Social Causes

Friendship Trends & Changes

I'm feeling a bit reflective this week as we are re-launching GirlFriendCircles.com after our initial opening nearly 8 years ago. In a few ways now feels very similar to then as every new beginning is fueled with both a sense of calling that change is needed and a slight vulnerability as one puts a new offering into the world.

And it's also got me thinking about how culture has changed during that same amount of time.

I've seen some big shifts in the world of friendship since 2008:

  • Increase in Research and Studies:  I wish I had actual numbers to offer up here as proof, but what I can say is that back then it was easy to read everything that was being published (or had been) on friendship, and now it seems like there is a new study every time I turn around! (Which I love, obviously!)  I think Facebook and social media sites have helped heighten the interest in exploring friendship and social interaction (whereas our romantic and parenting relationships seemed to take precedence before), as well as giving researchers an easier pool of people to study.
  • Renewed Desire on Quality, Not Quantity:  With the rise of social media, we ran headlong into a greater number of connections than most of us had ever attempted to manage.  And as time wore on, we started hearing more expressed hunger for deeper connections, not just more of them. Social media has adjusted by giving us "groups" and creating algorithms to highlight the people we know, more than ones we don't.  We got what we wanted: connection to everyone; and then realized we were full, but not fulfilled.
  • Creeping Awareness to our Loneliness: The stereotype of loneliness used to be someone who was isolated, reclusive, and lacked social skills; but the loneliest people today are those who seemingly know everyone, are too busy to go deep, and are talking to people all day so they lack the energy to really connect with a few.  My own studies show repeatedly that our loneliness isn't due to not knowing enough people as much as it's because we don't feel known by a select few.  We are slowly admitting that we're lonely even though we aren't alone.
  • More Openness to Online Friendship Sites:  Remember back in the day when people would feel shame and lie about meeting a romantic partner online and how now it's commonplace?  It'll be no surprise then that the same path is  happening with friendship.  I won't go so far as to say that there aren't people who fear meeting friends online, but now our members are much more likely to share their involvement on social media without feeling like they need to hide it!
  • Growing Media Interest in our Friendships: When I started in 2008, the most common response from TV producers and magazine editors was something along the lines of, "Oh we covered friendship in a piece last year" as though that were all that was needed for another year or two! Ha! (And yet they think we need to learn how to "lose 5 lbs" every single month!) But I have been so encouraged by the growing number of books, segments, and articles on friendships in recent years!  The New York Times alone has published countless op-ed pieces calling out our loneliness!  And one major national magazine, in an interview with me in May, said "We have decided to cover friendships more than romance this year!"  That, my friends, is progress!
  • An Inflation in Bad Advice: With the increase in interest and heightened awareness of our lack of depth comes an escalation of bad advice from people who respond more to our fear than to our growth.  If I had a penny every time I see "advice" telling people some version of "get rid of your toxic friends" then I'd be rich!  The truth is that it's less about who is toxic and who isn't (research shows that 86% of us claim to have a toxic friend so that would imply that we're all friends with the same 14% of toxic people or that some of us are considered toxic to someone else!) and more about how to teach people how to create healthier friendships. In other words, if someone does something we don't like (which is 100% likely in every relationship at some point!) let's learn how to communicate that and develop greater trust in each other than to simply drift apart, while righteously patting ourselves on the back for being so much better than everyone else.
  • An Uptick in the Desire to Learn About Friendship: Book publishers have long known that women will buy any book that promises love and good sex, and will buy up every parenting book when they are pregnant; but that far and few between are the women who walk into a bookstore thinking they need to learn about friendship. And I can't say this has changed drastically, but I have seen far more willingness by women to come to my workshops, pay for classes, and share my book with their friends. I am encouraged that with the realization that they don't have the close friends they want, more women are willing to start doing something about it.  We've long assumed, wrongly, that we should just know how to do friendship, but I'm witnessing entire audiences walking away in awe of what they didn't even know they didn't know. We are willing to pay to learn in every other area of life (i.e. how to lose weight, how to do social media, how to look stylish) and I'm seeing more women choose to learn over the alternative of staying lonely.

May these trends continue to increase, and more importantly, may your life reflect your awareness of your need and your willingness to learn how to create more meaningful friendships!

What have you noticed and observed in your life and in those around you?

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GirlFriendCircles.com-- Re-opening to meet these trends and needs

GirlFriendCircles.com is being re-opened based upon these needs I see in the world: I want to connect all the women healthy enough to realize they are made to give and receive more love than they're currently experiencing; I want to provide them a place to learn all the things we were never taught about friendship and share the research with them in applicable ways; and I want to inspire them regularly to pay attention to different aspects of their friendship and help hold them accountable to the outcomes they want! 

GirlFriendCircles.com is open to women all over the world and of all ages (over 21) and they will receive:

  1. connection to other like-minded women and introductions to new friends
  2. a new class/worksheet/goal with a different focus each month (i.e. how to set boundaries, how to meet new people, how to practice vulnerability)
  3. and access to coaching and advice from me, other teachers I bring in, and the wisdom of the community!

Help Me Blaze the Important Trails of Friendship!

Yesterday I received an email of congrats from an entrepreneurial friend of mine after she saw my name on a press release announcing that I was a finalist for a Trailblazer of the Year Award.  I quickly clicked on the link she had sent and was momentarily stunned... Trailblazing? Really?  I wrote her back and said, "Thank you!" And, "hmm... I wonder how I ended up in that category?"

Trailblazer? Really?

The title of "Trailblazing" is definitely a word I hadn't yet used to describe myself.

Her return email then landed in my inbox:

"Don’t underestimate yourself Shasta!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!    YOU are doing such IMPORTANT work ----- don't you realize you are-   Reinstating the Role of Friendship in Life? Giving friendship a Facelift? Uplifting the Spirit with New Friends? It’s because of these reasons that you are a Trailblazer!!!! Accept it  and write about how you think you are trailblazing for your next blog – this is important!!"

And then I just smiled.  Smiled with the appreciation of having friends in my life who believe in me and help me see myself in new ways. So this blog is my way of accepting the challenge of a friend.  This is for me to own what I want to do in this world, but it's also me inviting you to blaze the trail with me!  :)

Let's blaze this trail of friendship together! We need a world of women feeling connected, supported, known, and loved!

The funny thing is that I know I am definitely on a mission. I wouldn't deny that!  But sometimes we just don't use words like "Trailblazing!" to describe ourselves!  But when I started GirlFriendCircles.com nearly 4 years ago I'd get blank stares from people when I'd describe my business.  And magazines would respond with "Oh we did a story on friendship 8 months ago," as though that meant they didn't need to cover it again this year!  And women would say stupid things like, "Who would be so desperate as to pay for friends?" as though paying for coffee, water, and manicures were of more value to them.  Even now when I try to pitch friendship as the very real health story that it is, editors and producers would rather give you a story about a new technique for stomach crunches even though friendship is far more important to your health!

So when I remember what it was like back then and compare it to now.... while I wouldn't have used the word "trailblazing," that was very much what I have done for the last number of years.

And just to further laugh at myself... I do have a theory that friendship can save the world. (See my 3 min video here.) What kind of a silly girl goes making lofty claims about "saving the world" without thinking she wouldn't be blazing a trail along the way!? Ha! Shows just how much we can do without seeing it through the eyes of others!

What Our Trailblazing May Feel Like...

This experience reminds me of the recent Dove commercial that highlights how we  see our appearance differently than others.  I think the same can be true of our accomplishments, roles, identities, and goals.  Certainly it makes sense that we might focus more on our wrinkles, wide foreheads, and big noses than anyone ever looking at us sees.  But similarly, we see much more of the un-glamorous and non-wowing parts of our  lives than others see. (Which is a good thing because while I'm absolutely okay with you knowing how many days I go un-showered, it's still better that you don't have to see it!)

The truth is that when I think of my life, I just see a girl behind her computer, in yoga pants, with stringy hair, typing emails furiously, scheduling phone calls, and just checking things off my to-do list.  It's not really the same image that comes to mind when I think "TRAILBLAZER!" LOL!

But just because the vast majority of my life moments feel mundane doesn't mean I'm not creating partnerships, pitching stories, creating content, and slowly making the trail one foot longer.

To that end, I started www.GirlFriendCircles.com to help introduce women to each other, wrote a book to help inspire and teach women how to foster friendships into more meaningful relationships, and filled up calendars with speaking appointments, workshops, interviews, and events where I can engage with women on such important friendship-related subjects such as forgiveness, personal growth, physical health, self-esteem, and joy.

This idea is necessary because we are moving every 5 years, changing jobs every 4.4 years, living far from our family, going through our life stages at vastly different ages, and divorcing more frequently than previous generations-- every single one of those changes can uproot our support systems leaving people feeling incredibly vulnerable.  We need new ways of connecting with other human beings with more ease and less fear, while also having the permission and know-how to transform those friendships into deep, fulfilling, and meaningful relationships.

So as I'm expanding into a new word, here's hoping you'll blaze trails with me!  I don't expect any of you to run a media campaign in your community for new friendships, but you can RSVP for a ConnectingCircle or sign-up to be a local Ambassador!  You may not see that as anything hugely glamorous.  In fact, it may even feel awkward, discouraging, and scary!  But that doesn't mean it's not HUGELY important!

Why We Have to Blaze Friendship Trails

We have to remember why we are doing what we do.

Yes, most of being a mom feels more like being a chauffeur, ATM, and chef; but to actually stop and feel the awesomeness of the role-- a life-giver, educator-of-the-next-generation, and the person who will teach real love to another human.  Wow.

Similarly, starting a friendship doesn't always feel that amazing.  We often carry fear wondering if the other person will like us, frustration with how hard it is to get something scheduled, and then un-fulfilled when an evening talking to strangers doesn't feel like talking to our best friends, yet.  It doesn't always feel amazing.

But when you realize it's our relationships that serve as gymnasiums for our souls, giving us the place to practice the skills this world desperately needs: forgiveness when hurt, compassion when tired, cheering when jealous, and supporting even when not understanding-- then we sit with just a bit of the sacredness of this relationship.  For, if we can't practice these skills with people around us who we, at one point, chose to care about, then we have little chance of being able to show up with these skills when we're talking about people who live on the other side of the world, who worship a different version of God, or who vote for a different president.

I'd say there are few things more important than having safe relationships where we can practice being the powerful, big, loving people who this world needs us to be.

Furthermore, we live in a world where increased loneliness is literally poisoning our bodies. Stress is the number one cause of most disease and death and a sense of disconnection is heightening our sense of being "separate."  The less we feel supported by a tribe of people, the more at risk we are of sickness, acting out of insecurity, and behaving in less compassionate ways.

A plethora of research shows that when we have friends we feel like the obstacles in our lives are smaller, that we heal from surgery faster, that we recover from breast cancer at higher rates, that our immune systems are stronger, and that we have more energy to do our life missions. Wow.

I sincerely believe that the more connected everyone is to a group of friends-- the better off this entire world will be.

So to all the trails we have already blazed, and to the many, many more that we will keep making... Thanks to Rock the World for the honor of the nomination, thanks to my friend Shamini for pushing me to sit with the label, and thanks to all of you women who are on the trail with me! xoxo

Sister Giant: Three Responses to Feeling Insecure

Last week I was touched by your comments on my blog post about how insecure I was feeling about stepping out into new phases.  First, I always love comments as they remind me that someone out there is reading what I write!  But, more importantly, it's good for all of us to open up when we can about our experiences and feelings so we can each say, "me too!" Because so many of us are familiar with feeling vulnerable, I wanted to follow-up on that post and share with you a bit of encouragement.  It comes from a conversation about politics, but I assure you that each point speaks to us in any insecure spot we're sitting.

Sister Giant-- Our Call to Engage in Politics

Last weekend I attended Sister Giant--a conference designed to encourage women to run for political office as an effective way to bring about justice and care for the vulnerable in our world.  The event organizer, Marianne Williamson, is a well-known spiritual teacher who made an incredibly strong case over the weekend that the realm of politics is actually the only place where we can change legislature to actually prevent some of the causes of injustice, rather than only donating to non-profits that are set up to respond more the symptoms.  Even advocating or lobbying for change in legislature isn't always effective as there is no money or power behind hungry children, prisoners, or the impoverished.  To look at broken systems, like our prisons, and figure out how to better respond to non-violent crimes-- we need big-hearted people in office to care.

The case was well made of the difference that women can make and the need for more of us to show up in that world as candidates, or as women who will support other female candidates.

I can get behind bringing transformation to this world and I know that it is more likely to happen when women hold up our half of the sky. I felt convicted when Marianne said, "Women are indeed called to be homemakers and mothers.  What we forgot was that we are called to do it for the whole world-- to be more homemakers of this planet and mothers of all children."  Indeed we need more of us caring that there are 17,000 hungry babies dying every day.

How to Show Up When It Sucks

But just watching congress is enough to discourage the best of us!  A couple of news interviews listening to party-lines and egos and defensiveness and blame is all I can take. One of the attendees asked the question then that so many of us feel, "I can't even stand watching politics on TV as it all seems so mean-spirited and ego-based-- how would I ever survive in that world long enough to bring about any positive change?"

Marianne answered that question with three points that I think pertain to all of us who feel insecure at times, and she even started with the importance of female friendship:

  1. Develop a Positivity Team:  She quickly acknowledged how fierce the arena can be, and immediately suggested that we need to surround ourselves with positivity teams-- women who will cheer for us, hope with us, and pray for us.  That answer obviously gets my female friendship juices going!
    • If we were running for office, the jobs of whose on the positivity team are tangible-- women who would call every morning to tell our friend how amazing she is, women who would defend her in the press, women who would help pick up the kids after school, women who would remind her that whatever is said by the opponent isn't necessarily true, etc.  How fabulous does that sound?
    • I quickly thought of all of us who might not be running for office, but still need positivity teams.  Our friends are hopefully versions of that all the time, but if you're going through something big, something temporary, or something that leaves you feeling vulnerable-- maybe the best thing we can do is bequeath this title on them and make sure they know what we need the most right now. We're allowed to ask a friend, "While I'm going through this, will you call me more often and just remind me what you love about me?"  Yes, we are.
  2. Add good, rather than eliminate the bad.  There is so much research out there to support this concept now.  Whether it's emotional research that reveals it's more significant to add good moments to our lives than it is to try to eliminate stressors or medical research that supports that it's proving more effective to fight bad bacteria by adding good bacteria (i.e probiotics) than it is to just zap the bad ones gone-- the point is that we effectively deal with the bad by adding the good.
    • So in politics, her point is well made that the political climate isn't going to change until we add a bunch of good, caring, compassionate, and courageous female candidates.
    • But in our private lives that can often feel stressed out and insecure, the remedy is the same.  We can't (nor should we want to!) avoid risks, big decisions, and new opportunities just because they increase our stress and fear.  But we can add in extra moments of energy and joy when we know we're in stressful times.  What makes you happy?  What boosts your energy? What stimulates you?  What brings you laughter? Try to add some of those!
  3. And lastly, Show Up in Your Own Armor.Marianne told the inspirational story of David & Goliath.  For those of you not familiar with this Old Testament story, David, a sheep-herder discovered that none of his brothers or their comrades in the military would go fight the enemy giant.  David believed in their cause and offered to take on the giant.  The King quickly gave him all his best armor and choice of weapons, but David could barely move with all that extra weight.  He finally just said, "I'll stick with my slingshot and handful of stones." The iconic story ends with David hitting the giant with a stone between the eyes, or the place that many people call the third or inner eye.
    • Her point to women in politics was that we don't have to show up acting like everyone else; we'll be most effective when we come with who we are.  We don't have to act like the current congress.  Just because it's that way now, doesn't mean it's the only way.
    • And that hit me for all of us who feel insecure.  It reminded me of running for student body president as a college freshman.  Someone told me I couldn't win because I was a girl, a freshman, and I had no former experience in the student association.  The night before my speech, I turned those very three obstacles into the three reasons the study body should vote for me. And, I won.  I was grateful this weekend to remember that story.  It provoked me to make a list of what I consider my inadequacies to be now (i.e. no MBA) and turn them into my strengths.  How is it that I can come through this moment better and stronger for who I am, rather than for who I'm not?  I may feel a bit like David-- but Goliath can come down while I stay true to who I am.

So if you feel insecure right now-- take those three steps to heart.  I am.

And if you're thinking of running for any office-- let us know so we can support you!  :)

 

 

 

Vagina Monologues, Violence & Friendship

I just returned from participating in a One Billion Rising Pop-Up Video Shoot sharing why I rise against violence for women.

You watch this 3-minute video and tell me how we could do anything but choose to rise.

Let's rise together.  One billion of us between now and February 14, 2013, which is the 15th Anniversary of V-Day.

We are collectively going on strike against violence done to women. We are participating in a revolution.

The One Billion Rising campaign  is "inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country. V-Day wants the world to see our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders."

Below I am re-posting a blog that articulates why I will keep rising.

I hope you'll rise with us.  Be a part of the one billion of us who will rise up together, for our sake, for theirs, and for the world.

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This blog was written February 18, 2010. Still feels ever current.

Vagina Monologues, Violence & Friendship

Last night I attended an interview with Eve Ensler*, made famous as the playwright of the Vagina Monologues. She has released a new book called "I Am An Emotional Creature" which chronicles the struggle of girls to overcome the obstacles, threats and pressures that can rob them of their originality and power.

When asked what she felt was the biggest problem facing the world today, her response was "violence against women."

Women as Victims I doubt I would have answered the same question in the same way, and yet her case was nevertheless compelling and thought-provoking. Her point was that as long as we have a patriarchal system, we will have power taken from women that could be put toward different causes. That violence is damaging the very lives that could hold the solution to so many other needs. Imagine what you would do with all the energy in your life if you didn't have to focus it on overcoming something that wounded you.

It's obvious to see it play out in the Congo and Pakistan where sex-trafficking, rape and genital mutilation aren't punished. But even in our own country, our statistics still suggest that one in every three women face rape, abuse or molestation before they turn 18.

And to bring it even closer to home, she would expand the word "violence" to include any oppression that women face which includes spending much of our lives trying to become "more" girl in being skinnier, prettier and sweeter; and yet also trying so hard to be "less" girl where we're told to not run like a girl, throw like a girl, cry like a girl or be emotional like a girl. It is hard to know how to show up at our best.

Women as Offenders While we are certainly still a patriarchal world, it struck me that often the worst judgment of what it means to be a woman, comes from our own gender. I don't want to understate the trauma done by men around the world to women in any way whatsoever, but I simply want to point out that we ourselves are not always known for being the most uplifting of one another. Much of my greatest criticism in life has come from other women as they placed judgments on me for not living up to their expectations or values. The famous battles are between the stay-at-home moms and the career women or those who are domestic versus those who shun domesticity for a different role, but even when it comes to beauty, fashion and what shoes one wears, I have witnessed women dis-empower each other.

Furthermore, I've seen us not always give the same gift to men that we demand for ourselves. We want the right to choose to be home or work, but we still expect them to be "providers." We want the right to not have to cook all the meals, but we still think a "real man" should know how to fix the car. We know the long-term effects of being hit, but we have been known to downplay the damage we inflict on them with emotional control and manipulation. It's complicated isn't it?

Women as Friends I cannot listen to anything without filtering it through my lens of how much I believe in the power of friendships, community and belonging. And in that vein it struck me what a powerful tool our friendships can be. Certainly, they are a support place for us as we process our own wounds and they are also a source of empowerment as they remind us of our value and worth.

But importantly, they also provide us a container with which we can practice encouraging women who make different decisions than we do. We can engage in cheering for people whose authentic voices sound different from ours. I can love my friend who is on strike against cosmetics because of what she thinks it represents and I can love my friend who spends her every paycheck on getting her nails manicured. I can love them both and in a small way I am helping two women become more of themselves. I don't have to judge, devalue or in any way belittle them.

They may still face judgment, violence and discrimination in this world, but not from me. And that's no small gift. As I practice empowering the people I love (which sounds easy but can be difficult) then I become more adept in the occasions of life where I am called upon to empower even those I don't know, don't agree with or don't admire. My friendships are the places where I practice being the kind of person I want to offer to this world.

Indeed I agree with Ensler that the more we protect each other against violence, the more positive and vibrant energy we will have to participate in the creating of good. And the more we empower women, the more our world is capable of creating that good together. And that gives me hope.

* I attended this interview because I saw that one of our GirlFriendCircles.com members, France K., had posted it on the GirlFriendCircles calendar! Thank you for putting it out there!

Update 10/01/2012: This was my belief then... now you can see it on my homepage in my "I Have a Theory that Friendship Can Save The World" video.

 

I Have This Theory that Friendship Can Save the World

This is my manifesto for doing what I do.  I believe that beyond the joy and health that friendships bring us personally, they also give us the place to practice being the people who this world needs.

I share this today, on 9/11 for two reasons: First, it is the anniversary of the day eleven years ago when we saw what happens when people judge and fear others. In response to that terrorism, we also saw what happens when love and generosity step in.

And second, today is my birthday. I joyfully launch the message that I'm committed to sharing in the year ahead.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by friendship, I mean relationships where we are committed to practicing the best version of ourselves, while simultaneously choosing to abandon pretense, posturing, and insecurity to risk revealing our shadow side, too.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by save, I mean bring greater happiness, less stress, healthier hearts and bodies, an increased sense of personal worthiness, less rejection, and fewer actions initiated by fear.

I believe that our friendships are gymnasiums for our souls.  Gymnasiums where we can practice being the people this world needs: building up our muscle for compassion, increasing our endurance for giving, and stretching our ability to see the best in each other.

*   So we can practice cheering for people even when we’re jealous.

*   So we can practice listening even when we think we’re right.

*   So we can practice empathy even when we’re tempted to judge.

*   So we can practice serving even when we’re busy.

*   So we can practice saying “I forgive you” even when we’re disappointed.

All of these are skills this world desperately needs.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

And by the world, I mean that if we don't do these things in relationships with people we love, then what hope do we have of doing them with people who live on the other side of the world from us? Who have different religions or political views? Whose values and beliefs differ from our own?

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

Less splintering, less judgment, less criticism, less loneliness, less fear, less pulling away, less war.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

More smiles, more acceptance, more love, more hope, more applause, more joy, more positivity, more belonging.

I have this theory that friendship can save the world.

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I hope you'll post this blog and video today to your Facebook page to help remind us how important our friendships are! 

And to that point, today the web site for my book goes live: www.ShastaNelson.com. YAY!  Thank you blog readers for your cheering along the way-- it means a lot!

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity, and Judgment

I've been thinking about bodies, weight, and insecurities a lot lately. I was somewhat shocked when my last blog post ("The Judgment of Weight") skyrocketed to first place as the most read blog on this site. In hindsight, I shouldn't have been surprised as it hasn't gone unnoticed by me that nearly every woman's magazine puts the word fat or weight on their cover every single month. Clearly the subject sells.

And I know why.  We all want to be "acceptable."  Every single one of us goes through this journey called life trying, in our own ways, to "be enough," "prove valuable," and "feel loved." So certainly it would matter if we're told that there is something "wrong" with us.  Especially something so obvious to everyone else.

It's not my intention or training to talk about weight specifically-- whether we need to gain or lose, how to do it, why it's hard, or how it's affecting our health and longevity.  But from a relational perspective-- the judgment we have surrounding this issue has to keep being addressed. It's affecting all of us.

Your Weight Bothers Me

In some ways it doesn't seem to matter how public Oprah is about accepting her weight, how many Dove campaigns go viral, how many "over-weight" celebrities provide new role models, or how many more articles we read that emphasize health over weight-- we are still showing up with such deep judgments.

Less than half of the 1800 women who took the survey chose "neither" as their answer when asked to choose from pairs of words like ambitious or lazy to describe a woman they knew nothing about except that she was “overweight” or “thin.” (And in that particular question we were 11 times more willing to peg that imaginary woman as lazy!)

With two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese you'd think we'd be more compassionate since the chances are high that if we're not personally in this category that someone we know and love is.  Ironic also that most of us claim we want to lose weight while simultaneously judging thin women as being superficial, mean, and controlling. If we believed that, why would we want to become that?

Those judgments are hurting us. Personally.

Not just because we risk dismissing potential friends because of our prejudice, though that's a strong reason to practice befriending those whose body types are different from ours.  But because we damage our own psyches when we judge others.

The judgments we are putting out there are the same judgments that are coming back and biting us in our ass--be it flat or plump. We think we might feel better if we devalue others,  but when we do, we are reinforcing the same judgments that we'll hold against ourselves.  We're putting energy out there that becomes our own critic, our own slave master, our own prison.

We cannot judge without feeling judged.  It's impossible. If we make the judgment about her, we're telling our brain that this belief is true to us. Which means that same brain will give us that message about ourselves.

What we say about others reveals way more about our own story than it does about theirs.  We are reacting to them from our own insecurities, fears, and doubts.

When we can't accept them it reveals that we can't accept ourselves. The two go hand-in-hand.

Getting Naked Literally and Figuratively

I felt a moment of that truth last week when a friend took me to a Korean style spa--a bathhouse where you wear the same thing you would if you were taking a bath at home. Ha!

The first two minutes are the worst.  Not used to disrobing in front of strangers (or my girlfriends who were with me, for that matter!) it does feel very vulnerable.

And then, it doesn't. Seriously.

A swimsuit just gives the illusion of being covered. Without it comes a freedom:  No sucking anything in, no pulling anything down, no adjusting anything, no worrying if it is in style, or flattering, or appropriate.  There was simply nothing to hide behind, nothing to judge, nothing to worry about keeping in place.

When we risk showing our scars, birthmarks, cellulite, rolls of fat, protruding bones, tan lines, faces without make-up, boobs without push-up bras, and wet hair-- we realize we're all way more alike than we seem to remember when covered with clothing.

To see one woman walk by with only a scar where a breast used to be--I was reminded how grateful I am for life.  To see one woman sitting on the edge of the jacuzzi with rolls of fat around her middle-- I found myself cheering for her courage, grateful for her acceptance, challenging myself to accept who I am, too.

As I accepted all the bodies around me for just what they were, letting go of any need to judge those who were willing to be vulnerable in the same space with me, a self-acceptance washed over me.

I felt beautiful even as I gazed at the parts of my body that can sometimes cause me shame.  I didn't feel it then.  I completely and totally accepted myself, even as my chest flattened when I laid on my back. Oh that we all had more moments where we could be that relaxed and at peace.

When I stopped judging those around me, I found it easier to give the gift to myself.

Or maybe it was when I first disrobed, proving I was willing to accept myself that I was able to accept all of them.

I don't know which came first. But I do know the two went hand-in-hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Judgment of Weight

There are two things I will not board a plane without: a new magazine purchased at the airport and a purse filled with snacks. The snacks are self-explanatory in a day and age where one can get stuck on a three or four-hour flight with little more than six peanuts being offered to you! I have this deep fear of being hungry and not being able to do anything about it.  So snacks are a must for this girl.  And a magazine?  Well, it's just a guilty pleasure to pass time reading something I normally wouldn't take the time to do at home.

Last week on my home from Tampa, I was riveted to the Glamour article "The Secret Way People Are Judging You."  In this article they revealed the results of a poll of more than 1,800 women revealing what they thought about women of various weights.

From Glamour's "Skinny Witch vs. Chubby Fairy"

Heavy women were pegged as…

skinny witch vs chubby fairy

  • “lazy” 11 times as often as thin women;
  • “sloppy” nine times;
  • “undisciplined” seven times;
  • “slow” six times as often.

While thin women were seen as…

  • “conceited” or “superficial” about eight times as often as heavy women;
  • “vain” or “self-centered” four times as often;
  • “bitchy,” “mean,” or “controlling” more than twice as often.

Even the “good” labels are unfair. An overweight woman may be five times as likely to be perceived as “giving” as a skinny one.

Absorbing the Results of our Weight Stereotyping

I unfortunately can't say I was entirely shocked by these results.  We live in a world where we make decisions about people within 20 seconds so it can't surprise us that it's most likely dependent upon external factors. I was surprised though that women of all weights hold these stereotypes. In other words, the judgments aren't just one group toward another, but "Plus-size respondents judged other plus-size women as 'sloppy,' and skinny types pegged their thin peers as 'mean.'" We know the judgments are unfair about us but it doesn't stop us from putting those labels on someone else! What is that?

I was also moved by the various interviews of women who have felt those judgments.  There has been quite a bit of research done in what is being called "fat studies" where we see the impact that extra weight (and/or the shame and ostracism of that extra weight) has on someone's ability to be hired, healthy, or seen as attractive. One study showed that overweight women have a harder time getting hired and that when they do, they earn as much as $5,826 less than their normal-weight peers. Painful and completely unfair!

And similarly, this article is one of the first for highlighting the scorn that skinny women face, too.  Amy Farrell, PhD., a professor of women's and gender studies, and author of Fat Shame highlighted that skinny women are often "pushed away as someone who is not sharing in the same struggles as the rest of us. People look at her and say, 'You're not friend material; you're alien.'" As someone who studies female friendship-- that jumped off the page to me! That we think their weight is any way connected to the type of friend they can be? *sigh*

Again, Friendships Can Be Part of the Solution

At the end of the article I was left with this mixed feeling.

On the one hand, I just felt sick.  Feeling the depth of our judgmental culture and wondering if there was really anything that could change us to be more accepting of each other was initially overwhelming.

But on the other hand, I felt slightly hopeful.  Hopeful because we're doing it to ourselves.  And if we're the ones doing it to each other, then it seems like we could own that and start choosing to do it differently?

Personal growth isn't about becoming someone different as much as it's about seeing ourselves as we are and starting to catch ourselves earlier in our judgments. So I can't just tell myself to stop judging, but I can tell myself that it matters to me to catch myself doing it and give myself the choice to create new brain patterns.

I may not be able to stop my first judgment from popping into my head-- assuming that she's stuck-up, vain, insecure, or superficial-- but I can sure own that and choose to follow it up with a stronger thought.  I can remind myself that I know what it feels like to be judged by people who don't know me.  I can remind myself of all my friends who have different body types and appearances who don't fit the stereotypes.  I can remind myself that no one benefits from being judged. And that in actuality, research has proven that few of us are good judges. I can step down from the soap box created by my insecurities.

We don't have the luxury in this world of all feeling overly loved.  Few of us report having all the love and acceptance we need!  We could all do with more friends, more people who cheer us on, more people who accept us as we are, more people who want to get to know us past our appearances.  As women who value friends, we should be leading this charge!

We can choose after our judgments to refuse to believe them.  Instead, we can silently whisper, "I accept you just as you are. I can't wait to see the beautiful person you are," and trust that a little more love in this world will go a long way.

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6/4/2012: A follow up blog: Vulnerability, Weight, Nudity & Judgment

 

 

Earth Day, God, and Relationships

On this blog I talk about relationships. Almost every week (not quite as regular this month since I immersed myself in writing the final chapters of my book manuscript!) I write about how our relationships impact us, or how we can impact them. Today, with Earth Day coming up this weekend, I challenge us to see the planet as one more relationship we are called to care for. And, while I have yet to write a piece on our environment, I find that the subject is actually very much in alignment with our friendships.

Allow me this moment to explain...

A Story of Our Beginnings

One of the stories of our beginnings comes from the book of Genesis in the Jewish scriptures.  In that version, Adam & Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, introducing sin into our world.

Sin is often described as disobedience, conjuring up images of preachers pounding podiums and warning of hell. But I find that definition to be too narrow for most of us.  Indeed sin can be wrong-doing that needs forgiveness, but there are many other metaphors used throughout sacred scriptures that sometimes speaks to us better at different times including: exile and return, slavery and liberation, fear and peace, missing the mark and staying the course, rejection and acceptance, and the one I want to focus on today: disconnection and reconciliation.

What Adam and Eve experienced that day was, among other things, a profound sense of disconnection. In so many ways, the wedge of what we call sin in this world, impacts all four of our relationships:

  1. Our Relationship to God: This is often the one that gets the most attention-- the message often being that we have to re-prove ourselves to God or find ways to please God. But really I think it's the next relationship, the one we have with our selves, that actually can mess up the one with we have with God. It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in a Love that is bigger than anything we can imagine or see.
  2. Our Relationship to Self: How we see ourselves, the ego that starts to motivate us, the defensiveness and fear we live from, our deep sense of never being quite-good-enough. We rarely feel the alignment we seek, often feeling at war with ourselves, distracted, torn, and pulled toward different values.
  3. Our Relationship to Others: As soon as fear entered our world, it became impossible to not look at each other with suspicion and distrust. In our need to feel good enough personally, it's impossible to give the gift of acceptance and love to each other. The Other becomes a threat to our personal survival.  Even with those close to us, who we commit to love, we struggle our entire lives to live it out in ways that don't hurt each other.
  4. Our Relationship to the Earth: Perhaps one of the saddest, and least talked about relationships that experienced deep wounding because of our fear is that with our planet. In the story of the Garden of Eden, a perfectly created earth began to grow thorns and experience it's own form of death and decay. God commissioned the first humans with the responsibility to be stewards of the earth, working with God to reverse this decay rather than contribute to it. We have lost the very real sense of connection and responsibility for this home of ours-- often seeing it as something to use, not seeing it as something to protect.

Every Relationship is Connected

My personal belief is that all the four relationships above are inter-connected. I actually don't think we can segment ourselves, compartmentalizing some relationships as separate than others, and live full, abundant, healthy and love-filled lives.

In other words, you hear me often say that I don't think we can decide to have healthy relationships with others, without having a healthy relationship with ourselves. Conversely, I don't think we can fully be at peace with ourselves if we have angst in our relationships.

I know the God-piece throws off many of us-- perhaps we're uncomfortable with that particular title/label or how we've seen others use it for their purposes.  But whether we call it Bigness--the Universe, Spirit, Mother Nature, Karma, the Sacred, or God--the truth remains that whatever worldview we end up adopting, whatever belief we hold about what runs our world, or what we can expect from this life, this relationship with that which is outside of us cannot not impact our relationships with others and ourselves.

And in honor of Earth Day, I sound a clarion call that one more relationship we are called to attend to is that of our planet. Like any relationship, we have to figure out how we can enter into a healthy give-and-take-- growing ever conscious of what we use versus what we replenish, restore, reuse, and grow. This call extends to how we treat and protect animals, how we view our forests and our farmland, how we share resources with others, and how we protect the eco-systems, water supplies, and every other gift our planet has offered.

Our Calling

I shared the story of the Garden of Eden because it beautifully ties all four relationships together. Our own distrust of God and our desire to grab whatever we want brings pain and consequence to all four relationships. What we do in one affects the others.  We are not separate.

The story of our beginnings that says that we will toil and hurt in all four of those relationships is picked up again, at the end of the same Bible, in the story of another New Beginning.  This one, in the book of Revelation, says that God wants to bring reconciliation to all that is disconnected. And every story in between those pages, for Jews, Muslims, and Christians is about our call to be, what one of the New Testament writers Paul describes as, "Ambassadors of Reconciliation."

We are invited to carefully evaluate all four relationships and then do all we can to bring love, healing, safety, joy, and peace, wherever we can.

That means that if we say we want healthy friendships with other women, then part of that is getting healthy and pro-active about our relationship to how we give, protect, and love this planet that we call home.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 

Race and Friendship

Anderson Cooper is highlighting results all week on his CNN AC360 show about kids and race in America.  As adults it's sometimes harder to gauge prejudice and racism since we are trained to be politically correct and don't want to perceive ourselves as buying into any negative stereotypes. In kids there is only honesty and a mirroring of what they have been taught at home and school. The word friend came up multiple times in the study and I felt both thrilled at the value our friendships play in integrating our society, but also convicted at how we still seem to all hang out with people who are more like us than not.

Seeing the Lack of Skin Diversity in My Friends

This last weekend I was with a group of my friends from my days when I lived in Southern California-- a very diverse place. And as we kept gathering for group photos I felt a tinge of embarrassment that four out of the five looked alike-- white and blond. How did that happen, I asked myself.  Our group wasn't hand selected by any one person-- we just all started coming together seven years ago.  We used to have a Latina in our group, but with her dropping out, now it's just one gorgeous black woman and four whites. It made me want to at least dye my hair red or brown...

My defense mechanism went into play as I started naming all my other friends from different places, reminding myself that I know, love, and admire tons of non-white skinned people.  Take a picture of me with my local San Francisco friends and it would look very different.  And I tried to tell myself that diversity is more than skin color-- I hang out with women of many different socioeconomic levels, various careers, a great range of personalities, different sexual identities, and I pride myself that I build relationships with single women and moms-- two things I am not. But still, it bothers me that of my closest friends, most of them are white.

Unfortunately, I'm not alone in that.  As Rachel Bertsche reports in her book MWF Seeking BFF: "In 2004, only 15 percent of Americans reported having at least one confidante of another ethnicity.... Among college students arriving on campus, race and living proximity are the two strongest indicators of who your friends will be."

Study after study keeps highlighting that while we may all self-report more diversity in our network, we still tend to grow closest to those who are most like us, skin color included. One creative study looked at wedding party photos online and assessed that only 3.7% of white brides and grooms have a black person as a bridesmaid or groomsman. Much has been reported about the study that showed that the larger and more diverse a college campus is, the more likely the students sought out people groups just like themselves.  When we live in highly diverse areas, we're less likely to actually engage in all in the diversity and instead use the size as an opportunity to find more people like us.

Three Things I Learned on AC 360 Kids on Race Findings

1.  Black Kids Are More Racially Optimistic than Whites. In the year-long study sponsored by AC360 kids were shown a picture where it wasn't clear what had happened and then asked questions such as "What's happening in this picture?", "Are these two children friends?" and "Would their parents like it if they were friends?"

Only 38% of black children had a negative interpretation of the pictures, whereas almost double -- a full 70% of white kids -- felt something negative was happening.  Melanie Killen, the child psychologist in charge of the study said, "African-American parents ... are very early on preparing their children for the world of diversity and also for the world of potential discrimination," compared to most white parents who tend to avoid the subject and just hope that their kids are color-blind.

It made me super proud of all the black parents who are out there intentionally trying to help their kids integrate, and saddened me that most white parents wouldn't view integration with the same importance or need.

2.  There's a Subtle "Limit" for How Close We Should Get With Each Other.  While black children start out positive, by age 13 they become as pessimistic as white kids when shown similar pictures. Certainly more experiences of prejudice and an awareness of the racial realities would account for some of the growing pessimism of black children, but they also commented on how parents of both races start to change their tune as the children age.  When parenting a 6-year old we want our young kids to play nicely with everyone, but by the time they reach high school we're getting worried about inter-racial dating.  In other words-- the message shifts from "play with everyone" to "don't get too close to someone of the opposite race."

Subtly we can be taught to be friendly, but not to become close friends. It's hard to teach equality when we sense that there is a limit to that equality. That we can only accept each other up to a certain point of intimacy--platonic or romantic.

While the racial distrust seems to show up in both white and black teens, other studies like the bridal party study I quoted earlier still seems to suggest that blacks are more likely to report close white friends than the other way around.  Nearly 96% of white bride and grooms have all-white wedding parties, whereas black brides and grooms are 22% likely to have a white friend stand up with them.

3.  Having a Friend of the Other Color Was Hugely Defining.  Enough studies show that we still flock to people like us even in diverse settings, but being surrounded by diversity still raises our perception of people different from us.  The white kids who were tested at diverse schools were drastically less negative than the white kids who attended mostly white schools.

"The reason, according to Dr. Killen, is about friendships. 'There's almost nothing as powerful as having a friend of a different racial ethnic background to reduce prejudice, to ... have that experience that enables you to challenge stereotypes,' she said."

The whole subject of race is hard to talk about sometimes.  We risk seeing parts of us we'd rather deny and we're scared of saying it wrong or offending each other.  And yet, I think it's crucial that we keep holding up the mirror that reminds us to keep widening our circle of comfort and habit.

I'd love to hear some comments from some of you about the studies I've quoted...  What strikes you as you read some of their findings? Have you found these results to be reflective of your personal experiences? Do you wish you had more diverse friendships? What makes it hardest, in your opinion, to build these close relationships with people who have a different skin color? What have you learned from your relationships with people from a different culture or race?

 

 

 

 

 

The Role of Female Friendships on March 8: International Women's Day

Tomorrow is March 8, International Women's Day.

Started in the early 1900's, now dozens of countries from Afghanistan to Zambia celebrate this international holiday to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. I've written before about my awakening to the ongoing needs to be powerful women so today I'm going to take a slightly different angle and talk about the role of friendship in that journey.

Relationships at the Center of Women's Development & Identity

Women's development is largely understood by psychologists and sociologists as being more dependent upon our connections with others, as compared to the development of men where they seemingly place higher value on their independence, self-reliance, and destiny fulfillment.

When I hear all those "masculine" words I actually feel very drawn to them so it reminds us that it's not an easy, either/or, black-and-white, male vs. female comparison.  Nonetheless, on the spectrum of where we form our identity, women tend to lean into feeling their worth based on our relationships: being chosen (married, dating), being a mother, on being admired by the other women in our lives, by being the glue in our extended families.

Historically, in fact, we were only defined and valued by our relationships to men-- who our fathers, husbands, and sons were.  Legally, morally, and socially, we had to be connected to men to have a secure status.   We've come a long way since the days where our characters were either "good" or "bad" due to our behavior with men and our place in society was dependent upon having a man to provide property, food, and reputation.  We are still expanding our definition of our own unique identity as women.

In the book "girlfriends" written in 1995 by Carmen Renee Berry and Tamara Traeder they make a compelling case for female friendship by saying,

"When we look to men as reference points, however, we lose sight of who we are as women. It is like trying to define an apple by comparing it to an orange.  The apple, described in terms of the orange, will never have it's own identity, appeal, and value; it will simply be "not an orange."

We are more than the value of our relationships to and with men, just as we are more than being "not men."

An Ode to My Female Friendships

We are women, and perhaps it's with other women that we can best define and name ourselves as we tell our stories, practice our power, and model our experiences. Not to negate one iota from the value I have found in connecting with men, but rather, to focus on the distinct value of connecting with women, it is in those relationships that I have found so much of myself.

So tomorrow, on International Women's Day*, this post is to the women who have taught me to not just try to imitate men or be different than men, but to simply become a woman.

Thank you for the stories you've shared, whether it was during the slumber parties of our childhood, in the bath rooms of high school, in the college classrooms after class, over happy hour drinks or coffee or tea, in parks watching the kids, or in the adjacent offices of our careers.

Thank you for modeling for me and letting me ask the awkward questions as we all bumped through life wearing training bras before we needed them, wishing for our periods only to then wonder why we had ever thought that sounded like fun, and watching each other survive broken hearts to remind ourselves that when the time came, and it always did, that we, too, would survive.

Thank you for asking for the promotion and giving me courage to do the same, and thank you for whispering your fears as you weighed the cost of ambition as it helped me gauge my own price tags.

Thank you for being just as excited about finding that perfect rug on sale that pulls in all the colors of your living room for a mere discounted price worthy of your hunt, as you were about splurging that day at the spa.

Thank you for simultaneously assuring me that I don't need to lose weight while also validating my desire to "get back into shape," for telling me you like my hair long or short, but always concluding that how it is now is your current favorite, and for nodding understanding about how fast time flies while also telling me how young I still am.

Thank you for being the kind of women I could call in tears should I ever need to tell you that they found a lump in my breast. And conversely, that I could call with indistinguishable words should I ever have a book go on the best-seller list.  But more often than not, simply calling you with a nonchalant, "What are you making for dinner tonight?"

We alone know that even when men are doing 50% of the household chores that there are still countless things we do that make our lists a bit longer; and we alone know the feeling of pride and exhaustion of believing that we are the only ones that could do those things.  We can brag and commiserate that we are multi-taskers, seek balance as though it's attainable, and feel guilty saying no even when it's precisely the right answer.  Thank you for being a woman with me.

It is an honor to be a woman with you.  It is my privilege to learn from you and your stories.  It is a gift that you hear my own.  Thank you.

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* For more information about this international holiday or to participate in one of the hundreds of events across the country visit the official web site of International Women's Day.

** On a side note, I'd be honored to have your vote of appreciation for my blog in the About.com Readers Awards for Favorite Friendship Blog. Two seconds of your time can help me narrow the gap from 2nd to 1st place! Thank you!

I Just Want to Fit In! The Insecurities of Not Belonging.

One of the hardest parts of life is feeling the fear of not fitting in, whatever that means. As a kid I wished I could afford the ever-cool Guess jeans and Ked shoes instead of the $14.99 Jordache's and Payless Shoe Store wanna-be's that my mom bought. Later, my idea of fitting in would include wishing I'd start my period, need a bra, and kiss my first boyfriend when it seemed everyone else had already passed into the land of adulthood before me.

I can laugh now at the silliness that seemed so important at the time. It also causes me pause to consider what my Keds are now-- what feels important now but might look silly to me down the road?

Now I have been gifted with the maturity to realize that my value doesn't fluctuate on how others view me and that "in" means a thousand different things to different people.  But to know I don't need to fit in everywhere doesn't mean I still don't want to. I blogged a couple years ago about how our greatest fear in life is rejection, and even just feeling the possibility of not belonging is enough to tap all our insecurities.

Sometimes my maturity is overridden by an insecure teenage girl that still just wants to fit in.

Do I Belong Here?

Yesterday, I was at a Women 2.0 Pitch Conference geared for female founders of tech start-ups.  The irony isn't lost on me that a conference where I should feel like I fit in perfectly can still stir up all my little inner critical voices. Fear really isn't all that rational.

So in the spirit of transparency I'll admit I felt out-of-place. Yes I was a woman. Yes I had founded a start-up company.  Yes it's doing well and growing. Yes it's in the space of technology. Yes by all intents-and-purposes I belonged there.

I've blogged before about how difficult conferences can be for many of us (Pushing Through the Nerves to Meet People and The Mistake that Cost Me a New Friendship) but it can be in any setting where we may not already know a lot of people, may have a lot to learn, and may be surrounded by lots of amazing people that cause us to question our own amazing-ness.  There's a thin line between wanting to be inspired and called forward, and yet not feeling overwhelmed and incompetent! Put us in that place where we start wondering if we can reach our hoped-for-success and we're automatically in a very vulnerable place.

I was surrounded by people who had all earned MBA's.  Seemingly all from Stanford.  And suddenly I felt like I would never know the right people, be a part of the powerful network, or be able to learn fast enough everything they already seem to know. My insecure little girl kept whispering "let's just go back home where we feel safe and comfortable." You see, my expertise is in personal development, relational health, and spiritual growth-- not in funding rounds, code engineering, product shipping, user interface design, and market research. In some worlds my skill set could make me a rock star, in this one I was just very aware of everything I lacked.

And therein lies the challenge with fear--we'll never get where we want to without feeling it since it pops up anytime we leave our comfort zone. And obviously our comfort zone, while not scary, isn't bringing us want we value. We want to keep moving forward... but that always includes leaving our comfort zone. UGH!

For most of you in my female friendship community-- you crave deeper connections.  But unfortunately that requires you to meet strangers first.

Then follow-up. And do it again.  And wonder if they liked you too.  And wonder if it's their turn or your turn to make the next move. And then you have to risk sharing pieces of you, getting vulnerable.  And you have to find a new way of being with someone new. It's not without fear and insecurity that we walk that path.

Whether it's you wanting local meaningful friendships or me wanting to know how to best grow my company so that you can all make more friends-- we both will feel the fear of the unknown.

And we will eventually have to value the potential as greater than the fear we feel.  We'll have to feed the dream, starve the fear.  We'll have to weight the outcome as worthy of the path.

I Have to Believe I Do Belong.

At the conference yesterday they had a red chair there for the Sit With Me campaign designed to validate the role of women in the technology field. Men and women around the world are sitting in red chairs as their way of saying "we need to sit together, we want all voices and talents involved!"

On a form I was asked "Who are you sitting for today?" And while the obvious answer is for women in general, I specifically wrote that I was sitting for all those who weren't sure they belonged at the table, no matter their insecurity, perceived obstacle, greatest fear, hidden truth, or lack of credentials. I sat in that chair and whispered to myself "I do belong and so do thousands of others."

I sat in that chair and whispered that hope for you. That whatever chair you need to sit in-- that you would know you belong there.  No one else has to tell you that you do.  You just have to sit.

Kinda the way Rosa Parks belonged in the front of the bus.... Belonging can't be given to us, we just have to know it.

In some ways I was out of place, but in other ways I belong there and have much to offer that world in ways that no Stanford-MBA-serial-entrepreneur ever could. They're needed. And so am I. We all belong not because we're the same, but because the world needs all of us, contributing our best. Blessing the world in whatever way we each can.

If you're afraid of meeting at a ConnectingCircle or going to some event with strangers, I invite you to show up, sit in a chair (even if it's not red!) and remind yourself you're putting action behind what's important to you. There is room for you!

It's not without insecurity and doubt that we will contribute, step out, participate, engage, and sit-- in order to stand for what we believe in. It is even with those fears that we will do so.

And it's because of what we hope could be the outcome that will make the fear worth it.

 

 

 

My Coming Out as a Feminist

I won a $1,000 ticket to a Ms. magazine fundraiser luncheon featuring Gloria Steinem last week.  With only thirty women in attendance it was a coveted win.

Feminism: a word I didn't like

I'm slowly waking up to feminism.

Half of my readers will be appalled that I feel a need to use the word feminism at all, and the other half of you are probably rolling your eyes that I ever had any hesitation around word.

I was raised in the eighties when the women's movement experienced its backlash after all the progress of the sixties and seventies. To say the least, the word feminist didn't hold positive correlation for me for most of my life, it wasn't something you wanted to be.  I'd repeatedly heard women start sentences with "I'm not a feminist, but...", modeling for me that we wanted to distance ourselves from some scary picture of women burning bra's, hating men, and causing a ruckus.

Adding to the distance I created between me and feminism was the fact that being a girl often proved to be an advantage to me.  I liked being a girl. (shows how much I misunderstood the feminism message!) More than a sense of oppression, I actually felt singled out, rewarded, and applauded.  Being among the first females running for Student Association president in college was an honor, attending seminary with less than ten women in my program felt pioneering, and serving as many people's first female pastor felt like a privilege. It wasn't without gratitude that I recognized that I had those opportunities because of women who had fought the good fight before me, but I didn't see the need to keep fighting.  I wasn't one of them. I thought we had made it.  Or, at least that there was enough momentum to keep us on our way.

I look back now with a twinge of regret that I cared more about being likable, agreeable, and your all-around-good-girl, than I did about being an advocate for women.  But I either didn't see the need or assumed the cause was doing fine without me waving the banner.

My own feminist awakening

Feminism is a loaded word. A word that few of us would disagree with in definition: "the advocacy of supporting women's rights as equal to men." In words alone, who among us isn't a feminist?

But as soon as the word is uttered-- we sometimes back away because we don't sense the urgency, don't relate to those in the media who represent the word, or don't necessarily feel like there is anything we can do, or want to do. I've had an entire career distancing myself from a word while still believing in the concept. Being a naturally positive person has more-or-less allowed me to look away from numbers as I argue that change takes time; choosing to feel encouraged by how many amazing women I knew who were doing so much.

And yet. Positivity shouldn't include denial.

Women still make up only 3% of creative directors, less than 5% of movie directors (that number dropped in 2011!), only 14% of Hollywood writers, and are shown as protagonists in only 17% of films. These numbers aren't all that different from a decade ago. Only 6 of our 50 state governors are women, and of the 535 seats of Congress, only 90 of them are women.  While we celebrate that we hold 22.1% of all statewide elected offices, that number was 22.2% in 1993 so the last twenty years hasn't shown tremendous strides there either.  I can keep going... reminding you that only 3% of Fortune 500 CEO's are women, that we are still earning double-digits less than our male counterparts, and that even though we own somewhere around 30% of businesses we still receive less than 10% of the funding.

So this last year I'd say I'm having a bit of an awakening. An awakening where I realize that we women still need to consciously play bigger games, speak out more, and offer our best in this world.  This has nothing to do with what choices you make--to get married or not, stay home with kids or work outside the home, wear stilettos or reject fashion--it has to do with being honored completely in whatever choice we do make. Not just for our sakes, but because the problems in our world need us.  The ways we engage, make decisions, and nurture those around us is being called out.  The challenges around us need us.

Like Katie Couric said in the documentary Miss Representation: If women spent 10% less time worrying about our weight and appearance, and instead applied that energy to others, she’s pretty sure we could solve all the worlds problems in a matter of months.

We can do that.

Feminism in Friendship

I've always wanted to live up to my best.  And I was always told I could.  In that sense I have always been a feminist.

But it hasn't been until this last year that I'm getting more comfortable with the word and my belief that I need to contribute to what that word stands for. I'd say that one of the forces that has transitioned me into the passion I feel for the cause were my relationships with other women.

When you experience women cheering for you-- supporting you, believing in you, thanking you, and helping you-- you realize how much more powerful you feel.  And you want everyone else to have that.

Whether it was Ayesha (who is pictured with me and Gloria above, who invited me to participate in an entrepreneurs group of women who were committed to helping each other) or Christine Bronstein from A Band of Wives who gifted me the ticket to attend the luncheon and has done nothing but cheer me on in our shared passion for women-- these two women are fabulous examples of women who have modeled their willingness to promote other women.

And when you have been given to, you want to give back.

The word feminism is still an awkward word on my tongue.  But the concept has taken root in my heart.  I hope that those of us reading this can keep living it out in our interactions with each other-- being constant reminders of each others value and potential. That as women who value friends-- we know that we are empowering each other in ways no one else can do. We can hold up mirrors to each other that remind us of our inherent worth.

In that sense, what we are doing in GirlFriendCircles is sacred work.  On the surface it would be easy to think it's just networking and social events.  But it's women showing up ready to commit to each other, willing to invest in the forming of bonds, honoring the fact that friendships with others are important enough to us to do something about it.  That's feminism.  Saying we matter.  Putting actions behind our words. We're ensuring that we don't do this journey of life without a local community, cheerleaders, allies, and friends.

Upon meeting Gloria Steinem-- I thanked her for the path she helped pave for so many of us.  Her response was "the hardest part is still ahead."

Good thing we have each other.

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p.s. a couple of good resources:

  1. Find a screening in your area for Miss Representation or plan to order the DVD when it's available late February.
  2. Subscribe to Ms. magazine which is like supporting the cause since it's a non-profit magazine that seeks to tell inspiring stories about women and highlight issues and challenges facing them.

 

 

Breast Cancer & Friendship

"Slow down! Don't do it alone!" the stranger said to me as he passed me on my morning jog. I tried to force a polite smile, but what I really thought was: "What kind of a guy has the audacity to tell me what pace to set as though he thinks he's my coach? And who is he to care if I'm running alone this morning?" I rolled my eyes after I passed him and kept jogging.

Then horns began honking, pink pom-poms were seemingly spilling out from passing cars, and in front of me a group of five women cheered in response. Then two more in front of them followed suit. As those cars made their way down the busy street, small little groups of women, flashes of pink dotting the sidewalk, seemed appreciative of the praise. I looked around in confusion, shaken out of my jogging rhythm.

Almost as soon as I became conscious to the energy around me, I quickly realized I was not alone in my jog today.  Apparently my typical exercise route was being shared today with the amazing women participating in the Breast Cancer 3-Day Race for the Cure. They were seemingly everywhere on this busy street leading into the park.

Unknowingly, I had joined them on their course! And since my outfit was black and pink, I fit right in, looking like one of them!

I chuckled, feeling pride at what all these women and men were doing. My heart swelled with appreciation for their energy toward this cause.

Then I suddenly felt guilty.

Not only for being cheered as though I were steps away from completing the 60 mile, 3-day race (when in fact I was simply a girl trying to get a couple of miles in on a day that otherwise was a lazy Sunday); but also because I had appeared to be a solo jogging dissenter in an event that promoted community and walking.

If Life Could Be... I crossed the street and spent the rest of my run pondering how amazing life would be if we could model this race:

  • Where who you do it with counts more than how fast you do it.
  • Where in fact, pacing oneself for the long-haul is of higher value than speeding past someone.
  • Where the journey matters more than simply reaching the destination.
  • Where we care more about our health than our appearance (I saw some seriously 'over-the-top' outfits today! LOL!)
  • Where slowing down to walk with someone who's tired is more the purpose than a delay.
  • Where it matters more to us that we "all" make it, not just me.
  • Where strangers feel bonded because of a combined passion for a cause.
  • Where women cheer for each other, rather than compete.
  • Where men look over-joyed to be driving in cars covered in pink, honking for women and their success.

Oh to live in such a world!

The Friendship & Breast Cancer Link

Consider the headlines we’ve all seen from research out of the University of Chicago: Loneliness Heightens Risk of Breast Cancer. While we all feel the pull to do more, be more, and be better than everyone else, a reminder that sometimes just increasing the stress in our lives (to be the one jogging up the hill alone) while everyone else walks in groups, isn't necessarily success.

And the New York Times reported on the 2006  study of nearly 3,000 nurses with breast cancer that found that "women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. And notably, proximity and the amount of contact with a friend wasn’t associated with survival. Just having friends was protective."

I share the research not to add any fear or guilt, but to give hope.  To remind us that when we feel tempted to withdraw, there is enough data to nudge us to reach out. And it's never too late to invite more love into your life.

Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness! So this October, as we are celebrating National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, send your cards of celebration to the women who have survived this disease, and honor the memories of those who didn't. Wear your pink proudly and buy those products whose proceeds support the awareness and research we still need in this battle. Schedule your mammograms and value your breast health more than your breast size.

But above all, perhaps the wisdom of the stranger who cheered me on this morning might become your mantra this month? Words to be taken seriously: "Slow down! Don't do it alone!"

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To subscribe to Shasta's Friendship Blog (a weekly article on friendship, relational health, and personal growth) enter your email address in the top right corner. Shasta is the Founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site.

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Easy Contest: A Save the Ta-Ta's Give-Away!

Ever since last spring when I met Julia Fiske, the founderof Save the Ta-Ta's (read about my mistake that almost cost me a friendship with her!)-- I've been a fan of their fun t-shirts that help fund research (they donate a portion of every purchase) while increasing the smiles on our faces.  The one pictured on this posting, "now is all we have",  is one of my fave's and they are going to send one of my lucky readers this awesome shirt!  :)

To be the lucky winner who has this shirt, in your chosen size, mailed to your house all you have to do is re-post/share this blog on your facebook AND be sure to tag our facebook page (@www.girlfriendcircles.com) so we can track your share! Contest ends at noon (PST) on Friday, Oct. 28. Winner will be selected randomly from those who share this post!

Step-by-Step Directions: To share this post on your facebook page:

1) first make sure you're a facebook fan of www.GirlFriendCircles.com by liking our page so you can tag us. 

2) Either copy/paste the blog post url into your facebook update or simply select the facebook sharing icon at the end of this post and it will do it automatically.

3) Write whatever status you want to share with your friends, highlighting this blog posting, and be sure to tag us by selecting the "@" key in your update, and start typing "girlfriendcircles" which should give you the option to select us, posting your update to our wall so we can track your involvement! (Should you have any problem tagging us-- simply share the post on your wall and come comment on our wall that you did it!)

THANKS! We'll announce the winner on our facebook page on Friday and contact her!

We Simply Have to Support Other Women!

While in New York City this week, I emerged from a tour of the United Nations building thinking about the blog I had just written on the 3 Baby-Steps Toward Girl Effect's Dream of Changing the World. One of the U.N.'s Millennium goals to Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women came with some statistics that still surprise me (I share them in this less than 2 min video). I can sometimes think that we have the equality that previous generations fought for, but lately I feel quite reminded that there is still so much more we can all do.  And like I said in this video-- maybe just starting with being friendly and supportive of each other is a good place to start?

3 Baby-Steps Toward Girl Effect's Dream of Changing the World

I still remember my jaw dropping open a couple of years ago after hearing the New York Times human rights columnist, Nicholas Kristof make a historical comparison, when he was promoting his book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide" that he co-authored with his wife Sheryl WuDunn.  His haunting words:

"At the peak of the transatlantic slave trade, 80,000 slaves were transported from Africa to the new world. Now, more than 10 times as many women and girls are being forced into brothels or other forms of slavery around the world."

It's so easy to look back in judgment, wondering how our ancestors didn't do more to fight against oppression in various forms.  Yet here we are... still facing similar choices and battles.

Add to that slavery statistic all the other massive issues that are interconnected: girl’s education, AIDS in the developing world, child marriage, child prostitution, domestic violence, population growth, and global poverty, and the complexity is both mind numbing and heart wrenching.

I rarely know what to do that could possibly make a difference.  So when given the opportunity to participate today in  Girl Effect Blogging Campaign day, I not only jump on it, but also extend the invitation to you to participate with your own words. This week hundreds of bloggers will collaborate in bringing awareness to the Girl Effect, the “unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves and the world.”

I'm also walking around this week in a heightened state of awareness after watching Miss Representation as this award-winning documentary highlights the issues girls and women face right here in the U.S. It's a sobering reality that even in our developed and educated country (where women now make up the majority of the workforce and are earning more college degrees than men), we are still communicating in our media and culture that

"a woman’s primary value lay in her youth, beauty and sexuality—and not in her capacity as a leader, making it difficult for women to obtain leadership positions and for girls to reach their full potential."

While the credits rolled, my heart was heavy with the challenge we face in our own country. Add to it the millions of women behind us.  We simply have to be willing to do more for each other, whether you like the word feminism or not.

Three Possible Baby Steps

Some of us may be clearly called to jobs and roles where our daily actions attempt to right the injustices in classrooms, counseling chairs, boardroom tables, and world-wide non- profits. Some of us may be able to help bring awareness to these causes, like Tara Sophia Mohr who started this blogging campaign, or Jennifer Siebel Newsom who wrote and directed the film mentioned above.

And then there will be masses of us who feel the ache but don't see how our actions can make a difference.

But they do.

We can't risk doing nothing just because we can't do everything.

Here are three "small" actions we can take to help turn the tide for our sisters around the world.

1.  GROW: Keep Getting Healthier

It's hard to give energy to causes, dream with others, or live with generosity when there is an energy leak in your own life. If you're still living as though your value is determined by what others think, what size of clothes you wear, or whether you're pretty enough, then there is wound in your own life that still needs healing so you can show up with joy, power, and strength. If you believe there isn't "enough" in your life, you're less likely to want to give to others. If you hold victim mentality by refusing forgiveness to someone then you risk not feeling like you have power to give.

We all have our insecurities.  But that doesn't mean we have to live from them. Do what you need to do to not ignore them or devalue others in your attempt to make yourself forget about them. Meditate, read, talk to a coach/therapist, attend mind-expanding and centering workshops, sit in sacred space, get enough sleep, own your worth apart from what you do or look like, hike a mountain, sing more, read poetry, find your five minutes of daily silence, pray....

In Miss Representation, Katie Couric says that she thinks if women spent 10% less time worrying about our weight and appearance, and instead applied that energy to others, she's pretty sure we could solve all the worlds problems in a matter of months. That's sobering. Where can you cut back 10%?

Do anything that increases your compassion toward yourself and others. Conversely, stop doing anything that decreases your compassion toward yourself and others.

2. GIVE: Donate a financial gift today to start a new ripple....

Sometimes giving a financial gift can be your way of saying to yourself that you trust that there is "enough" in this world for all of us. Hoarding and greed come from fear. Lean into the belief that the vision of what we can do together is greater than our individual fear.

Your gift of $15 can buy schoolbooks for a girl in Panama. A gift of $60 will teach a grown woman in Afghanistan to read and write. Those dollar amounts may not sound life altering, but consider this chain of events when a girl or woman receives education:

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children. The later women marry they are less likely to be beaten and threatened by their husbands, die in childbirth, or get AIDS. Additionally, every year of education boosts her eventual wages by 10-25 percent. When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families and communities. (all sources on the Girl Effect Fact Sheet)

A cycle of poverty gets broken, in part, with the earning of education.

Each quarter GirlFriendCircles.com compiles all of your gifts of $3-$5 that are given in exchange when you have to cancel your attendance at the last-minute from a ConnectingCircle you committed to attend. This quarter in our Show Up or Save the World campaign, I have matched your $174, so that we gave a combined gift of $348 to Girl Effect.  It doesn't sound life altering.... but it will be to someone.  Add $10 more!

3.  CHEER: Help Spread the Word(s)

On a literal level, spread the word about these resources that help bring awareness and conviction. Tweet or Facebook share this blog today (see icons at the bottom). Decide to write your own posting. Promote these causes through your social media outlets. Tell your friends that you feel convicted.  Host a screening of  Miss Representation in your house on October 20. Put energy out there that shows what way you are leaning.

And on a deeper level, sharing the word might mean encouraging and promoting other women and girls.

  • In every day life that might mean encouraging a friend in her choices (career, love, finances, ambition, children) even if they aren't yours.
  • In politics and business it might mean being open to seeing women where they haven't been and letting them do it in their own armor. Don't make someone choose between being powerful or likeable-- choose to not be intimidated and simply cheer for her.
  • In media it may mean voting for movies, products, and TV shows that reflect strong portrayals of women with our attendance (or lack thereof), purchases and watching habits.
  • As a mother it might mean intentionally raising your daughter to not have your body self-esteem issues, or making sure you don't put out judgment on another mom for making a different choice in how she is raising her kids.
  • As a citizen of the world it might mean publicly cheering for other women, even when we feel jealous.  Cheer for them when they buy your dream house before you do, quit their job when you wish you could, get the promotion you would die to have, have the baby you cannot, find the love you haven't yet found, accomplish the feat you wish you had the courage to take on.  You can trust that them getting something doesn't diminish your value or worth one iota.

The truth is that sometimes our own lives feel stressful enough that we simply don't always feel that our hearts can take on any more feeling.  Compounding that numbness, we can easily feel overwhelmed by the issues posed by Nicholas Kristof, Girl Effect and Jennifer Siebold Newsom. But I beg you to just take a baby step... just lean into the movement.

For as Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, is quoted in Miss Representation as writing:

"The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don't have any."

You do have power to contribute to the movement. Pretend that life is a rubber band being pulled two directions... and that the direction it eventually snaps will be determined by which side had a little more pull.

Grow in your joy, Give your $10, and Cheer for another woman toward the direction of a better world.

 

p.s.  The Girl Effect Blogging Campaign invites you to post your own blog this week! If you do-- leave a comment here with a link so we can all come and read it!