Guest post by Sabrina Jugo
Sabrina is a millennial feminist that lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is passionate about social justice issues and plans to pursue a Master's in Social Work in the near future. When she isn't writing, she enjoys reading, lighting candles, drinking tea, and having passionate conversations with friends about how to make the work a better place.
2017 was a difficult year. For me, it’s been a year filled with tears, disappointment, and frustration. More importantly, though, it’s been a year of reflection. Most of my professional work experience has been working with adolescents and adults with eating disorders. As you can imagine, a significant portion of eating disorder patients identify as female, and most of them struggle in some way with body image. The work I’ve done with women with eating disorders has really allowed me to examine the thoughts and beliefs women have about ourselves in an up close and personal way. The biggest lesson that I’ve learned, however, is that all of us struggle with mind and body insecurities, just to varying degrees. Because of factors beyond our control (the patriarchy, the media, Donald Trump), we are universally told that we need to change ourselves, physically or emotionally, to fit an unattainable mold. While I don’t profess to know how to change systemic norms surrounding the expectations of women, I do have some thoughts that I keep in my back pocket that helped me brave the shit storm of 2017.
1. Your words matter.
This has two meanings, really. The first, is that your words are impactful and important. The second, and more important meaning, is that the physical words you use matter. How many times have you caught yourself speaking about another woman in a negative way? Why do we, as women, fall into the trap of breaking each other down, rather than building each other up? The eating disorder community is very intentional with the words we use. Language about shape, size, food, and exercise are not discussed. This is because words have a great effect on our thoughts and behaviors, especially about ourselves. Close friends of mine have commented on how they’ve noticed a change in my language, and how that’s helped them to be intentional about the words they use and the topics they converse about. If we can change the way we speak about other women in particular, we can all work toward communities where we talk more about ideas, and less about people.
2. You have the power to empower.
Whether you’re a leader among your circle or not, you have the power to build others up. Empowering people can be something as simple as providing words of encouragement when someone you know is struggling, or being a support person for a loved one. Empowerment is making someone else feel as if their hopes, abilities, and needs are valued. Over my time working with young women women with eating disorders, I have discovered the true power of helping someone through their most challenging moments. For someone with an eating disorder, that may be getting through a difficult meal, and for some else, it may be grieving the death of a loved one or failed romantic relationship. The experience itself does not matter, the acknowledgement that you could be part of someone else’s journey does!
3. Basque in the glory on an all female work environment.
So this one is a bit odd, but in mental health, it is a likely that a large percentage of your work environment is female. Regardless of your work environment, cherish the women that you work with. They may be your peers, and they may also be your mentors and the women who champion you along your journey. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking “there aren’t any hot guys to stare at”. That’s heteronormative, and honestly, just dumb. You have the opportunity to grow professionally alongside other women, and be empowering influences on one another. Isn’t there a saying that you spend most of your life at work? Take advantage of the relationships you have at your workplace and make them badass lady friendships.
4. Build a support network.
This lesson, while especially true for individuals with eating disorders, is also true for all women. A wonderful mentor and friend of mine once told me that the most successful individuals who recovered from eating disorders had a support network of people who were focused on their recovery. In many ways, we all need a support network in our lives to get us through tough times. Whether your network is your mom, sister, best friend, group of coworkers, friends from bookclub, or lady friends on Facebook, the support networks you create are essential for your health and happiness. Of course, your network doesn’t just have to include women, but having a network of women will help you to feel understood. We all have similar experiences, good and bad, that other women can relate to. There is huge power in feeling like our experiences are understood and accepted.
5. Practice empathy.
This is the lesson that transcends every other thing I’ve learned. Empathy is the process of acknowledging that something within yourself identifies with something within another person. Empathy is what helps us build connections with others. This was the biggest takeaway I found in working with individuals with eating disorders. While I may never experience the level of shame or guilt that they experience related to food or body, practicing empathy helped me to understand those struggles. I firmly believe that so much of the world’s problems could be solved with a dose of empathy. Make it a practice to invoke your empathy when another woman does you wrong. It will help you feel connected with that person, and also help you accomplish all of the steps above.
Whether 2017 was equally a garbage heap for you, or the best year of your life, I hope that you continue to work and advocate for a truly feminist society. Keep sharing your amazing ideas and root for your fellow woman, your words could make all the difference.
Meet Seo Kelleher, an intuitive coach for life and business, committed to empowering women. "I am passionate about helping women find the courage to transform their lives by embracing their vulnerability and taking the responsibility."