Chapter 1: I am, therefore I bloody am!
Anyone who watched the movie ‘Splash’ in the 80s will remember that, when Daryl Hannah’s beautiful mermaid Madison emerged from the sea, she quickly transformed into an awkward, slippery wet fish in a bath. And one that needed a hoist to help her out of said bath tub at that.
But we’re thought of as such serene romantic creatures, aren’t we? Sitting in the sea, atop a smooth rock, combing our beautiful rose gold hair and being the envy of young girls all over the world who are so desperate to grow up to be a mermaid. Or a princess. Or an astronaut.
You see, being a woman is just like being a mermaid. Except not as wet and salty.
People have certain expectations of us. Young girls look up to our experience and confidence with awe. But it’s not always that straight forward. Inside, we are often flapping around like Madison the mermaid trying to get out of a New York bath tub.
We’re all like mermaids out of water. And yet we struggle to believe that all of us are feeling exactly the same at some point in our life. We are not alone!
As innocent young schoolgirls we looked up to the seniors who got to wear a bra and extra ear piercings. And have their hair permed. AND snog dreamy Joel from sixth form round the back of Mrs Harris’ classroom as we juniors looked on with a combination of searing jealousy and immense admiration.
Waaaahhhh why can’t I be 16 already!!
We were desperate to grow up and transform into these beautiful, mature and confident creatures complete with Wonderbra, boyfriend and monthly period (oh isn’t hindsight a funny thing).
Instead, Mrs Harris forced us to sit in class and watch an educational health video that was blatantly two decades old because it provided us with step-by-step instructions on how to wear belted sanitary towels. We already knew Lil-lets were the way to go because Just 17 magazine said so; and there was no way Erika Eleniak was wearing belted sanitary towels under that Baywatch swimsuit (I’m talking pre-Pammie Anderson for the younger readers among us.)
I still credit Ms Eleniak for the sheer determination I showed when trying to force my first applicator tampon up into the lesser explored depths of my virginal bits aged 11. There was no way a belted sanitary towel was accompanying me and my swimming cossie to Beverley baths that summer.
The idea of being something we’re not is so much more romantic and exciting than the reality. But then again, is romance all it’s cracked up to be?
I know I’d rather stamp my feet to Shane MacGowan and the Pogues than sway along to a big blubbering ballad with Michael Bolton and his flowing ‘90s locks.
The moment we step out of the sea we flap wildly (I’m hoping you’re starting to get the aquatic metaphors here – the sea is our comfort zone. Which is weird, given that I can’t go in the water without flapping but this isn’t just about me.)
As we now know (since being 16 is a distant memory coated with cringe and too many bottles of Castaway), that girl snogging dreamy Joel was probably flapping wildly about whether her snog was too dribbly. Or whether that Fray Bentos pie she had at dinnertime was about to repeat on her at a crucial moment. Or whether her Lil-let was about to pop like a champagne cork, causing a bloody deluge to spatter dreamy Joel’s bright white Reeboks.
We’ve all been there. We all know that reality isn’t what we once imagined it to be. So why do we still kid ourselves that serene creatures glide the earth, outperforming us in the bedroom, in the office and in the gym?
It’s all a myth. But why is the myth aspirational in the first place? Especially those ridiculous myths of the princess variety (personally, my dream as a young girl was to be John McEnroe. I can be serious, man!)
You know in reality (yes, I’m still going with the idea that mermaids exist), the mermaid isn’t a sign of serenity, she’s a sign of catastrophe. Of impending storms and crashing waves. So, whether they’re in the sea atop a smooth rock, or being hoisted out of a bath tub, mermaids are not really the epitome of serenity at all are they?
We are aspiring to be something that doesn’t exist. And yet when we look at each other, we believe it does exist – because we try to pretend to each other that everything is OK. That we are not flapping wildly. Hence, when those juniors look up to us, they think that womanhood is a serene and sophisticated existence. But it’s all an act and a nod to the age-old idea of how women should behave.
Imagine the heartache we could all save the next generation if we spoke out openly about fanny farts in gym class, pissing our pants when we do the 5k park run and the fact that we wholeheartedly regret losing our virginity to dreamy Joel from sixth form.
Turns out, he wasn’t that dreamy after all…
Self-esteem’s a late developer
The problem with growing up is that our bodies do it at a much faster rate than everything else. We desperately try to keep up with everything and everyone else by fast-tracking our sexual experiences (hindsight, again). And even with all this (albeit dodgy) experience, our self esteem seems to develop at a much slower rate. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it turns on its heel and tries to head back to the womb at warp speed.
Self-esteem and adolescence are about as compatible as Madonna and Sean Penn.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not if we own up to frantic flapping and embarrassing mishaps and stop pretending that Stepford Wives exist. How fucking boring does Stepford sound anyway?
I’ve spent my entire life feeling like a trespasser, an imposter. It’s not something that’s simply confined to the workplace – regardless of the fact that most books on the topic are to be found in the business section, with words and phrases like ‘leadership’, ‘glass ceiling’ and ‘executive’ screaming out at you.
Thing is, these words and phrases are just a bunch of other things we feel we have to aspire to.
News flash – we don’t!
We need to be a managing director of a global organisation about as much as we need to be a bloody pink princess in a tu-tu.
Sure, some people do want to be the managing director of a global organisation. And that’s fine. And if you really want to be a pink princess in the tu-tu, that’s fine too-too.
The problem with imposter syndrome isn’t that it stops us from being the things the world tells us we should be. It’s that it stops us from grabbing what we want from life. Nobody should high-jack the meaning of ambition or of independence and turn it into a rigid rule.
Ambition for me is being happy, feeling respected, challenging myself, standing up for what I believe in, speaking out and making an impact.
I’d like to be a leader of me.
But, and it’s a big but, life isn’t all about business and careers. There are many things we want to excel at and be comfortable with. Ambition isn’t all about status and independence isn’t all about money.
Sadly, however, we often get caught up in the evil clutches of imposter syndrome in many areas of our lives.
As a child, I thought there was something different about me. I didn’t fit in. Whether it was the kids’ birthday parties at McDonalds (parents of 80s kids have a lot to answer for. That and the Findus Crispy Pancakes and food colouring cupboard in the kitchen) or the coach trip to Twycross Zoo, I never felt part of it. I felt undeserving.
As I got older this sense of being an imposter followed me into adolescence (I don’t feel feminine enough), into the bedroom (I don’t feel sexy enough) and into the gym (I don’t feel like I’m striking the correct gym bunny pose while gossiping at the water fountain with my perfectly-formed, Evian-drinking, Nike-clad acquaintance.)
The weird thing is, the people who are seemingly the archetype in these situations, are not really that authentic are they?
Little miss gym bunny never broke out in a sweat at the gym because she never worked out at the gym. She just kind of…hung out there. Drinking Evian water.
The yummy mummy brigade might be spending more time being school governors, volunteers on coach trips to Twycross Zoo and master cake bakers than they spend with their own actual kids.
The high-performing porn star might look like she’s successfully navigated her co-star to the g-spot but even with plenty of cumbayah direction, she later told Elle magazine that she mostly fakes it.
And the person undoubtedly at the top of the archetypal career ladder is Donald Trump.
I rest my case.
We’re all flawed
I surveyed over 200 people and guess what? We’re all feeling low in self-esteem. In fact, our self-esteem levels are about as low as Donald Trump’s humanity levels. We’re running on empty, feeling like fakes and fraudsters and phoneys. Too much of this, too little of that.
Our brains scream at us daily – you’re just not good enough…..!!!
OK, so it wasn’t all respondents who said they were affected by low self-esteem. It was 84%. The other respondents were Donald Trump, Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage. So, I’d say that’s 100% of human beings are affected by low self-esteem.
So what happens when we dig a bit deeper. Is it always in the workplace we feel like a fake? Nope, absolutely not.
Almost a third of respondents said they have felt like a fake as a parent; and a third also felt like a fake in the bedroom (although, in most instances, they must have successfully managed one to reach the other). 38% said they felt like a fake as a man or woman, and a whopping 58% said they didn’t feel up to scratch as an adult!
Frankly, I feel like a fake in every bloody scenario imaginable. Which is kind of why I feel qualified to write this blog.
Illustration credit: ID 90822740 © Afanasia | Dreamstime.com