By Seeta Mangra-Stubbs, founder and CEO, Whole Damn Woman
Please do me a favor. List the things that make you or would make you feel confident in your body, your intellectual abilities, your skills, your family – anything you value. Your list need not be a certain length, and it’s OK if you struggle creating it. In fact, that’s common. But even if you jot down the first word that pops into your mind, you’ll have a list.
Done? OK, great! Thanks! We’ll come back to that in a bit.
My name is Seeta, and I run a business called Whole Damn Woman, a self-reclamation and women’s empowerment company. You likely don’t know me from any person on the sidewalk, but maybe I look familiar … except you’re not feeling confident enough to take the awkward chance of saying hello. Basically, you have no reason to trust what I’m about to say plus you’re doubting yourself to even get started with a simple “hello.” This is tough, right?
If we feel uncertain in basic things like saying hi, imagine how hard it is to find confidence in deeper matters like our bodies or minds. It’s no wonder we might struggle to make a confidence list. But there’s an uncommonly discussed reason for that.
The major portion of the things we list rarely come from within. We list things society tells us to list, not items deriving from our true selves or, as Glennon Doyle would dub it, our “knowing.”
For example, maybe you listed landing that big promotion, getting married, having thousands of followers on TikTok, or buying a home. However, I’m willing to bet at least half of us listed losing weight. Since my teens, that’s been my main confidence wish list: Drop the pounds.
But why? Is this a drive within me to be smaller? From where does this compulsion come? We don’t often question why our common goals for personal improvement are so steeped in our bodies and especially our weight. We must ask ourselves where those body-based confidence builders came from and who deemed them important. We serve ourselves best when we ask those questions.
I was not put on this planet to focus intently on the numbers that explain my relationship with gravity. None of us were. Our purpose in life is not to make ourselves smaller, yet the diet, fitness, fashion and medical industries promote it as the main solution to health, happiness and personal fulfillment.
Women especially are encouraged to shrink. We’re taught that being thin makes us beautiful and that beauty makes us confident and powerful. On the contrary, I argue focusing on losing weight makes us hungry, which keeps us tired, stressed and unhappy. It keeps us distracted from what matters.
None of us can be or feel powerful when our basic need for energy is unmet. Consider the social power we forfeit when we’re too tired to think about anything but not eating those cookies or that ice cream. Moreover, think of the energy and money it takes to constantly think we aren’t good enough as-is!
Per multiple sources, the diet industry alone regularly profits anywhere from $60 billion to $100 billion a year. Individually, we pay thousands for diet foods and programs. But imagine if women collectively said “no” to that. What would our social power look like if we instead invested in our retirement, our skills and our knowing? How much more energy would we have?
The temporary, expensive and false confidence that image-based industries promise us cannot compare to the confidence of trusting in our true, honest, authentic, vulnerable selves. I ask you to look back at your list. What would you change if you remade this list from within? Does that give your list — and not you — a totally new look?
Seeta Mangra-Stubbs is the founder and CEO of Whole Damn Woman, a former college educator and a stereotypically long-suffering writer. She’s a Des Moines native, and she loves chai.