How many times have I felt unworthy?
Let me count the ways…
Body Image Starts in Childhood
Once when I was very young, another little girl compared the size of her thighs to mine. I never thought about how my dense, muscular legs were larger than most girls but suddenly it was plain as day.
That one brief interaction stripped me of my body image innocence. I’m not sure if it started then or later, but I spent my childhood and teenage years feeling self-conscious in shorts and skirts, and preferred to sit with a pillow or sweater on my lap at social events during warm weather.
The Harmful Normalization of Narrow Beauty Standards
Shortly after I hit puberty, I found myself sitting on the opposite side of a desk from a middle-aged, male orthodontist. He tried to convince me that I should get braces because my teeth were slightly off-center from the midline of my face.
I can still remember how he tried to pierce my presumed ego and insecurities at the same time, telling me that I had a pretty face and who knows – maybe I would want to be a model some day with that face?
“If you want to be a model one day you’re going to need to have a straight smile because modeling is all about symmetry. You don’t see models with crooked teeth,” he warned despite the fact that I never once shared any appearance concerns or career aspirations with him.
I’ve never once wanted to be a model.
(Remember the thick legs? I already knew it was out of the question anyway.)
I’m proud of my younger self for her righteous anger and standing firm in the convinction that she was fine without braces. But, if I’m being honest, I remember not wanting them because I was scared that wearing braces would make me “less pretty.”
The Damage Inflicted by People in Authority in Places of Trust
I was “acting out” because I refused to sit silently through Sunday school lessons taught by a man who was discussing sexual topics from the Bible in a way that was making the girls in the class visibly uncomfortable, seemingly to his amusement. I could tell he was being inappropriate even if he wasn’t outwardly trying to assault someone.
Church leaders who weren’t there to observe his perverted instruction assumed that I was the one with an issue since I was speaking up about it, as though my experience must count worth less because of being young and female.
Trauma Takes Its Toll
I was hit by a car when I was in my early twenties. I experienced chronic back pain and instability for years and my PTSD, insomnia, and physical job were contributing to inflammation. Physically healing from the accident was grueling and long, but the recovery that was just as significant was that of my self worth.
My identity and feelings of worth were the biggest casualties from the accident. Both hung on by a thread as my exercise options became limited and I overate in response to stress. I never imagined that gaining ~15 pounds could make me feel so devastated about life at large. I went into a career in fitness to help people improve health and feel good in their bodies only to realize how much of my own self-esteem’s foundation lay squarely in my apperance.
Broken Medical Systems & The Loneliness Epidemic
The accident in my early twenties would have plummeted me into medical bankruptcy were it not for my parents coming to my aid. I couldn’t afford my own healthcare and didn’t have any paid time off from work as a commission-based fitness professional, so I had to take unpaid leave to recover.
I’ve never felt more lonely, undersupported, and fearful in my entire life. As it turns out, there are many things that can contribute to feeling unworthy including loneliness and limited resources for support.
Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t
After I gave birth to my first child, I decided to let go of a business dream and stay at home to breastfeed and raise my son. I planned to keep pursuing part-time “alternative” career options, but the lack of a traditional career and formal title did something shocking to me.
I was overwhelmed and humbled by how quickly I fell from relevance in conversations at social gatherings and even in discussions at holidays with family. I became less visible. I took up less space. I became secondary in value to the breadwinners and people advancing along the corporate ladder.
I realized the sobering truth that women lose value in “a man’s world” when they don’t have a traditional career. At the same time, women working full-time jobs are judged for tasks they can’t complete at home due to career pressures.
Women are expected to do it all and do it perfectly to gain applause for a job well done in our culture. This is toxic to women across all career and family choices and paths. It places a woman’s worth beyond her abilities and beyond where it truly resides (within herself).
Fertility Struggles and Stigma
I experienced one pregnancy loss prior to the pandemic and knew that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility to happen again, but I never thought that it actually would. I also didn’t imagine that any loss I might endure would be a late loss following a poor prenatal diagnosis amid a novel pandemic.
When I woke up following a routine pregnancy loss removal for second trimester losses, I was told that I had experienced an unexpected emergency that resulted in a life-saving surgery. To this day, I have a four-inch vertical scar down my abdomen that I can’t stand the sight of. And yet…I’ve come to accept it. To be honest, I will never be okay with my scar cosmetically, but I wholeheartedly embrace everything it taught me.
I experienced so much shame, grief and despair following that loss that I felt like I had suddenly lost the whole of myself. My lingering feelings of overwhelm about the complicated pregnancy were amplified when I looked out into the mainstream and witnessed hostile political debates, harmful language from people in my faith, and damaging black and white judgements cast on women sitting in challenging medical situations and life changing circumstances.
One thing that continues to jump out at me is that women are the sole targets in all of the harmful finger pointing about reproductive rights, abortions, miscarriges, infertility, and more. We are the ones who shoulder the weight of these trials and the shame, blame, and judgement of society. Women are the ones whose value lessens in the eyes of society when fertility circumstances don’t go as hoped and planned.
I’m a woman of privilege and fortunate circumstances, but I still feel the constant battle within myself against cultural narratives that feed us lies about what makes women valuable, desirable, good, productive, and worthy. I’m guessing that women in less fortunate circumstances and with other kinds of trauma struggle with feeling worthy too. I’m guessing that feeling unworthy is a battle for the many women who have been physically abused, raped, manipulated, harrassed, paid less than they deserve, told they are inferior to their husbands, judged for their body size, and more.
As a wellness professional for many years, I have noticed firsthand how hundreds of women struggle with deep, unnamed insecurities regardless of outward success, health, or appearances. I’ve had the privilege of working with our nation’s leaders and some of the most successful professionals in Washington, DC, but no amount of money or prestige takes away from the damage of feeling undersupported and judged as a woman.
According to data, nearly half of all women worldwide struggle with self doubt. When I sit with this truth, I realize that there are both simple and complex solutions to address this.
The first, simple step begins with reinforcing that “Every Woman is Worthy” so that women are empowered to name and claim their inherent worth. The next, more complicated steps are in how we approach and support women on an individual basis, person to person. When we take care of individual women’s complex and myriad needs in real and compassionate ways then we pave the way for collective healing and send the cultural message that women are worthy and deserving of both bottom-up and top-down justice.
My Solution to Help Women Know Their Worth
I’m very excited to announce that I have launched a new business called Every Woman is Worthy™ to address the individual and collective harm done to women’s wellness by the cultural narrative that a woman’s worth is something to be proven or achieved. The idea started as a new slogan for my longstanding blog, WellnessWinz, and evolved over the course of a year and a half into a brand all its own…
Every Woman is Worthy™
Every Woman is Worthy™ is a brand on a mission to elevate women through inspired products and intentional actions.
Every Woman is Worthy™ offers inspirational products featured in wearable and giftable collections to spread its empowering and healing message. Our products are made on demand with responsible manufacturing partners to reduce waste, offset shipping CO2 emissions, utilize fabric scraps, use recycled materials for mail polymers, and more.
Every Woman is Worthy™ emphasizes people over profits and would not be complete without our mission; Intentional Actions.
In a world that seldom offers real-time, hands-on support for women, we’re here to motivate people to show up with compassion and assistance. This doesn’t have to cost anything but an open heart and a little bit of time. Think of us as your accountability buddy to address a real and pressing need that you see in a woman’s life (or even your own).
The conversation is just beginning with #everywomanisworthy. Women from all around the globe are resonating with this message already. It’s SO exciting to imagine a future where women know their worth and are better supported!
Yours in health and wellness,