isolated and dismissed because people were quick to judge, to tear me down, and presume I was stupid. It felt like rejection. The sound of snickering haunted me even as I completed my Ph.d.
Fast forward to the present day. I’m 43, a mom of two, and my face is covered in Covid vaccine-induced adult acne. I don’t look the same as I did in my 20’s.
But as I began to age, I noticed people started taking me seriously and I no longer needed to “prove” how smart I am.
They no longer dismissed me because of my beauty. But at the same time, like every other woman on the planet, I felt like I needed to combat the signs of aging.
One of the most prevalent and damaging narratives around beauty in our society is what I like to call the beauty-brains paradox.
The beauty-brains paradox tells the story that if you’re beautiful you can’t be intelligent and that if you’re intelligent you can’t be beautiful.
In my conversation with Brittany Allyn, the founder, owner, and creative force behind the successful Thirty Waves website, we discussed how we have experienced this patronizing paradox even as we achieved academically. We can both recall being called “cute” and belittled as we presented graduate-level research.
And SO many women experience being defined and limited by their looks in this way.
For years I felt I had been stereotyped and judged based on my outward appearance, labeled unintelligent or unqualified because of the beauty-brains paradox.
But it’s important to acknowledge that being considered attractive is a massive form of privilege and comes with all of the things that privilege comes with.
One of the biggest things privilege often comes with is ignorance as to what it’s like to be any different way. This is why I consider myself fortunate to have experienced being heavier in my youth and then losing weight and seeing how differently I was treated. My experience with body shame revealed to me that there is this power structure in place.
To be considered attractive grants you a type of social currency. Beauty gives you access, attention, and opportunities.
My social currency started changing as I got older and honestly, it was hard to grapple with.
When I got older I was finally taken seriously! It was what I had ALWAYS wanted! But aging opened a whole other can of worms.
I now felt the societal pressure to look young and perfect.
Women will spend thousands trying to prevent aging and maintain the beauty of their youth. We have resistance to this natural process. We not only want to prevent aging, but we also want to prevent losing the social currency we’ve grown accustomed to.
In reality, aging is beautiful and beauty doesn’t define us.
As conscious leaders, it’s our responsibility to challenge our stories. And WOW, there are a lot surrounding both beauty and aging.
Everyone experiences stories about appearance. These presumptions and judgments affect every single person, regardless of gender identity, and can impact self-esteem, confidence, and more.
You can break free from limiting stories around beauty.
Question the limiting stories you tell yourself and others
You didn’t create these expectations. You were taught these stories about beauty and aging. You’ve seen it reinforced all around you, for a long time.
But now you need to choose. And you always have a choice as the creator of your own life.
Choose whether you want to keep telling stories that harm you to yourself again and again, or not.
If you take on those stories and societal pressures and make them personal by believing them and perpetuating them, you are oppressing yourself.
Conscious leadership is about taking 100% responsibility for your own choices and your own stories. A super important piece of responsibility is doing our own work to dismantle these stories. You didn’t write those stories, but now you’re telling them.
When you can recognize how you’re contributing to keeping yourself small, you can use that self-awareness to regain that power that you have been giving away and losing. Each realization you have about how you’re keeping yourself small, or judging yourself, is an opportunity to break free from those limiting mindsets and stories.
Shift your mindset and impact the world around you
An empowered mindset shift can ripple through entire communities and networks.
You can make a conscious choice to stop perpetuating the stigmas and judgments that harm you.
You can choose if you’re going to bond over self-blaming and shaming related to your physicality. Putting yourself down in order to be able to connect with others is a choice you can stop making.
You can’t control the conversation around you but you can control whether or not you participate.
Challenge your subconscious associations around beauty and youth. Your appearance doesn’t define you. Reject the boxes that aim to keep you small, and step out into the world as your authentic, perfect self.