A couple of weeks ago I read a story about a young model, in the prime of her life and career, who sent a public snap out to her SnapChat followers featuring a fully naked (and completely oblivious) woman in the locker room at her gym. She captioned the picture, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either!” and instantly made the picture visible to hundreds of thousands of people. What’s worse, though, is that as this story gained steam, even greater numbers laid eyes on this egregious bit of voyeurism.
It got me heated, honestly. This woman was harming nobody; on the contrary, she was bettering herself by caring for her body at the gym. What did this young model hope to gain from making an innocent the butt of a cruel joke? Instead of applauding her journey to health, she made her a mockery. Instead of getting to know her, she exposed her to the world.
Lately I’ve felt bombarded with this sad fact. I can’t scroll through before and after shots of women on fitness pages without seeing comments that read, “I liked you better in your before picture.” I flip through celebrity news and see that people are body-shaming plus-size models for losing weight. Presidential candidates (and Presidential candidates’ wives) being cut down because of their appearance. Do you know who seems to do the majority of the ridiculing? Females.
I would bet that there aren’t many of us who haven’t suffered at the hands of other women. Whether it be in the workplace, within your family unit, or in the preschool carpool line, I know that few are exempt from this behavior. I have vivid memories of bullying and intentional hurt that I still carry with me, even from nearly two decades ago. My guess is that this isn’t uncommon.
It all begs the questions: Why are women so vicious to one another? Why do we send a message, time after time, that we have a twisted need to tear one another down?
When I evaluate this phenomenon of cruelty, though, I’m forced to reach inward. In what ways have I, do I, contribute to the tearing down of my fellow woman? As much as I preach a need for us to band together and support each other, and as much as it stings to admit, I see, in my weaker moments, that I have this very same tendency within me. No, I’m not flinging insults at those around me or gossiping behind backs. I’m not giving women who pass by the once-over or side-eye. But it can creep in, if I let it. I can find myself mentally attempting to find fault with the fit, beautiful woman beside me at the gym, or the serene and patient mom of multiple children at the park, and that makes me part of the problem.
So how do we combat this in our own lives? Even more than this, how do we move forward and teach our daughters how to respect and build up those around them? If I could impart upon my own young girl a few pieces of wisdom as she enters into womanhood, it would be these.
When you observe something unique, or strong, or lovely in someone else, tell them. And mean it. Not the ‘I’m complimenting you but I really dislike you’ compliments, but truth-telling for the sake of your encouragement compliments. Build someone up for their sake, not yours.
Exhaustion is the enemy. Don’t try to be it all. Don’t attempt to pour from an empty cup. Not only will you burn yourself out, but when you’re at the end of your rope you’ll start to resent the same loveliness, strengths, and gifts in others that we talked about above. Self-care is important.
Women who stand together are stronger than you can imagine. There is a reason we are so drawn to each other: women who work together, who love each other, are a force. We crave mother/daughter bonds. We covet sister/sister relationships. We grow up wanting someone to share the other half of our ‘Best Friends’ necklaces. We are more capable when we are supported by and supporting one another. Seek that out. Be that to others.
If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, I promise you now that I will endeavor to highlight your gifts. I will celebrate your successes. I will bow down to help you up if you need it. May we find it in ourselves to seek one another’s good. It’s a bit of beauty that we all so desperately need.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.