When I look in the mirror every morning, there are days that I lack agency over the person that I see. How I feel about myself has been so colored by other’s perceptions that, at times, it’s very hard to see the person I am without allowing those outside perceptions to distort my view. And that’s the funny thing about perceptions, isn’t it? The way we perceive them? Do I think every person that makes me see myself as something other than what I am is out to get me? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that those perceptions aren’t influencing the way I perceive myself.
In general, all women fight a daily battle with how the world sees us, and I would argue this is doubly so for geek women. Let’s face it, we live in a world that is still mainly controlled by men. In America, only one state out of fifty has a government where the majority of the highest political offices are held by women (New Hampshire). We’re told we need to “lean in” but if we’re too ambitious (i.e. pursue our goals like a man) we’re labelled as too aggressive. If we’re straight talkers we get labelled as bitchy. If we care about how we look we’re vain. We’re stuck in a double standard that is impossible to escape. Don’t believe me? Look at how Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were treated in 2008. Both got slammed by the media on the opposite ends of the same issue – they were women and acted or didn’t act according to the mold of what a woman should look like in Western society.
“You’re a woman and that’s good. Look like a woman.”
Danny to Mindy on The Mindy Project
Speaking of looks, here’s another place where our perceptions – both those of others and those of ourselves, don’t match up. There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about how a woman “should” look. We talk about the agency of pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga have to do what they want with their bodies as adult women and then ignore what effect this has on those young people looking up to these pop stars who might lack both the agency and understanding to translate how they see adults act to how they should act. We address body image but often ignore the emotions behind it. We struggle with the idealized body images we see around us every day and as a consequence we rarely see ourselves as others see us. To this day, one of the best compliments I’ve ever received was when I was getting ready one morning and sharing the bathroom with a guy I was seeing. As I was putting on my makeup he looked over and told me I didn’t need it; it wasn’t a great compliment because it was about my looks without makeup because I knew I didn’t need makeup to make me pretty. It was a great compliment because it was about who I was without all the trappings of modern society – that’s why it has stuck with me. Like the quote above suggests, we’re women and that’s good. We should look like women.
What do women look like, then? There is no mold for woman – or man, for that matter. How we look should not be defined by what others think we should be. Whether it’s woman, man, trans*, or anything in between or outside of those gendered words, the most important thing is to look like the person we are. We should take care of our minds, our hearts, and our health. What that means for you is going to be different than what that means for me. At the start of every morning and the end of every night, when I look at myself in the mirror and I look at all the perceptions I’ve gathered up throughout my day and throughout my life, this is what I need to remember: You are not my mirror.