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How Society's 'Be It All' Expectations Impact Women

In today's ever-changing and fast-paced world, women are constantly bombarded with societal expectations of how to look, act, and be, with each expectation more demanding than the last. From the pressure to look flawless with our physical appearance to the expectation of effortlessly juggling a career, all while raising a family, and maintaining a social life, the weight of any one of these expectations could be a lot, much less all of them together. That's just asking for trouble.



The Pressure to Do It All

The struggle of women feeling the need to 'do it all' is deeply rooted in history, dating back to centuries of gender inequality and societal expectations. From the suffragette movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where women fought tirelessly for the right to vote and participate in political life, to the feminist waves of the 1960s and 1970s, which challenged traditional gender roles and advocated for women's liberation, the fight for equality has been ongoing. Figures like Maya Angelou, renowned for her poetry and activism, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pioneering Supreme Court Justice, exemplify the resilience and determination of women who have defied societal norms and shattered glass ceilings. Despite significant strides, women continue to face systemic barriers and cultural pressures that dictate they must excel in all aspects of life, often at the expense of their own well-being and fulfillment.


One of the most common themes I'm noticing amongst women today is the overwhelming pressure to present this image of having it all figured out. Picture this: you are the go to person at home; you manage the scheduling of all appointments for everyone in your family. Not only that but you keep track of when toilet paper and tooth paste needs to be purchased, and when shoes need to be replaced because the old ones are too small. Then, you leave the house for a day of work and are expected to have answers for the questions about that big project you're working on, all while navigating the clashing personalities of your colleagues. Only then to look down at your phone and see the group message of your girlfriends blowing up about the weekend plans meeting where and when, doing what, and for how long. Which reminds you that you need to find a sitter and make sure that you have something clean to wear for that outing. Oh, and I will pretend you didn't open any of your social media apps during the day to see how you didn't cook your family the healthy meal that the trainer you follow said to try, or that you yelled at your kids in the exact way that the parenting expert told you not to do. All of which remind you that you aren't measuring up to the people on the internet and that you need to be working harder to keep up with all of them so that you can maybe, finally, have a life worth living.


Society tells us that success means checking all the boxes: getting the degree, being a certain weight/size, climbing the corporate ladder, owning a home, finding our soul-mate, having the kid(s), etc. etc. As if it's as easy as just hitting the "buy now" feature on Amazon Prime to craft our perfectly curated life. This is not reality since it takes years of time, consistency, energy, money, resources, and connections to actually get to even part way to where society tells us all we should want to be. Women tend to work their "income earning" job and then come home only to start their "second shift" in which they do all of the unpaid labor that it takes to run a household and a family.


Unfortunately, striving to meet these astronomical standards in so many different areas of our life often comes at a high cost to our mental health; anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, burnout, imposter syndrome, PTSD, C-PTSD – these are just some of the challenges we are facing. The constant pressure to measure up (or level up) can leave us feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and to be completely frank, hopeless, asking "what's the point?".


Finding Resilience and Coping Strategies

And yet, there is hope. Despite the immense pressure women face, many of us are starting to find ways to push back against the standards that society is trying to force upon us. Be it what our bodies are supposed to look like, the careers we are supposed to do, or the things that we are supposed to find fulfillment in. Slowly, women are stepping out of the fast lane to say, "this isn't for me." Women are starting to decide for themselves what makes a life worth living rather than allowing the outside world and generations before us dictate what has value and what doesn't in life. Through the use of therapy and various support networks, it is possible to learn who we truly are and what is actually important to us. It's about acknowledging that there is no one "right" way of being and that different doesn't equal bad. It's okay to take a different path – even if it means making it up as we go along.


I think about how women (I'm being stereotypical here when I say women because I'm sure there are men out there doing this too) are doing things such as decorating their spaces in ways that bring them joy, rather than the way that design standards tell them too. They are leaning into bright and lively colors. With items that reflect their life experiences and personality. They aren't focusing on everything matching or flowing, instead the emphasis is on joy and comfort. How strange to thing that colors such as yellow or pink in a living room could be an act of defying the norm in this day and age?


Be the Change

So how are women expected to navigate a world that seems to be working against them? We are looking at systemic issues here. No one woman is going to change the entirety of the system, it's important to remember that. Each woman caring for herself and acting in her own best interest will have a radical impact on the larger system when enough people stop subscribing to the broken beliefs that have dictated our lives for so long. Here are some of my thoughts for how women start caring for themselves and changing the system as a whole.


Self Care (meeting basic needs)

When I say self-care I mean; sleeping 7-9 hours a night, eating enough calories to sustain your day, drinking water, moving your body in a way that makes you feel good, etc. These are none negotiable things for creating a life that you love. When I say that I mean, these are the things that need to happen before you pour into your children, your career, or anything else.

Embrace your authentic self

Get in touch with the things that make your heart happy. Coloring. Walks. Singing. It doesn't matter. Figure out the things that resonate with your happiness and the future that actually makes you feel good and let that be your guide.

Find your people

Humans are social beings. We are meant to live in a community. We are wired for connection. However you spin it, we need to have people in our lives who get us and support us in our journey. This can be incredibly difficult AND it's also a vital part of creating a happy life for ourselves.

Mindfulness techniques

Deep breathing, mindful eating, body scans, whatever works for you to be connected to your body and experiences; do that!

Boundaries

Boundaries allow us to protect what is important to us. Without boundaries anything can be taken or damaged at anytime. Decide what's important to you and give it the protection it deserves.

Talk openly about your experiences

There is this shame that comes with not being able to maintain the facade of having it all together. If we all choose to take down our masks and show others what's really going on, we could maybe work to eliminate this pressure in the first place.

See your value (just as much as you see your family and friends)

How many woman do you know (or how often have you heard yourself) function under the mentality that they will take care of their needs once everyone else is cared for. That day never comes. We need to stop setting that as the expectation. We have more to give others when we care for ourselves first.

Celebrate other women and build them up

I think this is crucial for making change. We need to stop looking at women as competition or "the problem". We can all succeed. Don't get sucked into the scarcity mentality. There's room for all of us.


At the end of the day, it's important to remember that you are enough – just as you are. You don't have to conform to society's narrow definitions of success and happiness. Your body doesn't need to look a certain way. Your relationship doesn't need to appear a certain way. Your career doesn't need to do a certain thing. Your life is for you to live. And while everyone (society) might have opinions about how you should be living it and what you should be doing in it, no one other than you has to deal with the consequences of how you choose to live and structure your life. If you are someone who loves rising to the challenges of the corporate world, rock on girlfriend! I'm glad you found your thing. However, if you ended up in a corporate office because you were told that was the only way to be successful and make a living, but each day you are unhappy because you'd rather be home with your kids.... how successful is that life you are living forcing yourself into a space you don't want to be?



Caucasian, female with brown hair, Brooke Halliday

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