International Women's Day: On inspiring with vulnerability

7 March 2016

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day; in my mind, a day for celebrating, and thanking, inspiring women. When I think of the most inspiring women I know personally, and the most important conversations I’ve had with them, almost all of them have one slightly counterintuitive thread running through them: vulnerability and weakness.

As with many second- or third- generation immigrant families, I grew up aiming to project a perfect image, no matter what. Whether at school or in my extra-curricular activities, being successful, happy, bubbly, clever, sporty, and musically talented all at once, was my goal. And I tried really hard to reach it, without really ever questioning why. As an adult, realising that the thing I was taught to aim for had actually very little to do with me as a person, but much more about the socioeconomic status of my family, our surroundings in a new country, and our desire to fit in with the perceived norms, was enlightening. (Understatement: it blew me away.)

It would’ve taken me a lot longer to come to this realisation had it not been for people - especially women - around me, who shared their own enlightening moments, and their own internal struggles. I can’t explain the number of times I’ve had conversations with women who I admire greatly who have told me about some kind of challenge they’re facing, and in doing so, given me some kind of legitimacy I never realised I needed in order to admit a similar challenge of my own.

And that, I think, is actually the most inspiring thing that we could all do to help each other: talk about our problems. Help those around us realise that the struggles we keep to ourselves, are everywhere, and totally common. This is the case with so many issues that affect women more than men; from such a young age, we’re taught to keep quiet about “women’s issues”, it’s no wonder that we do so automatically.

I had no idea that in the UK, 1 in every 137 newborn babies are either stillborn or die within the first 4 weeks of their lives, until a dear friend of mine lost her baby. I would never have known that some of the strongest women I know have been in abusive relationships, had they all not been brave enough to share those vulnerabilities. I had no idea that so many women I know suffer from deep insecurities, depression, or anxiety, because they try hard to project that perfect image. The list goes on and on and on… and I can’t express enough how incredibly grateful I am that they shared those stories with me, and with others.

I don’t want inspiring stories of overachieving women to push me towards my goals. I want real people, with real problems, talking about them. It’s one of the hardest things we could possibly do: admit our weaknesses, share our vulnerabilities, and… no, that’s it. Not end it with an inspiring story of how we overcame those challenges - just admit that we’re human, with human problems, and work through them, together.

So for this International Women’s Day, I want to thank all those women, who have been brave enough to share their problems, and be honest about what so many of us are facing. Thank you.


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