Challenging the Challenge: Why I Passed on the #challengeaccepted

When Instagram began to fill up with black-and-white photos of women tagged #challengeaccepted, I googled it. The lead article mentioned some female country singers promoting natural beauty – no makeup/hair, no special lighting or filters, no glam, just women being themselves. Women supporting women being real women.

But that wasn’t what came across my Instagram feed. Instead, I saw superstars coiffed and posed. Even among friends, I’ve seen very few “just being me” photos. Oh sure, I’ve smiled back at the great smiles on faces of people I know and love. But really, why would anyone risk a natural shot when the # had morphed into something glamorous?

People simply follow suit; my friend posts a B/W selfie and challenges me, I’ll just do the same. Right? Except I didn’t.

When my friend challenged me, I passed. Good friend that she is, she asked why. I am all for women supporting women, but how do B/W selfies support women, exactly?

On the surface, the words sound right. Women should support women. We should challenge each other to grow, to be and do more, at times to do less in order to care for ourselves and others more. On the surface, there is certainly nothing wrong with women posting beautiful pictures of themselves – one of the hallmarks of social media, obviously.

But just as selfies are superficial, I’m digging down below the surface to clarify two things bugging me: inclusion/exclusion and competition/comparison. “Supporting women” means challenging them to post a selfie, and then the selfies themselves become an online beauty pageant? C’mon, ladies, we all know that we do and can do more to support one another in meaningful ways.

Playing tourist with the Strong Girl statue in NYC

Going way back, it reminds me of slam books in elementary school, handmade books with questions like, “Who is the nicest person in our grade?” or “Who is the cutest boy in our class?” You felt a secret thrill if a friend passed you their book and you hurriedly scanned the pages for your name scribbled there. You felt great – or, more likely, not – if you found it.

Our teachers had good reason to confiscate and trash those books: they tended to salute those already on top while confirming for the rest of us that we were as gross as the dried up chewing gum stuck to the bottom of our desks.

Another google search turned up indications that the # might be related to interpretations of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s powerful rant against the sexist comments made to her on the Capitol steps (talk about a strong woman; now she’s inspiring!); or a years-old cancer awareness campaign (that makes no sense); or a Turkish campaign against femicide (more logical if yet ineffective).

The friend who challenged me was herself challenged by someone who is “competition” in her professional field. However, that challenge was intended as encouragement that they are both members in a professional community with a common goal. My friend also recognized that, as it’s not her typical style to post pictures of herself, posting a self-portrait was an actual challenge nudging her beyond her comfort zone (okay, that helps; I relate). And, as photographers, showcasing their skills is also a professional move.

Still, I’d rather see real women being themselves. I’d rather see women doing what they love, being strong, achieving or learning something, engaged in a favorite hobby, taking risks to grow. I’d love to see action shots that will inspire my own action. I’d rather see women truly challenging, supporting, and inspiring women. Wouldn’t you?

In the spirit of women supporting women, please check out the links below:
This may be one of the best #challengeaccepted photos I’ve seen – she’s doing something active, demonstrating her strength and sense of adventure; plus, she writes some stellar words about women supporting women.
And my friend who challenged me and then listened, my favorite creative collaborator has inspired me yet again this summer by redoing her beautiful website to showcase her immense talents.

Cover photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Sorry, Not Sorry

We were on vacation, lounging about as appropriate. The teen had fallen back asleep on our bed where he had retreated to get some alone-time from the parentals. Guy and I were reading quietly side-by-side in the living room with the patio door open to allow the breeze to circulate, and wind through the quivering aspen leaves sounded like water flowing in a stream. Lovely. Relaxing.

Into this quiet scene I suddenly snorted laughter. Something in my book caught me uproariously funny and my outburst caught me by surprise. Though Guy didn’t react at all, under my breath I whispered, “Sorry.”

And then I looked up, startled again by my reaction. I said, “No, I’m not. I am not sorry for laughing out loud. I will not apologize for finding my book funny or laughing in response. What a ridiculous apology! I’m not sorry.”

Bless this patient man accustomed to my off-topic outpourings, he laughed with me. He agreed, definitely no need to apologize for laughing.

What the heck? I.apologized.for.laughing!

Why was it such an instinctual response to apologize for making a sound and interrupting the silence? It’s not like we were in a library where, after long years of practice, instinct would have kicked in to stifle the laugh in the first place.

I suspect it has to do with the notion that women should apologize for interrupting, for speaking up, taking up space, sheesh, for existing. You’ve noticed it, right? Women apologize for everything. We are constantly saying, “I’m sorry.”

Jen Hatmaker explains: “I didn’t recognize the small box reserved for me until I showed up expecting to fill the whole room…. This culture is rabid to tell women how much oxygen they can use, space they can take, tables they can join, opinions they are allowed. Code words abound to signal when a woman has stepped too far: hysterical, bitchy, bossy, aggressive. (The man versions of these words are: energetic, strong, decisive, assertive, because ‘bossy men’ are just called ‘leaders.’) Women have always struggled for a credible place at the table” (from her new book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire).

Of course, apologies become necessary when we’ve thoughtlessly intruded on someone’s feelings, on their rights or bodies or property. We should apologize when we shoot off a hurtful knee-jerk reaction rather than a thoughtful response. Most of us need to reign ourselves in from time to time and when we don’t we should absolutely offer an intentional apology.

But today I am committing to myself again: I’m done with meaningless apologies. I am not going to apologize for having an opinion. For speaking up. For living in my body. For being who I am, with my thoughts and big feelings and dreams, for taking up space, for putting myself out there. I am not going to apologize for laughing, even if it interrupts your quiet time.

Who’s with me?

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Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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Create Beauty

Create Challenge Guest Post #2 – Mandi Diehl

2016 Wednesdays on this blog I will create a platform for friends to share their perspective on and experience of creativity.

Today’s guest post brought up a visceral memory for me: sneaking into my mom’s bathroom, friend in tow, at about age 8. My mom’s beauty cabinet beckoned with mystical glowing attraction. I snaked her Bic disposable razor up my dry leg, my friend aghast (clearly I was doing this wrong, but how I was I to know?). Next, I smeared 1977’s shade of blue shadow across my eyelids. I loved it, thought no one would notice because, Beauty! My friend obviously saw the difference, and maybe she wanted to shrink into the shag carpet…?

No longer sporting 70’s blue, I wear my daily makeup way more natural these days. My friend Mandi Diehl finds joy in makeup. She is a make-up artiste to be admired, maintaining her creativity and sense of play as she empowers women to feel beautiful and simultaneously serves her family. Please welcome Mandi!

“Beauty isn’t about looking perfect.
It’s about celebrating your individuality.” –Bobbi BrownMDiehl 1

Makeup isn’t always considered to be very “creative.” People tend to look at it as something necessary to cover a flaw, to conform to societal norms, or a mask to conceal yourself entirely. Makeup is seen as something for the vain, rather than the artistic. While I have those moments of, “Thank the good Lord for whoever invented concealer because there’s a volcano on my face,” makeup to me is so much more than covering up.

I look at a face the way I imagine a painter or sketch artist looks at a canvas: clean, clear, and open to creative influence. The difference for me is, while canvases are all the same, faces are not. Faces have so many shapes, textures, and tones. Eyes, noses, lips, and cheeks all vary person to person. Lines, contours, and wrinkles are all diverse. While an artist can shape a canvas with paint or charcoal into whatever they desire, I love that a face doesn’t work the same way. A face defines what the makeup does. It defines what shades work will with its undertones, what blush suits the color in its cheeks, and what eye shadow really makes those eyes shine.

I have done makeup for weddings, photo shoots, proms, and parties, on a variety of faces. My clients visit me for special occasions, give me an idea of what they’re looking for, and I create that. It’s always a joy to watch them look at themselves in the mirror and say, “Look at me!” I love that I get to be a part of something so empowering for them. Helping women feel so confident and so beautiful on the most important days is amazing.

Creating and experimenting with looks on my own face has also been incredibly inspiring. After I had my second baby, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay home with my sweet kiddos instead of going back to work. While being a mommy is my favorite thing in the universe, it can also be isolating. You can lose yourself in the day-to-day care of your household and little ones, you don’t have a lot of adult contact, and it gets easier and easier to put yourself last. The creative process of “putting my face on” helps me find myself. Makeup is that deep sigh of relief for me. It’s that thing that makes me, me.

MDiehl 2

Mandi Diehl is a wife and work-at-home-mommy of two. She loves Jesus, super hot lattes, Pirates baseball, and the Pacific Northwest. Contact her for makeup consulting at stylesbymandi.com or stylesbymandi@gmail.com.